Fantastic Plastic

With the proliferation of “plastic” playing surfaces in Scandinavia, Scotland and some tiers of English non-league football, it has become clear that plastic pitches will become the future for many sports clubs in the future.

Harking back to the 1980’s when the likes of QPR, Luton, Oldham and Preston installed synthetic “astroturf” pitches that saw regulation footballs bounce with such unpredictability they were and remain outlawed from levels 1 to 6 of the English game. That equates to no club from the Premier League to Conference North/South being permitted to lay a synthetic surface.

Many clubs outside of these levels have installed pitches with few complaints and a huge increase in club revenue. Clubs such a Maidstone United, Sutton Coldfield Town, Loughborough University and Stockport Sports report their artificial surfaces being in use seven days a week. For example Sutton Coldfield’s Central Ground is now hosting games for three other clubs on a full time basis namely Romulus, Grovenor Park and Aston Villa Ladies as well as sundry other use by local teams.

Currently in the Scottish League Montrose, Stenhousemuir, Alloa, Airdrie, Annan and Forfar have already laid artificial surfaces. However, they remain banned in the Scottish Premier League, in 2008 Hamilton Academical had to revert to a grass service upon promotion to the top flight. In Scandinavia many clubs have used synthetic pitches successfully for several years. In central Europe Dutch club Heracles Almelo and Austrians Red Bull Salzburg have gained widespread praise for their artificial surfaces. A 3G surface can cost upwards of £400,000 to install but maintenance is minimal and many clubs report their installations are a resounding success. The positives are the generation of a year round revenue stream and forging closer links with the community. Instead of a pitch being used by a handful of players once a fortnight, a thousand people a week can use a 3G surface with no deterioration for the host club. Statistics reveal serious injuries are less likely on an artificial surface than a traditional grass surface.

So what is the difference between 3G, 4G and 5G artificial pitches?

Some cynics would say the terms are nothing more than a marketing strategy for companies to persuade interested parties in parting with more money for the very latest in pitch technology.

Essentially 3G pitches come with sand and rubber particle carpets which simulate to high degree the bounce of a natural turf surface. The pile height varies depending on the type of activity it is being installed for.

The differences between 3G, 4G and 5G pitches are subtle. 3G pitches have the sand and rubber compound particles, 4G have no particles but a rubber shock pad underlay. 5G pitches have fully rubber particles to provide the correct bounce the artificial surface needs. There is already research and development underway by manufacturers in the sixth generation of surface.

Whatever the outcome current analysis proves that synthetic surfaces have a very bright future, climatic and economic factors will inevitably dictate a wider audience for this product.