Two worn-out jumpers, some grass, a tired ball and ideally a mate or two, that’s all you’ve ever needed to play football, and that’s why we love it so much. However, is the English professional and semi-professional game about to see another huge change?
You can breathe a sigh of relief, this feature thankfully isn’t focused around the dreaded VAR, but instead on artificial 3G pitches which could soon become much more regular across the English leagues. Sutton United, who play in the Vanarama National League are one of the first semi-professional clubs to boast a 3G pitch, alongside others Maidstone United and Bromley. This has sparked an ongoing debate as to whether it should become compulsory across the leagues.
“The development of football turf now allows the game to be played on surfaces that replicate the playing qualities of the good quality natural turf”, reads a statement from Sutton FC on their £420,000 purchase when it was installed in 2015, which has since hosted successful FA Cup fixtures against Arsenal and Leeds.
One of the issues surrounding traditional grass pitches in the modern world is centred around the wide use of pesticides and herbicides which aim to vitally preserve turf quality amid a heavy football schedule. Such chemicals, like chlorpyrifos, can have very damaging long-term effects on the environment, mainly through contaminating the soil and water crucially relied upon by a range of insects and animals. However, this argument is somewhat flimsy, as although 3G pitches don’t require chemicals to sustain quality, they’re mostly made up of plastics which offer little to wildlife regardless.
Instead, clubs will likely be tempted by the financial benefits of owning a 3G pitch. Although such materials can cost up to £40 per square metre in some cases, there is a hugely reduced need for groundsmen staff to sustain pitch quality, which in turn results in savings through reduced staff wage outgoings. However, in a time of economic uncertainty following the COVID-19 pandemic, the possibility for more people to be stripped of their jobs seems bleak and selfish, despite the urgent need for businesses within the hospitality sector to cut costs amid financial struggle – highlighted through the 55 redundancies Arsenal announced last week.
Many of whom who are in favour of 3G pitches argue their implementation will be offer a consistent standard of playing surface across the leagues, while also being more capable of dealing with heavy rain through the winter thanks to updated drainage systems. This argument is somewhat supported when considering the addition of the VAR and Hawkeye goal line technology systems in the Premier League, both of which are aimed at increasing the fairness of football; however not everyone is convinced.
One huge downfall in the argument for 3G pitches to become mandatory in the future is their proven capability of contributing to injury. The way the plastic behaves is different to grass and provides more friction which means when quickly changing direction or stopping, players commonly ‘roll’ ankles or strain ligaments in the knees, which are put under stress when movement like this is carried out. Costs of instillation and wear and tear are also issues that would need to be addressed.
Despite this though, artificial pitches are continuing to improve and have even received plaudits from England manager Gareth Southgate: “I’ve seen the affect 3G turf can have in providing a fantastic experience for those playing, coaching and officiating at all levels of the nation’s favourite game”. Attention like this is difficult for The FA to ignore as the debate continues to bubble.