Jon Dunham – Could artificial pitches really be the way forward?

Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.
Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.
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The recent flurry of postponed matches for the likes of Corby Town, Kettering Town and the United Counties League clubs has been frustrating.

Indeed, it is now getting to the point where it is infuriating.

As managers will always tell you, there is not much they or anyone else can do about the weather. It is one of those things that can’t be controlled.

The clubs in our area, of course, are not the only ones to have suffered over the past couple of months.

From the Southern League Premier Division and its equivalent level downwards, teams are struggling to get matches on.

Indeed, the rainfall the whole country has had has been more than anyone could have expected. And, of course, there are far more important problems going on in some areas as a result of it other than clubs trying to get their matches on.

Nonetheless, it does throw up a debate about the future. Is there a way this could be prevented?

One option could be to change when the football season, at a lower level at least, takes place. Could we have football from March through to November? Not entirely realistic.

The other main option I can see is the introduction of artificial surfaces. Whether it is 3G, 4G, 5G or 6G, there is a debate to be had about it.

The vast majority of the elite 92 would not need to be involved, virtually all of the clubs have full-time groundsmen who can work on the pitches to give them every chance of getting matches on during the difficult times.

But, as we have seen at a local level, clubs further down rely on volunteers to keep their surfaces in good order.

Equipment isn’t as advanced because of the expense and, in these situations, time is always the key player.

So could an introduction of artificial surfaces be the way forward? Well, why not?

Numerous teams train on 3G pitches, certainly during the winter months. It’s not as if it would be something completely new.

As someone who enjoys the occasional game of seven-a-side football on that surface, I find there to be little difference between it and grass. It is, essentially, fake grass.

If teams were able to develop 3G pitches, the days of waterlogged pitches would be over. It is as simple as that.

Clubs at lower levels rely on their matchday income to pay the wages and keep themselves alive. That’s not just in this area, that is country-wide.

If an artificial surface can help keep non-League football going then that should be reason enough for them to be introduced.

But there are, of course, cons as well as pros to the idea.

Players may well point to the toll the surfaces take on the body. Indeed, it is a fair argument.

But the main one would be the expense. To have a 3G pitch installed anywhere isn’t cheap. Clubs simply can’t afford to do it at the drop of a hat.

This is where the hierarchy of the game should step in, however.

If the general feeling amongst lower level clubs is that artificial pitches are the way forward then the Football Association and the Premier League (fat chance) should play their part by helping with the cost.

No matter which way you look at it, football begins at grassroots and the non-League game needs more protection than it currently has.

It would be interesting to know how the clubs feel about it all, there was certainly a lot of frustrating coming out of Kettering Town following the postponement of their game with St Ives Town on Tuesday night.

I am not saying artificial pitches are the answer, I am just saying they could be.

While a number of matches will again fall foul of the weather this weekend, the NFA Junior Cup quarter-final between Burton Park Wanderers and Stanion Redstar will finally go ahead at the sixth time of asking because the NFA have told them to play it on the 3G surface at the Buccleuch Academy in Kettering.

Times change and the advances in technology enable us to have this debate. This is certainly one, given what has happened recently, worth having.