Saturday 13th February 2021 – 3pm KO – National League at Gander Green Lane, Sutton
It is a myth that having a 3G makes you immune to postponements due to the weather. I was due to visit Gander Green Lane, home of promotion hopefuls Sutton United in early February but the game fell foul to the freezing conditions. In some ways it was refreshing to see an age-old issue result in a game being postponed rather than anything to do with Covid-19 or clubs refusing to play due to the ongoing situation with the Winter Survival Package. However, with twenty six league games still to play in little more than 13 weeks, another game to fit in wasn’t the situation that the club wanted.
Seventy two hours previously, with snow beginning to fall in earnest across the south of England, Sutton had taken on Woking in the FA Trophy on the Gander Green Lane artificial surface. The Cards came away with a somewhat surprising 1-0 win, based on league position anyway. Three days later and further snow, plus overnight temperatures dropping as low as minus 6 in South London meant that the surface was simply unplayable.
Fresh snow that lays gently on an artificial pitch can be cleared quite easily but as soon as the temperature drops and it compacts, then you cannot sweep it away as it will take all of the stabilising rubber crumb from the surface. Not only will you eventually be left with a pitch that is unsuitable for use but also a major bill to replace the rubber. This game was originally scheduled to have been the other way around, with Boreham Wood hosting, but the freezing temperatures would have certainly led to a postponement and with neither club wanting another game to catch up on, a very sensible decision was made to switch the venue, with Sutton United now visiting Meadow Park on Easter Friday.
And herein lies the dilemma for ambitious clubs like Sutton United. The installation of a 3G pitch has played a big part in them being able progress through the Non-Leagues. Ten years ago they were in the Isthmian Premier League, now they 3rd in the National League with games in hand to go into the automatic promotion spot to the Football League. But the current EFL rules state that whilst artificial surfaces are perfectly acceptable for FA Cup games against their clubs (as seen when Sutton United beat Leeds United four years ago), they cannot be used for any league games.
So last season, Play-off winners Harrogate Town had to replace their 3G surface that had served the local community so well in order to play in the EFL, playing their first few games at Doncaster Rovers, and should Sutton United gain a place in the EFL, whether by winning the league or the Play-offs, they will have to do the same. Whilst the thought will have crossed the club’s minds, they probably won’t have approached anyone just yet although AFC Wimbledon just up the road may be a viable option for them.
Unsurprisingly based on their league position, the club’s intentions were to continue with the season, based on the National League’s Resolutions, voting ‘For’ Resolution One (clubs to decide their own fate via a vote) and ’Against’ Resolution Two to end Step 1 as Null and Void. The visitors position was less clear, keeping their own council. Last season Boreham Wood finished the truncated season in 5th place, reaching the semi-final of the play-offs before narrowly losing 1-0 at eventual winners Harrogate Town.
Only eight games at Steps 1 and 2 survived the weather, with five of those being on artificial surfaces. Whilst the temperature never broke the zero degrees mark during the afternoon, the surface was perfectly playable although it wasn’t a game for anyone to be standing around for long.
The club had perfected their Covid-19 protocols, with clear instructions sent in advance, an efficient entry procedure into the ground and a free cup of tea to keep me warm in the first half. I’d gone with the double trouser, treble sock and wicket keeping inners underneath my gloves to retain the use of the extremities as I took up my position behind the Boreham Wood goal.
Boreham Wood are a solid team, built on the best defensive record in the league and with one of the biggest goal keepers I have seen for a while who spent most of the game berating the officials for every mistake he and his team made. The early exchanges saw Sutton trying to find a way through, which they eventually found just after the half hour mark when Louis John met an out-swinging corner, volleying home from close range.
The home side secured all three points five minutes after the restart when Will Randall ran with the ball from the edge of his own area, pursued by Borham Wood defenders, before slotting the ball past a static visiting keeper.
“Who knows what will happen” One of the helpful volunteer stewards told me when I was walking around the ground at the final whistle. We were talking about the 3G and how it may have to be removed, “But it is hard to see the logic in it. I mean, it is used by everybody around here and it is madness that football wants to be more inclusive and in one stroke makes us rip up our greatest community asset”
He’s not wrong but then again we all know that common sense and football make very odd bed fellows.