By Matt Badcock
Wembley Stadium, May 2018. Sutton United are in the National League promotion final, trailing 1-0 with ten minutes left and their opponents have just been reduced to ten men.
Boss Paul Doswell has three attackers on the bench and all his substitutions still to use.
What does he do?
“They’ll all be coming on,” says the U’s boss. “The players deserve the opportunity to go up, the club deserves the opportunity to go up. And, as we always do here, we’ll find a solution.”
The problem is the 3G pitch the National League club says has transformed them. They have become a hub to their community with around 1,000 locals regularly using their facility.
But, under current rules, promotion would mean they would have to rip it up and replace it with natural grass or face being demoted to the National Leagie South.
However, League clubs could well vote in June to allow 3G pitches from 2018-19. All that Doswell says over a cup of tea, in his new office you have to pass through the first-team toilets to reach, comes with the caveat of: IF.
If they win promotion. He points out they could finish mid-table. But they’ve been working through the solutions, including enlisting a top sports’ barrister, of what to do if they need to.
“It’s a moral issue we’ve now got at this football club,” Doswell says. “We know the rules – rules, however, are there to be challenged.
“We totally accept we signed something in the summer that the National League asked us to sign. We had to, it was a fait accompli you had to sign. So, yes, we signed it, but it was under duress.
“What we’re asking for is an earlier decision from the EFL. If the clubs vote yes in June, it means we could spend £500,000 – which we haven’t got – on a grass pitch for one year. Plus none of our children, adult, disabled, community, girls, ladies teams have anywhere to play next year.
“Let’s put this fallacy of revenue to bed now. We don’t make very much profit on what we do. Once you’ve taken out the 3G manager’s wages, floodlights and all the usage costs, plus you repay the loan, there isn’t a massive profit.
“What we have done is trebled our attendances on the back of people feeling part of the football club.”
Doswell also points to how artificial surfaces – that are used around the world, in international fixtures and are permissible in the FA Cup – also allow clubs’ income streams to remain flowing in those dark winter months. So, what will they do?
“The most sensible thing in the world is not to spend half-a-million pounds, which we haven’t got and would put us into financial risk, and groundshare for one year,” Doswell says.
“You can groundshare in the Football League but, as I understand it, you can’t groundshare going up into the Football League. So that’s another double whammy.
“We’d consider a groundshare with whoever it may be so again we’d be asking the EFL for something.
“In that one year, if we were groundsharing, we’d look to get another venue as close as we can to this football club to build another 3G. So our community model, which is what we are concerned about, will work very, very close by.
“Ultimately if we do go grass, as long as we’ve got a 3G in play at the same time, we don’t lose these 1,000 kids and adults in all the teams that use the facility. That’s what’s been swirling around our heads.
“Although the reality, to get planning permission and a new 3G pitch built, will be a season where we lose the model – that’s what I get upset about.”
Should the grass have to go down, they will lay it on a protective cover on top of the 3G pitch ready to be used again in the future, after a deep clean.
The club and chairman Bruce Elliott have promised the players they will go up if they win promotion, whether it’s this season or in the future.
Doswell is celebrating his tenth season in charge and has two promotions under his belt as well as last season’s epic FA Cup run that ended in the fifth round at home to Arsenal.
Attendances have boomed with their £100 season tickets as the traditional Non-League club’s rise goes on. In striker Tommy Wright, who just signed a new two-year contract, Doswell says they have one of the best young strikers around.
“He is the best young player I’ve seen by a country mile for a long time,” Doswell says, highlighting the work assistant coach and ex-Leeds striker Ian Baird does with him. “We’ve had three phone calls this week about Championship clubs looking at him.
“He will be the best of all the ones we’ve got. He’s got 15 goals already this year. He was at Southampton and Reading but he was playing for Otterbourne.
“Their chairman Stuart Munro, who is a really big mate of mine, said he thought he’s good enough.
“He came in here and looked a young prospect. Then had a year at Salisbury, 52 goals he scored, that turned him from a prospect. If you look at his minutes-per-goal, he’s the best in the National League.
“The thing with Tommy is he’s a natural finisher but he’s also a very bright footballer and that’s what will allow him to go higher.”
Expect him to be on that Wembley pitch in May IF they get there.
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday
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