When artificial pitches made their first appearance in England during the 1980s, they were quickly written off as a failed fad. But huge advances in technology have given rise to a new breed of playing surface. Although still banned in English football, there are growing calls to allow their return - particularly at the cash-strapped clubs of the lower leagues.

Although a recent vote failed to secure the return of artificial pitches in Leagues One and Two, thousands of new 3G and 4G pitches are to be installed at grassroots clubs and associations over the next five years. But can an artificial playing surface help the minnows of the professional game save much-needed money on maintenance? And is the cost involved prohibitive?

Blazing a 4G trail in Northern Ireland

When Northern Ireland team Crusaders F.C. welcomed Fulham for a Europa League match a few seasons back, there were concerns that the artificial playing surface the club plays on would be detrimental to the health of Fulham’s professionals. Fulham eventually ran out 4-0 winners on the surface, and came out of the confrontation relatively unscathed. The match proved how far pitch technology has come in recent years, and why FIFA has gone in a different direction to the FA by allowing the use of 4G pitches in competitive matches.

For a club like Crusaders, the upkeep required to keep a real grass playing surface in good condition can be prohibitive. Without the resources required for under-soil heating, clubs of this stature are often faced with the prospect of postponing matches because of the state of the pitch. An artificial surface involves a substantial, one-off cost, but it can cut 10 years’ worth of maintenance costs - securing a club’s financial future.

The facts and figures relating to artificial pitches

The latest 4G pitches are more affordable than ever. They remain soft during cold snaps, and they don’t freeze like earth does. Every blade of artificial grass on a 4G pitch has a solid spine that allows it to snap back into position when it is trodden on - ensuring it always looks fantastic. Ball bounces are true, and there is sufficient give in the modern artificial pitch to minimise injuries.

According to the BBC, the average 3G pitch costs around £500,000. However, Crusaders F.C. reportedly fitted theirs for a total cost of just €280,000. But as more and more clubs and local associations install them, the price will continue to plummet. Depending on the specific dimensions involved, as well as the type of absorbing base required, fitting an artificial pitch in England can cost anything between £300,000 and £500,000.

It is estimated that the additional revenue generated from an artificial pitch could be as high as £165,000 per year. When the initial outlay is taken into consideration, it is no surprise that a growing number of grassroots clubs and leagues are opting for the artificial route. To a small community club fighting to stay afloat, this cash could be the difference between survival and bankruptcy.

The biggest endorsement of the modern 4G pitch comes from FIFA, which has given the technology a 2-star rating. This is the highest possible rating, and it allows matches in the Champion’s League to be played on the surface. If an artificial pitch is good enough for the most prestigious tournament in world football, surely it is good enough for League One and League Two.

46 teams in League One and Two voted on the issue of artificial pitches in 2014, and 29 of them said that they would be in favour of them. Not only would these pitches slash maintenance costs, they could be hired out for different events without fear of causing damage - providing a much-needed revenue stream. But as long as the Professional Footballer’s Association remains opposed to the use of 4G pitches in the professional game, it seems that the minnows of English football will have to survive without the obvious financial benefits that artificial playing surfaces deliver.

The Soccer Store do not actually supply and fit Artificial Football Pitches. However we do supply the Freestanding Goals and accessories to complete the set up of these pitches.