By Tommie Collins.
With the wintery weather tightening it’s grip on European Football, Third Generation (3G) pitches is a popular conversation topic once again.
We all remember the plastic pitches at Oldham’s Boundary Park, Luton’s Kenilworth Road and QPR’s Loftus Road.
Those were the forerunners for a new generation of artificial pitches now used throughout world football.
These new surfaces are supposedly the closest thing to grass, but why are the clubs turning to 3G?
Recently, measures were taken following an inquiry by the Welsh government into ways of developing their domestic league. It was decided that installing 3G artificial pitches could help clubs become ‘community hubs’.
The FAW part-funded the implementation of this latest technology. It was felt that clubs were losing potential income during the winter due to many games falling foul of the weather .
The Welsh Premier League currently has four clubs with 3G artificial pitches. These include Airbus UK Broughton, The New Saints, Newtown AFC and Llandudno FC.
Bangor City and Connah’s Quay decided on installing 3G pitches for training and community purposes. Other clubs such as Aberystwyth and Porthmadog have future ambitions to install this latest technology.
This phenomenon is now trickling down to the Welsh League Division One.
One of these include the 9 x Welsh Premier League champions, Barry Town, who are steadily re-climbing their way through the leagues towards the higher tier.
Ian Johnson, a life-long Barry Town supporter, believes that this implementation is key to the future development of the domestic game.
He said: “Making Jenner Park a 3G surface over the summer has hopefully solved long-term drainage problems at the ground and means that fans can be fairly sure that matches won’t be called off.
“Although it will still require care and attention, the new surface makes the ground available for other age-groups and sections at the club, and for other local clubs to use for training and occasional games.
“The aim is to turn the ground into a real community hub through its regular use, creating a buzz around the ground – something added to by the re-opening of the club house.
“Hopefully the club will be able to use this as a stepping stone to future success, and it would be nice to be hosting representative and international matches at Jenner Park in the future.”
Jonny Drury, Newtown AFC Press Officer, agreed with this view and praised it’s impact at the club. He also pushed for non-league English sides to be given the right to implement this latest technology.
He said: “Since we have had the 3G, it has been commended by people inside and outside the club. The first team lads love it and say it is the best in the league.
“Players from both semi-professional and amateur opposition teams have praised it, and it is in use all the time which shows it is well liked.
“In an ideal world, we would all play on grass pitches that were like carpets, but that isn’t the case at this standard, and I would recommend them for any side.
“In England I think it would be beneficial for sides from the National League (Conference) down to be allowed to use them; that could pose a problem with cup competitions, but I think it is the best way, because for me the Welsh Premier League is on par with teams from mid-table Conference, downwards.”
Welsh football fans will never forget the awful surface that Wales played on in the Euro 2016 qualifier in Andorra last year.
Gareth Bale slammed the artificial pitch at Andorra’s Estadi Nacional as ‘by far the worst pitch’ he had ever played on after his late free-kick gave Wales a narrow 2-1 win over the minnows.
Therefore, it must be a case of getting the surface to a standard – something the Andorrans failed to achieve that night.
Many Welsh fans had visited the stadium the previous day and couldn’t believe the bounce of the ball whilst watching the players train. Their fears were later compounded during the match when clusters of black rubber pellets sprayed into the air with each landing of the ball.
Elsewhere in Europe, Russia’s Luzhniki Stadium is one of the few major European stadia to use an artificial pitch, having installed a FIFA-approved artificial pitch in 2002.
One must understand that it is necessary because regular grass pitches cannot withstand the harsh Russian winters and must be replaced yearly at high cost.
In 2008 however, a temporary natural grass pitch was installed at the Luzhniki for the UEFA Champions League Final between Chelsea and Manchester United.
The stadium is also used for various other events and concerts throughout the sporting calendar – further emphasising it’s flexibility.
The Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) has 12 clubs with artificial pitches to date.
Stirling Albion were the first to have it installed at their old Annfield ground between 1987 and 1992.
Hamilton Academicals, Kilmarnock, Alloa Athletic, Falkirk, Airdrieonians, Forfar Athletic, Stenhousemuir, Annan Athletic, Clyde, East Stirlingshire, Montrose and Queen of the South’s Palmerston Park all have it installed nowadays.
Sammy Clingan, a fervent Queen of the South supporter, believed it was the only way forward for some of Scottish Football’s lower league sides.
He said “The general consensus was that it had to be the way forward for smaller clubs who could generate much needed income from hiring the pitch out 7 days a week.
“Queens have two local teams, reserves and youth teams who play all their home games at Palmerston now. When youngsters are needed to complement the first team they are used to playing there which helps straight away. Training is also held there occasionally without any worry of wearing out the pitch for match days.
“We also had a Status Quo concert there over the summer which brought in good money for the club to keep things ticking over during the close season.”
As one can see, clubs are utilising their stadiums and attempting to make them available to the community.
Simon Clingan added, :“I would also say that the quality of football has improved with Queens certainly using the pitch to their advantage by adapting a fast flowing passing game with much more emphasis on keeping the ball on the deck. To generalise, I believe there are more positives than negatives to the concept. Yes, we still have the traditionalists who feel that football should be played on grass but most realise that it was a necessary evil. ”
For grassroots teams, it seems like this necessary evil is worth having.
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