What is a 3G Football Pitch? The Difference Between 3G & 4G Pitches Explained!

We delve into the differences between 3G & 4G football pitches (& 1G, 2G and even 5G!) exploring which is best and why. So if you want to know what a 3G pitch actually is read on...

You can play 5-a-side football on many surfaces; traditional grass pitches, indoor surfaces (rubber, wood, or vinyl) and outdoor pitches such as synthetic turf (known as 2G 3G, 4G and AstroTurf). It is the latter that is the most common surface used UK.

However, there are various types of artificial turf playing surfaces. For five-a-side football, 3G and 4G pitches are often used. Nevertheless, both 3G and 4G football pitches have their differences, advantages, and disadvantages.

What does 3G stand for?

3G stands for “third generation” and is part of a group of synthetic grass surfaces that are used for various sports; football, rugby, hockey, and American football.

3G pitches consist of three elements; synthetic turf, sand infill and rubber crumb infill. The grass fibres used can be between 35mm-65mm in pile height. In addition to the three elements used, a shock-absorbent pad underneath can be installed and assist with making 3G pitches meet accredited governing body requirements. These include FIFA, FIH (International Hockey Federation), and RFU (Rugby Football Union).

What is a 4G pitch?

Unlike their 3G counterpart, 4G (fourth generation) pitches only consist of one element – synthetic turf. There is no sand or rubber infill. As a result of this, a 4G surface is denser.

In addition to this, the term ‘4G’ is used as a marketing term for brands to appear superior to their competitors.

Is 4G pitch better than 3G?

What about 2G pitches?

When researching artificial sport surfaces, you might come across 2G sports pitches. As you can probably guess, 2G (second generation) pitches are the precursor to 3G pitches. They consist of two elements; synthetic turf and infill, with a pile height of 13mm-24mm.

While it is possible to play five-a-side football on 2G pitches, their surface is shorter and harder making them more suitable for hockey.

Players kicking off on a 2G pitch: What is a 2G pitch?
Players kicking off on a 2G pitch: What is a 2G pitch?

What are the advantages of a 3G pitch?

All of the aforementioned astroturf playing surfaces have their benefits and drawbacks. For 3G pitches, the advantages are:

  • The hard-wearing surface makes 3G pitches durable and resilient.
  • Built for all-weather purposes, meaning you and your mates can play five-a-side come rain or shine!
  • Two-tone 3G pitches emulate the look and feel of playing on natural grass.
  • Requires less maintenance – no watering, mowing, or weeding.
  • 3G pitches are environmentally friendly.
  • 3G pitches are designed for professional and amateur usage.
  • Provides a more consistent and reliable playing surface.
  • Generally 3G pitches are smaller than a regular football pitch size.

Are 3G pitches safe to play on?

For all the advantages 3G pitches do have, they are countered by some pitfalls. One of these is the risk of injury. Like playing any sport on any surface, playing 5-a-side football on a 3G pitch can cause potential injury.

However, Sport England, along with the Football Association, recognise 3G pitches as safe, durable, and able to withstand intensive use and all kinds of weather.

Furthermore, 3G pitches with a shock-absorbing underlay are designed to prevent potential injuries.

Does rubber crumb used on 3G pitches give you cancer?

Is rubber crumb used on 3G pitches safe? You may have come across press articles on this in the past, but they mainly come for the US where some correlative data suggested that rubber crumb was responsible for cancer is some children that played football on rubber crumb. We are not here to give you a definitive answer (science doesn’t work like that anyway!) to if rubber crumb is toxic and causes cancer, so we suggest that you take a look at this article for a balanced view on the topic: https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/growth-curve/science-may-get-sidelined-artificial-turf-debate

I think most of us will find it reassuring that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) carried out an exhaustive EU-wide study in 2016 and found no reason to advise people against playing sport on 3G pitches with rubber crumb. The advice is based on ECHA’s evaluation that there is a very low level of concern from exposure to substances found in the granules.
You can find more detail on the ECHA’s research and report here

Is the rubber crumb used as infill in 3G pitches toxic?
Is the rubber crumb used as infill in 3G pitches toxic?

How much does a 3G/4G pitch cost?

Whether you choose to play on a 3G or 4G pitch, an artificial football pitch can cost anywhere between £300,000 and £900,000. This depends on various factors; the size of the pitch, desired base, sub-base and shock pad, chosen artificial surface, environmental mitigation methods, and additional costs (floodlighting, fencing, equipment).

The average cost of a 5-a-side 3G pitch is around £50-£60 per square metre.

However, if you’re looking for your 3G pitch to be resurfaced, it will cost you approximately £150,000 – £250,000.

Is a 4G pitch better than a 3G pitch?

Although 4G are more modern, they are still relatively new meaning they struggle to meet performance testing and safety standards. This explains why 3G pitches are approved by numerous accredited governing bodies.

As mentioned above, 3G pitches are safer, durable, and reliable.

Is there a 5G football pitch?

Unlike mobile phone wifi generations, naming an artificial pitch 5G is currently a mere marketing ploy, so if you see it when looking for a 3G or 4G pitch, take it with a huge pinch of salt! A 5G football pitch will no doubt be developed in the future. Who knows where the future generations of fake turf pitches will take us – Were assuming that there will be pitch assisted tekkers and close control by the 30Gs!

