Our green and pleasant land

St Georges Park, The FA’s state-of-the-art 3G facilities

The Football Association are doing a lot of good work in grassroots football to try and improve the quality of coaches, players and facilities, and while some people will never think that their efforts are good enough I for one applaud them for trying.

A part of that FA vision was revealed two years ago by Greg Dyke. He told the world that they were to invest ¬£230 million on 150 3G pitches, in 30 UK cities by 2020. Why? Dyke said of 3G pitches ‘Whereas grass pitches tend to be used for four to five hours a week, with matches often cancelled due to inclement weather, 3G pitches can be used for 70 to 80 hours. They also promote better technical skills at a younger age.’

Sutton United Football Club, currently towards the top of the National League, are publicly pointing to the fact that their state of the art 3G pitch has become the hub of a community, and has teams including AFC Wimbledon ladies, Sutton Common Rovers, Sutton United and many of their youth teams playing on the one excellent 3G pitch. It also hosts many hours of coaching for children associated with both Sutton United youth teams and JDFS, a soccer school who has a partnership with the club. Hundreds of kids get use out of the pitch every week. I have played on Sutton’s pitch and it is an excellent surface to play football on. The bounce is true, the surface flat, and if you can play football then you would love to play there. If it was a grass pitch you would be lucky to get two games a week out of it in the winter months.

Sutton United’s impressive 3G pitch at Gander Green Lane

Below is a recent photo of Rodney Parade, home of Football League 2 club, Newport County, who are just one division above Sutton United in League 2. This season Newport County requested and received special dispensation from the EFL not to play home games for the first three weeks of this season because their grass pitch is a mess.

Rodney Parade,  Newport, South Wales

If this is the state of a Football League club playing surface in August, you can imagine what grass roots pitches are like mid winter, so the FA are right in my view to try and increase the number of 3G pitches that are available for our children to train and play on. I have coached U7-U11 boys over the past four years, and if I had a pound for every disappointed child I have seen or heard having looked forward to playing football on a Sunday morning, only to be told that the game is off because it rained overnight, then I could put a pretty impressive deposit down on my own 3G pitch.

The Football Association, I thought, were responsible for football from grass roots right up to the England national team. If that is the case, surely the facilities from the bottom to the top should be as consistent as is feasible? Surely you shouldn’t start your football career as a six year old enjoying fantastic 3G surfaces, and then be forced to play on muddy, uneven, weather damaged ‘grass’ pitches for no good reason?

It is possible that a 6 year old child could start playing for Sutton United this year, train and play on a 3G pitch until they are 18, sign for the first team, play in the National League on a 3G pitch for years and then get promoted to the Football League who currently do not allow 3G pitches. They could spend 15 years at the bottom of the pyramid honing their skills on superior surfaces before having that taken away. So we have a situation where grassroots clubs allow 3G pitches and the FA are heavily investing in those pitches. The National League, thefifth tier of English football, allow 3G pitches and have shown the way forward with real-life successful case studies. FIFA allow international matches to be played on 3G pitches, with Scotland recently playing Lithuania on a 3G pitch, but the bit in the middle – the Football League – won’t allow it? It’s nuts, disjointed, and has to change.

We live in England. It is our green and pleasant land because it rains so much and our young players are spending less time playing football than kids in Europe because the weather makes our pitches unplayable. We bemoan that our players are falling behind other European countries, yet a huge part of the English footballing infrastructure are living under water.