FEATURE: After Conference clubs vote against 3G pitches, Tanners boss tells the FA it’s... Time to stay off the grass
As non-League football clubs count the cost of the wet weather, Leatherhead chairman Paul Ashdown has accused the game’s power brokers of double standards over 3G artificial football pitches.
Since January 1, more than half of the fixtures – 59 per cent – in the Ryman Premier League and Division One South have been postponed due to the weather.
The inactivity has led to the Tanners and Walton Casuals losing vital revenue – the Stags have hosted one full match since December 17, and Leatherhead have struggled with repeated flooding since Christmas.
While artificial pitches are good enough for use at the World Cup and in the Champions League – and even in rugby’s Premiership – Conference clubs voted 21 to 11 against their introduction last month.
The dispute could come to a head should Ryman Premier League leaders Maidstone United – who play on a 3G pitch – be refused promotion to the Skrill South.
But Tanners chairman Peter Ashdown believes 3G pitches are the only way lower league clubs will survive financially and has urged the FA to step in, in the interests of developing the national game.
Kingstonian boss Alan Dowson, centre, is not a fan of 3G surfaces, but their widespread introduction might mean an end to training ground snowball fights when winter bites
He said: “I am 100 per cent in favour of them – it is the only way forward for semi-professional football pitches, not least because it presents an opportunity to generate some much-needed income.
“If Leatherhead could raise the money to get a new artificial pitch then we would certainly be playing on one because it is the only way forward financially.
“If there have been high-profile internationals played on it and there have been Champions League games played on it, why is it not good enough for the Conference?”
He added: “I don’t know how much the FA spent to get St Georges, but how can they have that and not support a move for 3G pitches?
“It would be good for football, good for youth development and there is bad weather every year that stops matches going ahead.”
Stags chairman Tony Gale revealed his club is now considering installing an artificial pitch at the aptly named Waterside stadium, but also believes the Conference were right not to allow them.
“The positives of 3G pitches are clear,” he said.
Inclement weather: Walton Casuals and Whitstable Town run for cover during their Ryman League clash in January
“But I agree with the outcome of the vote – I don’t think they should be allowed in the Conference because there is a possibility of getting promoted into the Football League.
“The Football League should be on grass because if you are at that level you should be able to afford the maintenance required to keep it playable.
“Below the Conference, 3G pitches are fine, but if clubs have aspirations of moving up the league then they have to think twice.”
The former Premier League defender and Sky Sports pundit added: “I played on artificial pitches during my West Ham career against Luton, Preston and QPR, but they were horrible.
“The new 3G pitches are very different to the old astros I played on, but in the end grass is grass.”
Some 3G facts
- A 3G surface is a long piled tufted carpet that has rubber and sand infill, and is laid over a shock-absorbing underlay.
- Artificial pitches cost around £400,000 to install and last for six to eight years.
- Maidstone Utd estimate they earn £312,000 per annum in rental fees at a cost of £30,000 a year.
- Football League clubs supporting the use of 3G surfaces include Wycombe Wanders and Accrington Stanley.
- Between January 1 and February 11, 153 matches out of 258 in the Ryman Premier and Ryman Division One South have been called off.
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