Vanarama National League column – Oct 11

A weekly column covering the National League in association with FWA partners Vanarama .  This week Glenn Moore on 3G pitches and Sutton United's rise.

Bruce Elliott, the chairman of Sutton United, stood in the south London club’s decent-sized car park, and said: “You used to be able to come here in the week and - except for matchdays, could always park. Now any evening, and lots of times in the day, there’s nowhere to park.” And he smiled.

There is a reason for the shortage of parking, and it lies on the other side of the main stand. Two acres of state-of-the-art, FIFA Quality Pro standard 3G artificial turf has transformed Sutton’s relationship with the community and contributed significantly to the well-being of a club pushing for promotion to the Football League for the first time in its 119-year history.

“The pitch has had a huge impact,” said Elliott. “I keep telling people this is the best thing this football club has ever done. The two seasons prior to putting the pitch in we went six weeks, and seven weeks, without anything happening on the pitch at all. From a cash-flow and supporter-interest point-of-view, that doesn’t work. No one rings up now to find out if the game is on.”

This is not the case elsewhere. Winter is yet to bite but there has already been one postponement in Sutton’s Vanarama National League, travelling Chester fans left infuriated by the late call-off of their match at Eastleigh last month because of a waterlogged pitch. Fixture security is not, though, the main argument for 3G.

“We can use 3G 40-50 hours a week instead of two hours every two weeks,” added Elliott. “The first team now train on it - we were paying to go somewhere else. We used to pay another club to host our youth team games, we host and train them here. We have two ground shares, Sutton Common Rovers and Wimbledon Ladies. We have ladies sides of our own we have started this season, there is the junior section, three disability sides and now an academy with 80-90 boys based here at the club. They all use the pitch.”

There is, however, a cloud on the horizon. If Sutton go up – and they lie fourth in the Vanarama National League, two points behind leaders Macclesfield – they will have to tear up the pitch to be allowed promotion. However, the Football League almost accepted plastic a couple of seasons ago and it is back on the agenda in next month’s league meeting.

Some opponents feel the pitch confers an unfair advantage but the three Vanarama National League teams with 3G pitches last season – Sutton, Maidstone and Bromley – all finished mid-table having lost, between them, a third of their home games.

While better than many grass pitches at this level the ball does tend to run off quickly on 3G and on Saturday the combination of surface and strong wind troubled both Sutton and visitors Fylde in the first half. However, when the wind dropped there was some decent football played on a surface that – as Arsenal showed in the FA Cup last season last season – rewards technical sides. Sutton’s second goal, inspired by Josh Taylor’s slalom down the left wing, highlighted this.

Despite Lewis Montrose’s subsequent dismissal a late rally from Fylde, still finding their feet in the Vanarama National League after rapid promotions, made for a tense finish. Sutton held on to win 2-1, stay in the promotion frame, and keep the 3G debate simmering.

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