Published: 06:00, 11 May 2020
| Updated: 09:26, 11 May 2020
Maidstone co-owner Oliver Ash believes the subject of 3G pitches in the Football League should be back at the top of the agenda during the current crisis.
The lack of football has hit clubs hard throughout the country and Mr Ash feels now is the time to allow clubs in the EFL to use 3G pitches as a way of helping them to survive the crisis and thrive thereafter.”
Mr Ash was responding to recent comments from former Football Association director Dan Ashworth, now technical director at Brighton and Hove Albion.
Mr Ashworth spoke about a number of different plans to help football survive the coronavirus shutdown and said bringing artificial pitches back could help bring in funds for clubs.
There has been a ban on artificial surfaces in English professional football since 1995 because of issues which included fears over long-term injuries.
QPR, Preston North End and Oldham Athletic all played on plastic surfaces prior to the ban.
Maidstone United incorporated a 3G artificial pitch when building their new stadium in 2012 and have benefited greatly from the income generated as they can open it up throughout the week. They say the pitch brings in around £400,000 a year in revenue and the club has recorded profits every single season since the pitch was installed.
Fellow Kent side Bromley are also playing on a 3G surface and lower down the non-league pyramid the likes of Chatham Town have also installed one, to help with revenue and negate the risk of losing fixtures to bad weather.
Maidstone United, together with Bromley and fellow non-league sides Sutton United and Harrogate Town, are backing the call for change within the EFL. At present teams wishing to gain promotion from the National League into the EFL would have to rip up their 3G surfaces and replace them with grass.
Mr Ash feels now is a time to focus on the subject again.
He said: “With this terrible Covid-19 crisis affecting so many people and damaging so many football clubs, which are vital to their communities, we have to think outside the box if we are to avoid financial meltdown.
“Going forward it will all be about sustainability. Clubs will have to find ways of making their businesses sustainable in the interests of their supporters and their actual survival. One obvious way of achieving this is by installing a 3G pitch.
“We have now had five years’ experience of 3G pitches in the National League. We have seen supporters and players embrace the change in playing surface; we have seen that the highest quality 3G pitches encourage good football but also allow physical players to get stuck in; we have seen no particular injury problems, a welcome absence of postponments, and local people coming in their droves to watch and play football at our clubs seven days a week. It’s been life-changing in a totally positive way.
“We know and respect the fact that some people still prefer to play on natural surfaces, even down in League 2, where pitch quality is inconsistent.
“However, the benefits of 3G pitches are so massive and the problems facing football so huge, it would be irrational not to give League 2 clubs the option to install them without delay and take advantage of the opportunity to transform their clubs into sustainable businesses capable of surviving this crisis and thriving thereafter.”
League 1 side Gillingham have had issues with their pitch in recent seasons, leading them to replace their surface mid-season in September 2018 after safety concerns, forcing them to reschedule several games and play one at Charlton. The cost or relaying the surface and fixing drainage issues was in the region of £450,000.