Carl Marston's Around the Grounds: The 3G debate
PUBLISHED: 13:15 16 April 2019 | UPDATED: 13:15 16 April 2019
Football writer Carl Marston dons his anorak to visit clubs in the region (and beyond) in his quest for good football and a good cup of tea. Here he recalls two visits to 3G pitches at Sutton United and Maidstone
Artificial 3G/4G pitches always guarantee a good debate, or raging argument, when the subject is broached by football fans, especially in the non-league world.
And this season is no different. In fact, the debate has got even more interesting, especially when it comes to gauging how big an advantage it is (if indeed it is an advantage) to play your home games on a 3G surface.
Looking down the leagues, especially when dipping into the Bostik Isthmian League, which is where I have often found myself on a Saturday morning or Tuesday evening this season, there is a persuasive argument to suggest that perhaps the artificial pitches do help boost a club's chances of promotion.
Dorking Wanderers (already crowned champions) and Haringey Borough, first and second respectively in the Bostik Premier, both have 3G pitches at Meadowbank and Coles Park.
Bracknell Town, second in the Bostik South Central, and Bowers & Pitsea, champions of the Bostik North One, also play their home games on artificial surfaces, at Larges Lane (since 2016) and the Len Salmon Stadium.
Similarly, the top two in the Bostik South East division, Cray Wanderers (ground-share at Bromley) and Horsham have 3G pitches.
Statistically, 10 of the 20 clubs in the top or play-off positions in the Bostik League have artificial surfaces, and this is surely no fluke. For 50% of the clubs in the promotion positions to have 3G pitches is a big percentage.
Is there an advantage? Certainly, the income received from hiring out their pitches must help with team budgets, and the consistent playing surface must help team tactics.
Yet there is another side to the story.
The National League, the top-flight of the non-league, has three such clubs, and only Sutton United, in ninth, have threatened to get into the play-offs.
Of the other two, Bromley are in 13th, while Maidstone were relegated a few weeks ago.
Elsewhere, Harlow Town are propping up the Bostik Premier, although they did win promotion three years ago on their artificial pitch at Harlow Arena. Closer to home, AFC Sudbury are eighth in the Bostik North, though Mark Morsley is blessed with a young and very inexperienced squad.
Overall, I would suggest that 3G pitches do potentially give an advantage to home clubs, in terms of familiarity, if nothing else.
Here are a recall a couple of my own 3G experiences.
Club: Maidstone United
Formed: 1992 (original club existed from 1897 to 1992)
Carl's visit: April 8, 2014: v AFC Sudbury (Robert Dyas League Cup Final, 3-0 home win)
This was my first experience of reporting on a competitive match on a 3G surface, and I must admit that I wasn't that impressed.
The bounce seemed irregular, with some balls rearing up and others staying low.
But these were still early days, in terms of pitch technology.
In fact, Maidstone was the first English club to build a new stadium with an artificial pitch, unveiled in 2012. At the time, the Kent club gave three reasons for its choice of surfaces – the ability to hire out the pitch, cut down on match postponements and integrate the youth and community teams into the club.
The Stones have certainly benefited, despite this season's relegation from the National League having already been confirmed.
When AFC Sudbury visited, five years ago, Maidstone were climbing the leagues, having won the Isthmian South the previous season. More promotions followed.
The pitch was relaid in 2016 so, were I to revisit, I think I would find the irregular bounce had been kicked into touch, for good.
Gander Green Lane
Club: Sutton United
Carl's visit: September 13, 2016: v Braintree Town (National League, 2-1 away win)
Grass or no grass, Iron have always enjoyed their trips to this corner of South London, winning on five of their last six visits.
The 3G pitch was opened in 2015 – incidently by then-Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew – and it's a terrific facility.
In a twist of irony, however, if Sutton were to ever earn promotion to the Football League – and they have been close in the last couple of years – then they would have to rip up their pitch and replace it was with grass.
The EFL banned artificial pitches from English professional leagues in 1995, and that ban remains in place.