No 3G cheer for traditionalists Pompey

Triallist Simon Gillett in action for Pompey against Gibraltar on the 3G pitch at the Victoria Stadium in July 2012  Picture: DM Parody
Triallist Simon Gillett in action for Pompey against Gibraltar on the 3G pitch at the Victoria Stadium in July 2012 Picture: DM Parody

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The ball’s bounce was as unpredictable as the landing of the skipping planes on the runway located behind one end.

With a cough and a hiccup, it often leapt off a length in a manner any self-respecting fast bowler would be proud to unleash from his armoury.

A temperamental surface to negotiate for those 10 Pompey triallists and seven development squad members thrown into Gibraltar’s Victoria Stadium for their first pre-season friendly in July 2012.

The 3G pitch was not dangerous, just volatile and frustratingly erratic for a group of footballers brought up on a diet of grass and inexperienced in dealing with such demands.

What followed was a humiliating 4-0 defeat for Michael Appleton’s side against a team made up exclusively of amateur players with day jobs.

‘The ball bounced a mile,’ he later complained. ‘It was almost like playing on a dirt track. I have got to admit, I wouldn’t have liked to have played on that surface myself.’

A vote on November 6 at Derby’s iPro Stadium by chairmen from League One and League Two clubs demonstrated a similar rejection of the 3G concept.

They were balloted on introducing the surface from the 2015-16 season.

The outcome was tied at 34-34, with four abstentions, ensuring that, with no majority, the motion failed.

Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin had voted by proxy under instructions from Pompey’s board, their view adamant clubs should retain grass.

Artificial pitches are commonplace in Europe, on occasions used in Champions League matches and European Championship qualifiers.

Yet they are a source of mistrust among those in the English game.

Catlin said: ‘Putting my commercial hat on, having 3G is a no-brainer. Putting my football supporter hat on, I wouldn’t want to go away from grass.

‘There is no right or wrong, just two rights in a lot of ways. I can see both sides of the argument and because it was a dead heat it will come back some time in the future.

‘We voted against it as a club. The board’s feeling was football should be played on grass.

‘But, financially and commercially, the arguments for having 3G are compelling.

‘Training-wise, while we are at the moment paying to play games on 3G floodlit pitches around the city at night, you could instead do all that training at Fratton Park.

‘Community-wise, schools could play on it, we could run our community training sessions on it, our first-team could train at Fratton Park on it during the week and play the game on Saturday.

‘But the Championship is never going to accept 3G pitches.

‘For clubs with aspirations of playing in the Championship, you would lay it and then have to dig it up again because it is never on the agenda in the Championship – they straight away said “no”.’

Standard 3G pitches are versatile all-weather pitches containing artificial grass ‘blades’ supported by a thin base layer of sand and rubber crumb.

In July, the Football Conference gave the Astroturf nod to clubs within its three divisions from the start of 2015-16 – a victory for Maidstone who play on such a surface at the Gallagher Stadium.

The decision ensures they can now be accepted into Conference South should promotion from the Isthmian League premier division arise.

Catlin added: ‘A lot of clubs are paying out huge amounts of money each year for the upkeep of the pitch.

‘For a football pitch you need to have a groundsman, an assistant groundsman, there’s your seeding, all the feed that goes on week after week, you have tractors, while water costs a lot, especially during the summer.

‘I won’t go into the figures but for most clubs it is a six-figure sum to maintain the pitch for each year.

‘So when you have an option (3G) that maybe costs you £15-20,000 a year for maintenance, you can see commercially why clubs are interested.

‘You’re looking at £500,000 to install a 3G pitch. If you borrowed the money and paid interest on it you would get that back ten-fold because of the savings to be made.

‘There are no games called off, so a lot of pluses for 3G, but our concerns are some clubs may get the pitch down and not maintain it properly. Then you end up after a few years back playing on a poor quality surface.

‘They compact and need money spent every year to fluff them up and get them ready for the coming season. You cannot just hammer them, there is quite a science that goes behind it.

‘Besides, some people are yet to be convinced from an injury point of view, especially older players not used to it, reporting back, calf and Achilles problems when they play on it.

‘That flies against the statistics that actually say there are fewer injury issues on Astroturf.’

Catlin doesn’t need educating on the pitfalls provided by the likes of Gibraltar’s Astroturf – he saw Bury lose 2-1 there in January 2012.

A new ground at Europa Point, on the south side of the rock, is being constructed, with a grass surface.

In the meantime, Catlin believes the issue of 3G pitches will rumble on.

He said: ‘I have been to Gibraltar with Bury and it is a horrible pitch, terrible.

‘It’s a shame a lot of people make their judgement on 3G surfaces based on experiences from five to 10 years ago because the pitches have come on.

‘I thought the vote would go through, I was shocked at the result. All the indicative votes leading up to the meeting were 90 per cent in favour of looking at it.

‘In my opinion, I don’t think it will go away, it will come back on the agenda sooner rather than later.

‘There are quite a lot of grey areas, surveys can be twisted either way.

‘But, fundamentally from Pompey’s point of view – a club that aspires to be back in the Championship – I am not sure if it would change its mind.’