Sutton United manager Paul Doswell has blasted the National League over it’s plan to relegate clubs that choose 3G pitches over promotion to the English Football League (EFL).
Sutton, Bromley and Maidstone United all operate on the artificial surfaces, which have been allowed in non-league’s top tier since last season, but are faced with the prospect of ripping up their facilities should they earn promotion to the EFL.
As it stands Sutton lie fifth in the National League, four points off league leaders Wrexham but with two games in hand while Bromley are six points off top spot and back in seventh.
There is the very real prospect of one of these two sides earning a spot in the EFL next season, whether it be automatically or via the play offs.
The National League asked clubs to sign an ‘irrevocable undertaking’ earlier this season that they would be willing to rip up their 3G pitches if they won promotion to League Two - or face relegation to the sixth tier.
That is because artificial surfaces in the EFL are not allowed.
EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey said in December that the potential use of ‘synthetic or artificial grass surfaces’ would be discussed as part of an ongoing review of stadium criteria.
But he noted that any rule change would need the backing of the majority of EFL clubs at the league’s AGM in June and would not come into force until the 2019-20 season.
And that leaves Sutton with the prospect of ripping up their pitch, a community facility, or facing relegation, with Doswell pointing to the financial plight of those clubs who used grass pitches, including Chester FC .
Doswell posted on Twitter: “I’m really struggling at moment to make sense of Sutton’s situation. Have always loved non league football and very proud that we are playing at the highest level through sheer hard work and prudence, never spending more than we have and building a community club which welcomes all.
“If we gain promotion it will cost half a million pounds to replace the pitch and deny hundreds of children the chance to play football. Every chance as well that we would suffer huge financial pressures as all the basic award £472,000 would go on replacing pitch.
“For those championing grass as a surface we played on a mud cowfield yesterday and didn’t play the week before either. National League and League Two pitches were shocking in the main this weekend as well. From a sporting perspective we will always try to win every game.
“It’s a sad day when I know in my heart of hearts that I could be putting this great club at risk by winning promotion. I understand the rules etc etc but we could be in a position of spending half a million pounds in May and the EFL vote (as they should ) yes in June.
“As a custodian, supporter of the club I’m deeply troubled that something that should be so exciting is causing such anxiety. Dagenham, Macclesfield, Chester and Hartlepool are in desperate trouble with many others in League Two in exactly the same position, all with grass pitches.
“Imagine if (Dover chairman) Jim Parmenter, on National League board and anti 3G, got fed up with the awful crowds at Dover and as he has alluded to, walked away. It’s mainly wealthy chairman that don’t support community clubs using these new technological excellent pitches.
“Their archaic approach will damage non-league and League Two for years and I guarantee they will look fools in years to come. American footballers worth £150m each play on field turf the same company as Sutton use. Champions League, World cup qualifiers, Women’s World Cup.
“FA Cup all played on 3G. Sorry it’s a long one but I can’t keep quiet anymore.
“It’s a disgrace that we could be relegated twice for deciding it’s not right putting our club at the risk of financial ruin as we’ve seen with in the National League these last few weeks.
“Ambitious yes, putting our club at risk NO. This has taken a lot of soul searching, it’s only my personal view and one that I’ve been worrying about for months. Instead of enjoying this season it would break my heart to rip up the pitch.”
National League chief executive Michael Tattersall, speaking to Press Association Sport last month, said that it was not the wish of the League to relegate a club on this basis but warned that it was the only way they fulfil their duty to send two eligible clubs to the EFL.
Tattersall said: “If we don’t send the EFL two eligible clubs they will reprieve the 91st club and we will have undermined our raison d’etre.
“I don’t want to relegate a club on this basis - nobody wants to do that.
“But the irrevocable undertaking was not a work of fiction.
“You have to mean it and if you fail to live up to it we’re not just going to tickle your tummy.
“It sounds draconian but it’s necessary. Should we hold a play-off final if one team isn’t going to accept promotion? (The relegation rule) is the least bad solution.”
Sutton, Bromley and Maidstone wrote to the EFL in August calling on the league to ‘show leadership’ by making 3G pitches legal.