WELSH PREMIER FOOTBALL

Solitude

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GRASS pitches could become the exception rather than the norm in the Welsh Premier League under a revolutionary FAW initiative.

The governing body recently acknowledged key recommendations made in a Welsh Assembly enquiry report into the league, which included the provision of the latest-generation plastic pitches to help turn clubs into "community hubs".

In the first tranche of support, the FAW intends to use around £3 million of Uefa hat-trick funding to provide artificial pitches for six clubs, Welsh Premier chairmen were told at a recent meeting.

And there are hopes that the move could trigger matched funding support from the Welsh Assembly to equip the remaining clubs in the league.

The artificial surface does not necessarily have to be the main playing surface for Welsh Premier fixtures, but must be installed at the same location.

Effectively, this means that several clubs would be forced to switch from grass to plastic for WPL fixtures if they wished to benefit from the FAW's plan, as they do not have sufficient space to install a second, artificial pitch nearby.

The New Saints were the first club in the Welsh Premier to install an artificial surface back in 2007 to a mixed reception from players and spectators.

Newtown and Prestatyn Town are among clubs to have already expressed an interest in converting their existing grass surfaces to plastic before the announcement of the FAW's initiative.

Airbus UK hope to install an artificial surface alongside their main pitch in Broughton as part of a ground redevelopment in conjunction with the FAW Trust, while plans for Port Talbot to share a new stadium and artificial pitch with Aberavon Rugby look set to come to fruition in the near future.

Two clubs in the Danske Bank Premiership in northern Ireland - Cliftonville and Crusaders - currently play on artificial surfaces while, in Scotland, Airdrie United and Alloa Athletic have had the surfaces installed to combat the winter weather.

The artificial surface does not necessarily have to be the main playing surface for Welsh Premier fixtures.

In its submission to the WAG enquiry, the FAW said: "Due to the fact that 3G/4G pitches generate income, no further investment would be required once the nine-year life span of each pitch came to an end. 

"The total, one off investment, to introduce 3G/4G pitches to all WPL clubs, either as first team pitches or training facilities for club and community would cost a maximum of £5 million. 

"The perfect model for this has been proven at Crusaders in Northern Ireland. 

"The government paid 75% of the 4G costs - gave the club the responsibility of managing and maintaining the pitch - but demanded that local schools were allowed free allocated access to the facility on a weekly basis. 

"Every party involved has reaped benefit from the new arrangement.

"This 3G/4G strategy with the 12 WPL clubs becoming community hubs for all sections of society would benefit and strengthen community links, health, civil obedience and make the clubs far more sustainable."

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25 April 2017

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