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Plight Of The Pitches
Thursday 21st January 2016 @ 09:49 by Mark Phillip
Football Sports

Given the amount of rainfall over the past eight weeks, it comes as no surprise that many of our local football matches have fallen victim to the weather.

Since Boxing Day, there should have been 35 games played by our eight local teams – of these, 16 have been postponed.

As the temperature plummeted across the country last weekend, a total of 18 games were cancelled in the Evo-Stik Premier and Evo-Stik First Division North.

In the above divisions, the postponements affected Hyde United, Ashton United, Droylsden, Mossley, Glossop and New Mills.

Three games were postponed in the National League North, while two fell victim in the National League South.

Such was the extent of the wintry weather, that league fixtures at Accrington Stanley and Rochdale were deemed unplayable by the match referee.

Apart from under soil heating and frost covers – and let’s face it, the former is financially unattainable for non-league sides – there’s not much a club can do to avoid the big freeze.

However, there is a solution – albeit a controversial one – to avoid waterlogged pitches.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of artificial pitches up and down the country.

And depending on your opinion of them, Curzon Ashton were lucky or unfortunate enough to have played on one last weekend.

The Nash fell to a 1-0 loss in the second round of the FA trophy at Sutton United.

Earlier this week, manager John Flanagan spoke to Reporter Sport.

Outlining the pros and cons of playing on such a surface, he stated: “As a training surface and income stream, 3G surfaces are excellent and provide all year round availability (apart from snow).

“The roll of the ball is generally quite true and is a far better surface for drills for improving technique.

“3G is excellent for developing young players, and groups aged 5-12 see major benefits when directed by good coaches.”

Whilst good for junior development, Flanagan believes 3g pitches have no place in a senior situation. He added:“As for senior football, I’m not a fan for competitive games as the bounce and pace Is different to a decent grass pitch.

“Give me divots and a pitch that takes a stud any day.

“I always believe players would opt for a decent grass pitch, but 3G is better than a lot of the unmaintained council managed pitches.

“Players complain of wear and tear injuries but this might be psychological?

“In a nutshell, it’s good but you can’t beat a good grass pitch.

“I don’t agree with their use at any level of non league.”

Given Flanagan’s reluctance to play on them, the Curzon boss won’t be too happy at the National League’s announcement on Thursday afternoon.

After consultation with the league’s clubs, a decision was approved to allow the use of 3G pitches in the top-tier of Non-League football.

From football to cricket and rugby to hockey – 4G AstroTurf surfaces have been popularised the world over.

However, despite the beneficiaries of said surface – which include less postponements, easier maintenance and increased revenue from renting to the community – there has been an obvious reluctance from professional and semi-professional clubs to make the transition.

In February last year, the football league announced that its clubs had decided against the reintroduction of artificial pitches.

Upon making the decision, a Football League spokesman said: “Over the last 12 months, league clubs have debated the issues relating to the re-introduction of artificial playing surfaces on a number of occasions.

“Having considered all the available information and having heard from relevant experts at last week’s meeting, clubs have reached the conclusion that they do not wish to pursue the matter any further, as a majority of them prefer to play their matches on grass pitches.”

We must remember that it wasn’t too long ago when one of our local sides – Hyde United – were renowned for their plastic surface.

Up until the 1995/96 season, Ewen Fields was home to an AstroTurf surface, before being shunned in favour of real turf the following campaign.

Preston North End, Queens Park Rangers and Oldham Athletic were also exponents of plastic pitches before the FA banned them from the professional game.

While grass seems to be the preferred choice of surface for professionals in England, it’s heartening to see that 12 Scottish clubs have taken the leap forward.

In the Scottish Premiership, such examples include Hamilton Academical and Kilmarknock, while Alloa Athletic, Falkirk and Queen of the South make up the numbers in the Championship Division.

Closer to home, the Tameside Stadium boasts an impressive full sized artificial pitch.

While the first team don’t actually play competitive fixtures on the surface , they do, along with the youth team and reserves, train on it frequently.

Although not at the same location, the same can be said for our other local sides.

As semi-professional players with full-time jobs, training at night, on artificial pitches, is the only feasible option.

So with that said, why are managers and players still opposed to change?

When challenged on Twitter a few months ago, Stalybridge Celtic manager Liam Watson said: “I would prefer to have a few games called off than play on the stuff every week.
“I don’t know many players who like them and stay pain free on them.”

Paul Phillips echoed Watson’s thoughts.

The Ashton United boss said: “I’m not in favour of 4G pitches whatsoever.

“I think they take a lot out of the game and also increase the chances of injury.”

Not shy of making his feelings known, Droylsden winger Billy Hasler-Cregg stated: “I hate artificial surfaces.

“They’re okay to train on as long as they’re looked after, otherwise they’re bobbly and affect my game.

“They are also bad for joints and muscles, causing lots of fatigue and pain.

“I’d rather money was spent on making sure all pitches are of high quality and well looked after.”

While players and managers are united on this front, the fans – who undoubtedly want to see fewer games postponed over the course of winter – will see things differently.

In light of recent cancellations, the prospect of playing regularly on 3g pitches doesn’t seem too unattractive.