We will continue to campaign for 3G to be allowed higher up the pyramid, says Stones co-owner

Wednesday 29th January 2014
MAIDSTONE UNITED Academy coach Jack Parkinson says the club will fight to get artificial pitches accepted by The Football Conference.

The Football Conference held an Extra Ordinary Meeting in Telford this morning and received a proposal to a change of rule to allow artificial turf pitches.

But as things stand, Maidstone United will not be accepted into the Skrill (Conference) South next season should they win promotion from the Ryman Premier League because they play on a 3G pitch.

A Football Conference statement said: “The vote by the member clubs in compliance with competition regulations saw the proposal defeated by 21 votes to 11 votes.  All 32 votes being cast.

“This means for 2014/15 season only natural grass turf surfaces will be permitted in all three divisions of the Skrill Conference.”

The vote came 24 hours after Maidstone United’s co-owner Oliver Ash and first team manager Jay Saunders met with The Football Conference Board of Directors to make the case for 3G.

The Ryman Premier League club issued a statement on their website www.maidstoneunited.co.uk.

Mr Ash said: “Our discussion with the Conference Board was open and constructive.  Despite today’s vote we will continue a dialogue with the League and press for the acceptance of these surfaces which I am confident will come sooner rather than later.

“We know there are many clubs in the Conference who favour allowing 3G.

“However, we had modest expectations about the vote because it gave 24 Premier clubs one vote each, while North and South got just between them.  Additionally, the compelling facts and figures on 3G were not disclosed to the clubs by the Conference Board prior to the vote.”

The Stones are presently in second-place in the Ryman Premier League and are one of six clubs with a realistic chance of winning promotion at the end of the season.

Mr Ash added: “It’s business as usual for our club. We will continue to campaign for 3G to be allowed higher up the pyramid, while the first team will push for promotion from the Ryman Premier Division.

“If we were in a promotion position come the end of the season we are very confident we would be allowed to go up on 3G.”

Parkinson, 24, who is Academy Coach and signed for the club as a player from Skrill Premier side Woking on a two-and-a-half year contract in December 2013, was asked his thoughts on today’s decision.

“I’m not surprised in the decision,” he said.

“I think that we knew that there are clubs that we’re going to vote against the 3G pitches.

“There’s still a long way to go in this debate with the Football Conference but I feel optimistic that the decision will change.

“As players we’re all very confident that as long as we keep doing the work on the pitch to finish in the top five, matters off the pitch will look after themselves.”

Maidstone United can play home games in wet weather, while clubs without artificial pitches have to come to terms with postponed games.

Parkinson said: “I think the surface at Maidstone is fantastic and having played at a few grounds this year where pitches are becoming worse as the year goes on, for me it’s a no brainer to allow 3G pitches into the Conference Leagues.

“If you look at Tuesday night all games in the Ryman Premier and Skrill South were called off. 

“As a player surely a surface such as Maidstone’s where the ball runs as good as ever and the bounce is as true as ever for any team that wants to play football it’s a perfect surface to play on and you’re guaranteed to have your game on.”

The surface at Maidstone United is a million times better than the plastic pitches that popped up at Queen’s Park Rangers, Luton Town, Oldham Athletic and Preston North End in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Maidstone United’s Academy set-up has flourished since the club moved in to the £2.6m stadium, based at James Whatman Way in July 2013.

It seems ironic that the Kent club compete in the Conference Youth Alliance at youth-team level, but cannot play on their 3G pitch in the Conference South, should they get there next season!

“Club’s haven’t got the money these days to be able to keep spending money on their pitches and another huge success for us this year has been our Academy,” said Parkinson.

“One of the main reasons for this is attracting good players to the club as they love the pitch along with the fact we can train on it each day.

“We’ve had a number of teams in the leagues we play in want to swap games around to sallow their lads to come and play on the surface.”

The Stones travel to fourth-placed Kingstonian on Saturday.

The K’s are two points behind The Stones going into the game, to be played on the luscious grass surface at Kingsmeadow, which hosts League Two football due to AFC Wimbledon being their landlords.

“We’re looking forward to the game on Saturday at Kingstonian. They have had a good season so far and are one of the teams along with us trying to win the league,” added Parkinson.

“It was a good win for us last week again a team top of the form table but with players returning from injury and if we can keep a level of consistency we stand a good chance of picking up points on Saturday.”

With wet weather causing hundreds of football fixtures to be called off for the past two months, clubs that play on grass face a battle to get their games played at the weekend.

