Non League Daily

FA Cup sets the stage for artificial turf at Maidstone

It’s been nearly a year since Maidstone United triumphed over Stevenage in the first FA Cup match proper to be played on synthetic turf.

This Sunday, the Southern League side faces League 2’s Yeovil Town in a similar FA Cup match-up at the Gallagher Stadium.

Maidstone may be 26 places lower in the football pyramid but are enjoying a very different season from their Football League counterparts. The National League South team sit in third position, while Yeovil Town is struggling at the bottom of League 2. However, it could have been such a different season for the Kent team if the Football Conference had not changed its stance on artificial surfaces in July, 2014.

A statement from the Conference read "Following recent dialogue with the Football Association and Football League, the Football Conference’s board intends to allow competition matches to be played on ATPs, in all three divisions from the start of the 2015/16 season.” This followed the FA’s decision to allow FA Cup matches to be played on synthetic surfaces at all rounds of the competition, presumably because the chances of a team with an “ATP” reaching the latter stages were slim.

The caveat was that "Such approval will only be given where surfaces meet the standards of installation and criterion for use, which are to be agreed by the respective authorities.” A problem that need not worry Maidstone, as the Gallagher Stadium is a FIFA two-star quality surface, the standard used in recent International and Champions League games. The same pitches already feature in top flight football across Europe, in Scotland, Sweden, France and Italy.

The fact that 3G are now used for top level matches demonstrates that opinion is changing in favour of synthetic, “Comparing this to Astroturf is like comparing a modern vacuum cleaner to an old-fashioned Hoover,” said Oliver Ash, Maidstone’s co-owner, ahead of the last year’s FA Cup match on this surface. “It’s to do with English conservatism. But I am convinced it is the future for many clubs up to League One level.”

Rugby was an early adopter of the benefits of artificial. Saracens, the current Aviva Premiership Champions, moved to synthetic in 2013; the first professional rugby team to do so.

Bryn Lee, Commercial Director of Bonar Yarns, suppliers of the product used in the Saracen’s Allianz Park pitch, said “There is a need for football clubs to serve the community as well as provide a FIFA standard playing surface for professional and semi-professional sport. Synthetic turf is widely used as a durable and maintenance-friendly solution, enabling potential revenue, enhanced playability and long life expectancy. We have seen teams in some of Europe’s top leagues adopt 3G pitches and have gone from strength to strength as a result.”

Resistance against the surfaces originates from an outdated view that artificial pitches increase player injury and the surface affects boll roll behaviour in comparison to grass; however, this overlooks the consistency a 3G pitch can provide.

Natural turf conditions for matches can vary from waterlogged to frozen, sun baked and hard, to grassy and slow, less predictable and, in some cases, more dangerous than synthetic surfaces.

Last year Maidstone’s turnover of £1.25m yielded a £250,000 profit, providing significant revenue and a pitch that is used daily by 1,000’s of local players of all ages. The owners argue that if they had not switched to artificial they may not have a club at all, making Sunday’s lucrative televised match a reason to celebrate and perhaps dream of another giant-killing.

For more info on Bonar Yarns, please visit http://www.bonaryarns.eu/

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Source: Bonar Yarns

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