I have been around English football long enough to know a tired cliché when I see it being rolled out; and right on cue we've had the usual 'plastic pitch' scare stories around England's match in Andorra. Surely it's time we moved on from the 'plastic pitch' chat. This is not the 1980s and the match is not at Loftus Road or Boundary Park!
Since 2000, the Football Foundation has funded over 958 artificial pitches
I understand that the preference of elite players is to play on a high-quality grass pitch - and I am sure if the Andorran FA had the means and resources to maintain one it would be their preference too - but the speed at which artificial surfaces can be condemned does a grave disservice to their vital contribution to community football up and down the country.
In England, over 150,000 matches were called off last season - leaving hundreds of thousands of players without their weekly run out. In a country where the climate means lots of rain and cold weather - it's essential to have an alternative to grass pitches to ensure matches can go ahead so more people have more access to play. There are now over 5,000 artificial pitches in England, used for a range of sports including football. The presence of these means that access to football for the hundreds and thousands of players that turn out for training and games every day of the week is far more reliable.
Since 2000, the Football Foundation has funded over 958 of these artificial pitches - all of which are constructed to such a high standard that many consider them to be comparable to playing on natural grass. What people may not realise is that 3G pitches are subjected to 26 different tests that take place in the lab and in the field to hit key criteria - from ensuring the playing characteristics are of a high standard to guaranteeing the safety and quality of the pitch. All these tests ensure pitches meet the standards of The FIFA Quality Programme - a benchmark for artificial pitches. Whilst a grass pitch can sustain up to 6 hours of community use a week, an artificial pitch, tested to the FIFA Quality mark, can sustain 60 hours of use a week. FIFA Quality Pro pitches, such as the one used tonight, are the very highest standard and are regularly used in UEFA Club competitions.
Having access to great facilities is essential for communities. Not only does it enhance people's enjoyment of the game, but their physical and mental wellbeing too. Many of the players we will be watching tonight playing for England will have learnt to play, developed their skills, and spent many hours, on an artificial surface. So, whilst it may not be the first choice of the England team and other elite players, let's not be so quick to denigrate and dismiss the artificial pitch. I say it's Plastic Fantastic when it comes to supporting our game.
Robert Sullivan, Football Foundation CEO