DAVID LONGMUIR, the chief executive of the Scottish Football League, wants more lower division clubs to consider investing in 3G pitches to help combat the wintry weather and help generate more income throughout the season.
The likes of Airdrie United, Alloa Athletic, Montrose and Stenhousemuir have already laid down artificial surfaces at their grounds, while they have also found favour on the continent with clubs such as Heracles Almelo in the Netherlands and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.
The cost of laying down a 3G surface can be upwards of £400,000 but they require little maintenance, while clubs have also been able to use them to increase revenue by hiring them out during the week. That, in turn, has allowed them to connect with their communities to a greater degree.
Such surfaces have also been endorsed by the SFL. The benefits of being able to hold matches despite falling temperatures are obvious, with Longmuir a strong advocate of having more artificial pitches brought into Scottish football.
"I'm on a facilities forum with the SFA and SPL and part of that forum is to look at how we get the investment into the infrastructure of the game in Scotland," he said. "To me, a lot of that is about 3G pitches. If you think of a lot of the community clubs – your Forfars, Brechins, Arbroaths, Annans – they would take huge benefits from having a 3G surface.
"I think 3G pitches are the way ahead for smaller clubs. They are significant investments to get them down but they are a one-off cost. If you can generate the funds to get a 3G pitch down – either through government investment or through a private enterprise partnership – then you give yourself the best opportunity to play football and generate income throughout the week. All the clubs that have got 3G pitches are doing well with them and are demonstrating the value of having the club open to other organisations or other football clubs to come in and use it."
Despite his effusive arguments, many clubs will be reluctant to follow as Scottish Premier League rules prohibit artificial surfaces. Hamilton Academical were forced to revert to a grass pitch following their promotion from the first division in 2008. "That's something which needs to be looked at again as I do think that 3G pitches for our climate, and the size and community aspect of our clubs have got much greater potential for clubs to use and embrace their community," said Longmuir.
However, the chief executive is less enamoured with arguments for the reintroduction of a winter break. A number of matches in the SFL having already been claimed by inclement weather this season – only one of the four games that had been scheduled for Tuesday night went ahead – while many more can be expected to fall in the coming weeks.
The winter shutdown was abolished in 2003 but its resurrection has been a perennial point of discussion since then. The SFL has yet to be won over by those who favour its return, though. "There are issues about extending the season as it is already as tight as it could possibly be in terms of the number of games," said Longmuir. "We put on league football for the 30 clubs, we also have under-17 and under-19 competitions going on, we run a League Cup and we run a Challenge Cup – so we deliver an awful lot of football.
"The way the fixture calendar works means there are very few opportunities for us to make it longer by having a winter break. You have to remember that a lot of our clubs are part-time and players' contracts often don't run the full calendar year, they only run until the end of the playing season. Anything we do to extend the season is, therefore, costlier."