Plastic not so fantastic
I have spoken to a number of groundsmen, some of whom tend to 3G and 4G surfaces, as well as watching many games in different sports played on the all-weather surfaces.
Although what follows is mainly negative, I do see the big benefits from having a 3G/4G surface. Am I in favour of them? I really don’t know!
One thing stands out above all else; there is a huge advantage playing on 3G/4G pitches in that not only do the players have greater familiarity with the surface than those who play on grass week in week out, but playing on grass is less of a disadvantage, because 3G/4G teams play just about their games on the natural surface.
I have so far seen only one 3G/4G surface in Britain which is true and fair, and that is Allianz Park, home of Saracens. It should be noted, however, that their under-surface has been treated with a type of shock-absorber to deaden the bounce, and soften the landing for tackled players.
Every other pitch I have seen has an issue with friction, i.e. the ball stopping or slowing as it would on a natural surface. Maybe the answer would be have slightly longer plastic grass – as at Allianz Park – to help this process, but there is the very dangerous negative of players getting their studs (or whatever) caught in the longer grass and suffering catastrophic damage to knees and/or ankles.
The huge benefit, of course, is the almost guaranteed certainty of a game going ahead – the only dangers are: thick fog, heavy snowfall too close to kick-off or compromising spectator safety; a really deep frost; or - as Sittingbourne found out when going to Guernsey last month - outside travel difficulties make it impossible to reach the stadium at all (in the late 1960s, a game at Houston’s Astrodome was cancelled because rain flooded the car park and, in the 2000s, the Metrodome in Minneapolis was closed when heavy snow caused the roof to cave in!).
Whatever else happens, tomorrow, this will be our first visit to the Gallagher Stadium, so it is a new ground and we will almost certainly be playing in front of our biggest crowd of the season. Our last match in Maidstone was on Saturday 5 September 1970, a 2-1 win courtesy of goals from John Baker and Bobby Wilson.