For many football fans, the mere suggestion of a 3G pitch still conjures up memories of the artificial surfaces in the 80s, causing outrageously bouncing balls and carpet burns to any goalies brave enough to play without wearing long trousers. Luton, QPR, Preston and Oldham all experimented with ‘plastic pitches’ until they were banned in the football league from 1995.
Despite significant improvements in artificial surfaces over the last few decades, the EFL remains reluctant to reconsider its regulations. In non-league however, 3G pitches are very much being used. For lower league clubs, their benefits are clear. They provide a more consistent surface that doesn’t cut up in the winter months. They rarely succumb to waterlogging or freezing in the way grass pitches do. From November onwards, non-league groundsmen battle the elements to get games on, artificial surfaces provide a much more reliable alternative that will rarely fail a pitch inspection.
It’s because of these advantages, that clubs down the pyramid are increasingly favouring 3G pitches for new stadiums. In 2012 Maidstone United moved into the Gallagher stadium with an artificial surface. Similarly Hendon and Edgware, now share the 3G at Silver Jubilee Park. Last summer Hertfordshire’s Ware FC made the choice to replace their grass with 3G. Doing so brought with it another benefit, the club was able to attract tenants in Brimsdown – bringing with it extra income.
A surface that doesn’t wear out means multiple teams can use the facility without issue. It also functions with a minimal level of care and maintenance. With lower league clubs having to rely on volunteer groundsmen to paint, cut and repair the grass turf, a 3G pitch is one less time-consuming job on the to-do list.
In the National League, Sutton United is flying the flag for artificial surfaces. Gander Green Lane hosted Arsenal in the FA Cup 5th Round in 2017 without any criticism or concern from the Premier League side. The following year, the club was on the verge of promotion to the football league before defeat to Boreham Wood in the playoffs. The loss was perhaps a blessing disguise for the London club, as a promotion to the Football League would have required them to rip up and replace their famous surface.
Of course, not everyone is a fan of the artificial surface. Last season saw a public dispute between Berkhamsted FC and Berkhamsted Raiders. The Raiders submitted plans for their rival’s home stadium to be converted to a 3G surface, allow them to share the facility at Broadwater. The proposal was not well received by Berkhamsted FC who’ve played on grass for over a century.
Whilst if we're being truly honest, players and fans alike would rather watch the game being played on traditional grass (and mud). With the improvement in 3G surfaces, they are a useful option for grassroots football. Many clubs are embracing the benefit of a reliable surface that can host multiple teams. With artificial pitches being allowed by UEFA competitions, perhaps it’s time for the EFL to rethink their approach too.