The Benefits of Playing on an Artificial Pitch
By Simon Wright
“It suits us because of the players we’ve got, and the way we play; the faster the surface the better.” So said Peter Beadle, after our victory on Coleshill’s 3G pitch. Is this the way forward for us?
That afternoon was windy and very wet, enabling us to play when most other games were off. When we had to abandon our match against Leicester Nirvana with all the attendant hassles, costs and complications, Coleshill and had no problem completing their game.
The world has moved on since the infamous days of QPR’s green carpet on a concrete base. The latest synthetic turf plays like grass… and consistently true grass. No need for special boots, knee pads, and the like.
3G is legal for use in the Conference, the FA Cup plus European, and World Cup competitions. The Football League continue to resist for now, but their position is untenable. Imagine the logic: “Yes, of course we accept that Real Madrid and England do play occasionally on 3G, but it’s clearly not suitable for Hartlepool.”
North of the border, about one third of the Scottish League, including Kilmarnock and Hamilton in the Premier League, enjoy the benefits of an artificial pitch. So too, the majority of the Welsh League, such as TNS, Airbus and Aberystwyth. No more waterlogged pitches for them. Or Merthyr, whose shining sward is used 50 hours a week by a local college, disabled people, ex-soldiers – and, of course, the club themselves.
3G is not cheap. Depending on design required, and any add-ons, costs vary between £300,000 and £500,000, and need a whole summer to install. Coleshill was at the top end of that scale, even though they seem to have forgotten to upgrade their floodlights.
Big numbers, of course, for a small club, but this is an investment every bit as imaginative as solar power. Pitches can be funded over a decade, the natural length of a synthetic surface. Because of the vast community use, grants will significantly reduce the cost, while pitch maintenance is mainly reduced to an hour of brushing every ten hours of use. No more Christmas Days visits for our hapless Ben Bowen.
Tearing up the grass is not going to happen at Edgar Street for a while, of course, given our skinny five year lease. You’d hope that extending said lease will be relatively straightforward, given how – again – our football club is raising the profile of the city and, more pragmatically, propping up local finances through car park bonanzas. A longer lease provides a platform for longer-term club thinking. Namely, how can Hereford FC ultimately achieve their ambition to be a “community club”.
Let me share a vision of a football club offering activities seven days and nights a week. Extensive kids coaching, maybe by our younger players as a paid job, 5 a side Leagues, Sunday League, unemployed Leagues, hockey, touch rugby. Wheelchair football – whatever – all coupled with a continental-style cafe offering food and drink all day to needy participants. Imagine the knock-on interest this will generate with, say, promotional match ticket offers, or souvenirs, perhaps even with a theatre/ restaurant tie-in. And cash. An additional £3,000 per week income is realistic. Or an even higher figure. Maidstone claim to cover the cost of their pitch in just two seasons.
Very few football clubs enjoy a prime city-centre location, and ample car parking as we do. 3G is the future for smaller football clubs. It should be ours.