It certainly seems that artificial surfaces are the future in Berkshire with two of the areas bigger non-league clubs planning to have artificial surfaces installed over the summer.
Bracknell Town and Slough Town are both going down the ‘3G’ artificial pitch route with surfaces expected to be laid at the Robins Larges Lane ground and the Rebels brand new stadium at Arbour Park.
If you are on twitter, take our quick snap poll:
How do you feel about clubs installing 3G surfaces? Do you love or loath the new pitches? https://t.co/2kr7qszELH
— Football in Berkshire (@fiberkshire) April 6, 2016
The move is particularly poignant for the nomadic Southern Premier Division side Slough who have been without a permanent home since leaving their Wexham Park ground at the end of the 2002/03 season.
Bracknell’s planned move coincides with a major refurbishment of facilities at Larges Lane which will see a patch of land along the Larges Lane road sold of for housing development.
In addition, Vanarama National League South side Maidenhead United are due to have an artificial pitch installed at York Road, but not until the summer of 2017 after the club decided to postpone the project for a year.
The Maidenhead Advertiser reported that the club were pushing the project back 12 months due to ‘the liklehood of a technically difficult installation, owing to the limited access at York Road and the infamous sloping pitch’.
The rise of plastic
Arguments for artificial surfaces have become louder in recent years, particularly as the technology improves and with inclement weather causing complete fixture wipe out for clubs and leagues over the winter months.
Of course, everyone remembers the ‘plastic pitches’ installed by the likes Queens Park Rangers and Luton Town during the 80s. The bounce was legendary as you can see in the video below from the 1988 Simod Cup final:
Currently, a number of clubs in the Uhlsport Hellenic Premier League are being forced to play on consecutive Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in order to complete the fixture programme by mid-April.
“It gives the club the luxury of knowing games won’t be called off and a new revenue stream which will be vital”
Former Bracknell Town defender and current Slough Town (www.sloughtownfc.net) joint-manager Neil Baker visited the site of Slough’s new ground at Arbour Park and explained what the artificial surface will mean for the East Berkshire club: “The new surface will mean we can hopefully get the ball down and play from a footballing point of view, but it gives the club the luxury of knowing games won’t be called off and a new revenue stream which will be vital”.
A number of non-league clubs already have artificial surfaces installed including early pioneers Maidstone United (also Vanarama National South) and Sutton Coldfield Town who we saw play at Coles Lane against Grantham Town earlier in the season.
That game was a terrifically pacy end to end tie, the ball more or less went where the players wanted – yes sometimes over the stand – and overall the match wasn’t affected in a negative way by the surface.
As much as avoiding postponements is a major plus for artificial surfaces, the clear gain for generally hard-up non-league clubs is the ability to rent out the pitch seven days a week to five aside leagues, soccer schools and academies as well as saving money on hiring external venues for their own team training sessions.
What do the FA think?
The biggest stumbling block so far has been the use of artificial surfaces higher up the football pyramid. Whether a surface would be allowed in the Football League if a club wins promotion has not yet been tested, but Maidstone could well be one step away from a return to the 92 (they dropped out in 1992 after going into liquidation) if they achieve promotion to the Vanarama National League this season – they are currently second in the South Division.
Meanwhile the FA granted permission for artificial surfaces to be used in all rounds of the Emirates FA Cup in 2014 – something that will encourage more clubs to make the switch given they won’t miss out on the substantial prize money on offer but football league clubs voted in February 2015 to outlaw artificial surfaces – that might well be tested come the summer of 2017.
There is a BBC article on the ‘no’ vote here, and another on what levels of football artificial surfaces can be used on here.
What do you think of the artificial revolution? Is it good for football? Let us know in the comments below.