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This National League side could be relegated despite finishing FIRST this season

Sutton United are currently top of the English fifth tier, but may fall foul of rules that would lead to them being relegated rather than promoted.

This is Sutton United Football Club.

Nice pitch, shame if something were to happen to it

PA:Press Association
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Nice pitch, shame if something were to happen to it

They are currently top of the National League (or the Conference as you and I would still know it) and are heading for promotion into the Football League for the first time.

Only, despite finishing first in England’s fifth tier, they may not be allowed into League Two.

Worse still, they could still get relegated.

Confused? You should be. So allow us to explain.

Sutton currently play on a FIFA-approved 3G astroturf pitch, which they spent about £500,000 installing.

The all-weather pitch means they can fulfil all their fixtures without a problem and earn a fair amount from local community clubs and schools when they hire it out.

It’s a stark contrast from other National League pitches, which need constant upkeep and aren’t often available for public use.

However, in (almost) the words of Jay-Z, Sutton have 99 problems and the pitch is one. In fact, it’s the main one.

Currently the English Football League (EFL) don’t allow for artificial pitches, which is a problem for Sutton, who want to continue running with their club model as they’ve found it to be incredibly successful.

The EFL have been discussing whether or not to allow plastic pitches, but a vote on whether to permit them is supposed to be coming in June this year.

You just don’t get this sort of pitch invasion on grass pitches

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You just don’t get this sort of pitch invasion on grass pitches

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But how does this mean relegation? we hear you ask.

Indeed – this is where the situation gets even more complicated, and worse, for the U’s.

Currently under National League rules, any club which wins promotion from the league but doesn’t put in a grass pitch to fulfil EFL rules will be relegated to the National League South or National League North.

It seems a bonkers rule, but makes sense from the National League’s viewpoint. If you can’t fulfil the promotion criteria, you get relegated, and all the clubs in the league have signed an agreement on it.

Meanwhile, the EFL recently announced that only one team will be relegated from League Two should Sutton be unable to fulfil their promotion criteria.

So now Sutton face a choice – do they rip up their artificial pitch that serves them so well, or keep the pitch but get relegated to the National League South?

Sutton’s 3G pitch – so good Alexis Sanchez fell asleep on it

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Sutton’s 3G pitch – so good Alexis Sanchez fell asleep on it

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Fortunately, the club are looking for a way round the sticky situation, with manager Paul Doswell providing an update on the situation last week.

He said: “Last few months have been investigating all our options and making sure whatever we do was right for the club, the supporters and most cost effective as every pound is massive still to us.

“We were clearly hoping that we could retain the 3G. However with no vote planned, option B is in place.

“Our biggest dilemma is losing our community model which we all fiercely believe in.

“The solution is; Having been advised by industry experts if we get promoted, we will install a hybrid grass pitch in the main stadium. This will allow 25/30 hours of use per week.

“We are also looking to install the same pitch in Collingwood Rec (a nearby recreation ground) which combined would give us circa 55 hours use per week the same as we currently have from the 3G.”

So there you go – a club currently flying higher than they’ve ever done before, but with a dilemma bigger than they’ve ever faced.


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