Every Kent non-league team that were scheduled to play on Monday, last night and tonight were left frustrated as every game was postponed through waterlogged pitches.

The biggest disappointments were for Bromley, who were to play a top-of-the-table clash against Eastleigh in Skrill South at Hayes Lane.

And Tonbridge Angels, who have played only five home games since the end of October, who were looking forward to welcoming their Kent rivals Ebbsfleet United to Longmead Stadium in the same division.

Herne Bay (and tenants Canterbury City) have been hit with poor pitch conditions, and elsewhere Horsham and Leatherhead have suffered.

Whitstable Town are scheduled to play Guernsey at The Belmont on Saturday and chairman Gary Johnson said: “The match referee and the League are aware that we have a pitch inspection on Friday early afternoon.

“I think at this moment it maybe 50-50 but we are all doing what we can to get the game on – although we may need more help Friday and early Saturday.

“Indeed the club has invested in new machinery in an aid to remove standing water from the surface.

“We all want the game on.”

Whitstable Town have played 22 league games this season and are in the relegation zone and must cram in another 24 league games and one or two Kent Senior Cup ties before the end of the season.

Manager Nicky Southall, who backs 3G playing surfaces, said: “I really hope the Ryman League sort this mess out and extend the season by two weeks as this is a joke! Cancellations, this is without snow.”

Hanwell Town hope to get their FA Vase Fourth Round tie against Ashford United played at the third – or fourth – attempt this weekend.

The previous two games have been postponed owing to their Perivale Lane pitch being waterlogged over the past two weekends.

Hanwell Town secretary Clive Cooke said: “The hostile weather has certainly affected many matches from all leagues these last two weekends including Football League matches.

“Even the professional clubs, with no doubt full-time groundstaff, are not exempt to these extreme weather conditions.

“Our pitch, played on last Tuesday, if inspected last Thursday was playable for Saturday 25 January. We then had continuous rain from Friday night around 9pm all through the night until 6amx Saturday morning. This resulted in a totally sodden pitch, with muddy areas and in parts (one area in particular) clearly unfit to play by reason of being waterlogged.

“A level three referee inspected Saturday morning and it was the correct decision not to play.

“Nearby games at Hillingdon, Hendon (at Harrow Borough) were likewise postponed and I see Uxbridge FC, having declared themselves fit to play, was abandoned after 64 minutes for being waterlogged.”

Hanwell Town’s home game against Harefield United was postponed last night – through a waterlogged pitch – and tonight’s game between tenants Southall and Amersham Town also suffered the same fate.

Hanwell Town will inspect their pitch on Thursday to see if they do finally play Paul Chambers’ Southern Counties East Football League leaders.

Mr Cooke added: “If the pitch is inspected this coming Thursday it may well be playable for Saturday. However, looking at the forecast we again have rain due on Friday night. We may therefore once again be faced with a Saturday pitch inspection albeit, our hopes high given the better forecast of being playable.

“If the unthinkable happens and on the Saturday it is deemed unplayable the forecast seems favourable for the pitch to be playable for the Sunday.

“I am unsure how a 48-hour period between inspection and declaration makes this situation any more clear given the unpredictability of the weather?

“I see the forecast in Ashford is no kinder and likewise has rain scheduled for Thursday as well as the Friday night.”

A statement from Steve Clark of The Football Association insists Hanwell Town must get the game played this weekend.

“I’m of the view that if any inspection has an effect on the tie getting played on Saturday, then to play on Sunday MUST be a consideration, otherwise any re-arranged date may need to be next midweek to allow a replay on the following Saturday.”

If the game is switched to a Sunday fixture, then supporters’ will be informed as soon as we know.

Meanwhile, there will be games being played in Kent this weekend, on artificial surfaces.

Seven Acre & Sidcup will play Lewisham Borough in the NRG Gym Under 21 League on Friday night (7:30pm) – the game being played on the 4G pitch at Sporting Club Thamesmead, at Bayliss Avenue

Haart of Kent County League Division Two West leaders Bexley Borough will play Seven Acre & Sidcup Reserves on the same pitch on Saturday (2:45pm).

Bridon Ropes will play Soccer Elite FA in the NRG Gym Under 21 League on the 3G pitch at the Meridian Sports & Social Club in Charlton on Saturday (2:00pm).

Wrotham School stages the Haart of Kent County League Division Two West clash between Ide Hill and Belvedere (2:45pm).
Maidstone United's Youtube video with the benefits of having a 3G pitch at their stadium, which helps their highly-successful Academy set-up: