Even modern 3G has its flaws
30 October ~ Visit your nearest artificial pitch on any given night and chances are you will find a grassroots team using it. Not everyone has fond memories of them though. It wasn’t unusual for away teams to be on the wrong side of big scores on the plastic pitches at Kenilworth Road, Boundary Park, and Loftus Road during the 1980s and 1990s. Luton Town, Oldham Athletic and Queens Park Rangers all reached domestic cup finals while playing on Astroturf.
Some fans would try and undermine these achievements by suggesting it gave them an unfair advantage. That may have been a factor in Luton reaching the 1988 League Cup final, although their fans could pick a hole in that argument by pointing out that they beat Arsenal in the final on grass.
The unpopularity of artificial pitches goes back to the NASL (North American Soccer League). Don McAllister was loaned from Spurs to the Washington Diplomats in 1977 to regain fitness after an injury. Having spent the season playing on grass at RFK Stadium, the experience of playing on an artificial pitch at Giants Stadium against the New York Cosmos was alien.
“Through balls I expected to reach my chest would bounce up over my head,” Don told me recently. They lost 8-2. Don’s thoughts were compounded by goalkeeper Eric Martin, who didn’t have tracksuit bottoms – something he paid for in Astroturf burns he sustained from diving around in shorts trying to keep Pelé quiet.
All-weather pitches have improved since then, with 3G (third generation) becoming a common sight in six-a-side leagues. For those players, the bane of Astroturf burns has been replaced by coming home and unwittingly depositing scores of rubber crumbs stored in their socks all over the carpet. The newer surface is more forgiving on the joints, thanks partly to those rubber crumbs, which act as soil, allowing players a better grip than traditional artificial surfaces.
Conference clubs voted to allow 3G pitches into all three divisions from 2015-16, with League One and Two clubs looking likely to pass a similar motion when they vote in November. The idea was proposed earlier this year with 29 of 46 chairmen backing the plan. But to some, 3G is substandard. Gareth Bale described Andorra’s 3G surface at the Estadi Nacional as the worst he’s ever played on. Photographs of him playing in that match show a cloud of rubber crumbs rising up from his feet as he strikes the ball. His manager Chris Coleman was equally dismissive – when referring to the pitch, he said: “If you’re a passing team then forget it.”
But whether players like it or not it looks like we will be seeing more of 3G in professional football. If they result in an end to the large number of fixtures postponed because of waterlogged pitches during wet winters then their introduction must be seen as positive. Mark Sanderson