The majority of technological advancements in football have been produced to improve the way that the game is played. One big recent invention for the sport was designed to ensure that fixtures kicked off in the first place. I first attended secondary school in 2010, and in that same year that I joined, my school was having a brand new artificial pitch lodged in over the top of one of the playing fields. Known as a 4g pitch, not meaning the reception and data on your smart phone, but an abbreviation of fourth generation. This was something that I’d never come across before whilst playing football all my life. Yet it would grow to develop into the game and be used worldwide.
It is difficult to comprehend with the benefits of a 4g pitch until you actually begin to play on one consistently. Growing up I was used to grass pitches with a 45-degree incline with bumps and dips on one half and sand filled holes on the other. So when I heard that this would be a completely flat pitch that was weather resistant I was in disbelief. With the pitch being fourth generation, it is clear that over the years technology has been used to develop from a first generation pitch. Here this post will go through how research and technology artificial got pitches to this stage.
The 1960’s saw the first generation artificial pitch introduced to sport. This was exceedingly far from the types of artificial pitch we see today. Produced from a hardened nylon fibre over a layer of asphalt, this really was simply the first generation when you retrospectively compare. And in fact these pitches were never introduced to the field of professional football (pun intended). Professional football initially experienced the 2nd generation playing fields, when four established clubs had the pitches renovated in 1980. The 2g pitches saw short synthetic grass covered in a layer of sand. The clubs that introduced these were Luton Town, Preston North End, Queens Park Rangers, and Oldham Athletic. However fifteen years later the English F.A banned the turf from the professional game. And quite frankly I don’t blame them as in my experience, the only thing I would come out with from playing on this type of pitch would be cuts and scrapes from sliding across sand all night.
Then came the introduction of the 3g pitches, which represented a huge step forward in terms of quality of surface. Despite there being a fourth generation these are still the most popular type of artificial surfaces used by football teams. 3g surfaces are made up of long synthetic grass with a mix of rubber infill. This provides an acquired texture allowing the play of the ball to be smooth, with the rubber infill acting as a shock absorber so that the ball bounces correctly. This type of surface is excellent in replicating natural grass and when playing, it is hard to distinguish between the two. However, it edges playing on grass as it is a weather proof surface, therefore games can take place whether the sun is shining or the rain is pouring, even if it is snowing the game will still commence.
Finally came a 4g pitch, which the creators define as like 3g artificial grass, but with no need for the rubber infill. These begun to grow in popularity in the year 2010, the same year that I saw my school developing one. These surfaces are a hybrid of artificial turf and natural grass, allowing for the pitch to be used for longer without being worn down. It is said by some however that 4g is just a label, and that specialists haven’t yet classified it as an official technology. Which is why the rules in the English league state today that a professional club cannot use them. However it is utilised across the continent by professional teams, especially by eastern European countries such as Russia, due to the harsh weather conditions that can occur over there. As well as this it is employed by many non- league clubs in our country, for example Maidstone United, a club that I played for in the youth leagues growing up. What is useful to see is that since these pitches have been introduced, the standard of football at non-league level has gone up, because players have no excuses to have a poor first touch, or to over hit a pass, allowing them to play to their full potential. As time goes on more and more pitches will progress through technology improving. And it is exciting to see what the future holds for the original grass football pitch, as artificial pitches are increasingly creeping into the game.