With the unveiling of 3G pitches (The latest kind of artificial pitch to you and me) in Newtown, Broughton and Llandudno Wales finds itself in the midst of an outbreak of plastic grass.
The FAW, with the explicit support of the Welsh Assembly Government, are responsible for the plastic grass implementation and needless to say everyone is very excited by it all.
The Football Association of Wales (FAW) completed a third successful bid for funding from UEFA in April facilities investment initiative. The focus of this third bid – which has created an opportunity to access €3m worth of funds was based on the need to develop a number of Third Generation (otherwise artificial playing surfaces across Wales.
It is anticipated that 3G development will be used by member clubs in order to improve playing surface standards and offer a focal point for the wider community. It is hoped that the right investment will create excellent facilities with potential for year-round use; help develop hubs for community activity; stimulate collaboration with local partners and other users; and deliver wider economic regeneration, social inclusion and health benefits for the communities in which they are situated. It is also hoped that the investment will act as a stimuli to help clubs further develop and become self-sustaining. The FAW strongly believes that this proposed investment will not only help member clubs to capitalise on the current ‘feel-good factor’ that exists in Welsh football, but that it will also deliver a range of additional benefits at all levels of the game and within individual communities across Wales.
It all sounds perfectly logical and there is scope for social benefits. We’ve just had a 3G training pitch laid in Bangor and it’s already being used for social activities.
I went to Llandudno’s match with Tranmere last week and it was played on one of these new-fangled pitches. If 3G pitches are anything it’s “very green”, which you could regard as an improvement on Llandudno’s old-fangled grass surface. Llandudno also had a swanky new fans’ entrance with swanky new turnstiles. During the match I overheard people discussing plans for the social use of the pitch by various groups and it all sounded very good. It seemed as though Llandudno’s club could become a new hub for community uses.
While this approach undoubtedly creates the potential of social benefits I’m not sure the situation is as simple or self-evident as its been made to look by the WAG / FAW. On my way out through the swanky new entrance / exit I noticed a pile of flyers for an organization known as Leisure Leagues. About an hour later I saw more of these flyers in the general store across the road from Llandudno’s station. I picked one up and had a look;
The slogan “NEW 6 A SIDE LEAGUES IN THIS TOWN” in differing sizes and fonts hardly seems to exemplify community spirit. Think about the ending of the slogan….. THIS TOWN!!! ……….THIS TOWN!!! Let’s hear it for THIS TOWN!!!!! A cynic might gain the impression that this company produces a generic leaflet for every THIS TOWN they want to colonise. (It costs about five thousand pounds to become a Leisure Leagues franchisee.)
If the 3G pitch’s purpose is to help create a “community hub” then Llandudno’s 3G pitch has already created a community related problem; a 6-a-side league already exists in Llandudno. This league is not new – it’s been in existence for the last nine years – and it’s never taken place in an unknown corner of Llandudno – it’s always been organized by the Conwy County Council owned sport centre that’s literally next door to Llandudno FC’s ground. As I know to my team’s cost there are only a finite amount of people willing to play football on an all-weather pitch.
It’s not only that a rival league has been set up, it looks as though the Leisure Leagues league has been set up as a direct competitor to the council run league; it’s been scheduled to take place on the same night as the council run version. How is acting in a Thatcherite manner – taking business away from a council run facility – going to ensure greater community cohesion?
If all-weather pitches don’t already exist the need for a shiny new facility is self-evident, if similar facilities already exist where is the desperate need? Wouldn’t the money be better spent elsewhere? Did I say mention the fact that Leisure Leagues charge people five thousand pounds to become one of their franchisees?
I’ll play Devil’s Advocate now. Suppose everything happens like it should and the 3G pitches help the clubs become self-sufficient community football hubs. Suppose these community football hubs are so successful they attract the avaricious attentions of sharp operators looking for opportunities. Suppose that a sharp operator took over a Welsh club with a 3G pitch for some nefarious purposes. The plentiful revenue brought by the 3G might disappear in to the sharp operator’s large pocket. You can call me cynical but this sort of thing is hardly unknown.
On one hand I can see how the 3G revolution might prove to be something that leads to stronger links between the WPL clubs and the communities in which they are based, on the other hand the entire scheme seems to be similar to the approach that’s been adopted by the club with the weakest community links in the WPL, do we want to follow their lead if we’re trying to strengthen community links? I’m not sure I do. We’ll have to see how all this pans out, let’s hope it all works out.