Why play five-a-side football on 3G artificial turf?

Whether it’s a local five-a-side league or a casual kick about with some mates, playing on a 3G artificial pitch is the safest and most comfortable option.

Can you tell the difference between artificial grass and AstroTurf? We explain the difference between 3G & 4G pitches
Can you tell the difference between artificial grass and AstroTurf? We explain the difference between 3G & 4G pitches

What is the difference between artificial grass and AstroTurf?

The terms ‘astroturf’ and ‘artificial grass’ are often interchangeably used when describing artificial turf.

However, ‘astroturf’ is the name of an American company that sells artificial grass. As a result, artificial grass is often referred to as astroturf.

‘Artificial grass’ is a generic term used when describing imitated grass due to its look and feel.

What are the Football Association’s rules for 3G pitches?

The English Football Association (The FA) states that all 3G football turf pitches should meet the FIFA Quality Programme requirements. The FIFA Quality Programme sets internationally recognised standards for products, technologies, and surfaces.

The FA also insist 3G pitches include these principal elements:

  • Pile
  • Performance Infill
  • Stabilising Infill (sand)
  • Primary and secondary backings
  • Shockpad (optional)

When it comes to recommended pitch size for 3G five-a-side football, The FA states:

Pitch without safety area around pitch: 37m (length) x 27m (width)

Pitch with safety area around pitch: 43m x 33m

Pitch with spectator area: 48m x 39m

As for choosing a 3G surface to install, The FA advises to “choose a high-quality turf that has been 3rd party verified. A poor-quality turf will quickly deteriorate and pose a potential health and safety risk. Look for labels such as European standard EN 15330-1 2013/ EN 14877:2013, FIFA QUALITY standards or any manufacturers on the 3G framework.”

What are the rules for 3G pitches in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland?

While the above information is stated for 3G pitches in England, the other countries part of the United Kingdom (UK) – Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland follow the same requirements.

The Scottish Football Association, the Northern Irish Football Association, and Football Association Wales comply with the FIFA Quality Pro standards. This means artificial pitches should pass the requirements for performance, safety, durability and quality purposes.

How do you maintain a 3G football Pitch?

Despite being a synthetic surface, 3G football pitches still require maintenance. The FA advises a general rule of “one hour of maintenance is required for every ten hours of use”. 3G surfaces shouldn’t have any visible rubber crumbs, and the carpet pile should be upright. If either, or both, of these, aren’t observed, then it is a sign of poor maintenance.

Types of 3G football pitch maintenance

According to The FA, there are three levels of 3G surface maintenance:

  • Routine / Regular – Drag brushing to redistribute the infill and to lift the pile, and localised topping up of infill (e.g. penalty spot, corner arcs)
  • Specialist Maintenance – Surface cleaning, power sweeping and decompaction of infill with specialised equipment. This ensures consistent performance, seam inspection and removal of any moss or weeds.
  • Rejuvenation – This is when a 3G pitch hasn’t been maintained. A neglected surface can result in becoming heavily contaminated, affecting the drainage and pitch performance.

The FA also state the average lifespan of a 3G surface ranges from seven to ten years. This depends on such as pitch type and quality, usage and maintenance.

What is the best footwear for playing on a 3G football pitch?

When it comes to wearing the appropriate shoes for five-a-side football on a 3G pitch, there are almost limitless options. However, the recommended types are astroturf and artificial grass boots.

The main feature of astroturf (TF) boots are little rubber pellets on the sole. These provide plenty of grip on firmer, flatter surfaces. However, they don’t provide as much grip on 3G pitches compared to artificial grass (AG) boots. These are designed for the longer grass of 3G pitches and feature rubber studs or blades. AG boots provide the best stability and performance for playing five-a-side football and are obviously more suitable.

Additionally, firm ground (FG) boots are an option for 3G pitches due to the use of moulded or plastic studs. However, it is advised that all FG boots are suitable because of the length of the moulds used. A long/deep stud can cause long-term damage to a 3G pitch. FG boots are best for playing on hard natural grass.

Why can’t you wear indoor football shoes?

As the name suggests, indoor football shoes aren’t designed for playing on any outdoor surfaces, including artificial pitches. This is mainly due to the non-marking flat rubber soles, providing the best grip for hard, flat surfaces.

Can you wear studded football boots on a 3G or 4G pitch?

Just like FG boots, it is not advised to wear regular grass football boots on 3G pitches. Not only can they cause damage to the artificial turf, but they also provide a potential threat to the safety of everyone playing five-a-side football.

Where can I find my nearest 3G football pitch?

If you’re looking to find your nearest 3G football pitch, Football Foundation’s 3G pitch register is a useful resource. It’s a “register that displays FIFA and FA standard facilities across England”. It’s search function allows you to find suitable facilities for your five-a-side football needs.

For our readers in Wales, Football Association Wales have a list of 3G football pitches here.

How can I find out more about five-a-side football?

If you’re looking for more information about five-a-side football, check out our guide on everything you need to know about five-a-side.