Maidstone hot up 3G War
The Football Conference could face a big legal bill as Maidstone United step up their battle to be allowed to play on a 3G pitch next year. They are currently top of the Ryman Premier, with financially challenged Dulwich Hamlet on the same number of points.
There is something of a chicken game in the threats of legal action as Maidstone would prefer to settle out of court. Conference chairman Brian Lee has used the pejorative term 'blackmail'. Anyone is entitled to take legal action if they think they have a case, although I am not convinced that the Maidstone case is that strong.
The fact that such pitches have been used in Champions League matches is irrelevant as each competition is to some extent an autonomous entity. They are, of course, bound by the rules of the Football Association but, as far as I know, the football authorities have no intention of instructing leagues to accept such pitches.
The main complaint of Maidstone United is that the voting process is flawed. It is clearly set out in the Articles of Association under which the Football Conference operates as a limited company. It is weighted in favour of the premier level clubs, but that is not inherently unreasonable. In any case, even if there had been one club, one vote, the result would still have been 26 in favour of allowing 3G pitches and 42 against.
However, if there is a lengthy court case, each club could have to pay thousands of pounds in costs and that could be the final blow for struggling clubs such as Hyde. In a 2004 action clubs were faced with a bill of £35,000 each before the FA stepped in to bail them out,
Many clubs don't want these pitches because they consider it could give an unfair advantage to the home sides used to playing on them. A possible compromise might be to allow a one year experiment to see if this was the case.
The Conference recently lost their sponsor after money transfer company Skrill activated a break clause in their contract. They are hopeful that coverage of matches on BT Sport will help them to find a replacement.