Last night the Kent FA Women’s Cup Final was held at Maidstone United’s Gallagher stadium.
Gillingham Ladies won the cup for a third successive year beating Charlton Athletic Women’s Reserves 3-0 and I congratulate them on their win.
There was a difference to most major football finals though and that was the playing surface used, as it was on The Stones’ state-of-the-art 3G artificial pitch, rather than grass.
This surface has been great not just for Maidstone United and their promotion push this season to get into the Conference South, but more importantly for community sport and talent development in the area.
As well as hosting competitive matches for the first team, it is used for training its academy players and is opened up for wider community use, hosting sessions for disabled youngsters and encouraging greater participation.
And that is the beauty of these 3G pitches – the use you get out of them is fantastic. Unlike the muddy, grass pitches that many semi-professional to Sunday league teams have to struggle on all-season they offer a true, fast surface that can be used day-in-day out.
The tough weather conditions this winter meant a massive amount of grassroots football fixtures were cancelled as grass pitches were damaged but the all-weather 3G surfaces are far more resilient and ensure that it is very much game on rather than match abandoned.
The FA has recognised the increasing emergence of 3G and is to permit these surfaces to be used in the FA Cup next season. Currently though the Football Conference does not allow those pitches to be used and I have been lobbying them and the FA to change this rule. If Maidstone were to get promoted they would have to move grounds and play on grass, so surely this rule needs to be looked at for the Conference level.
These facilities are great community assets and I want to see what more we can do to get more of them in towns and cities across the country to build on the great work already happening.
The DCMS and our funding partners, the Premier League and the FA, are investing £102 million over the next three years in new 3G facilities delivered by the Football Foundation.
This investment will put scores of pitches down and will also have a positive economic impact too. A study from the Centre of Economics and Business Research forecast that this investment will attract £168 million of partnership funding and contribute over £300 million to the UK GDP.
This partnership approach model for improving this nation’s facility stock has to be the way forward and putting these pitches down has proven to be sustainable, both in terms of the playing surface and financially, and also good for economic growth.
I am also having initial discussions with sports governing bodies, local authorities and Sport England about facility ownership models and how we can work together to make community sport as strong as possible in this country. More 3G pitches will certainly only help on that front.