According to Sport Wales surveys, children who played football in the last year rose from 53% in 2015 to 63% in 2018. Rugby Union seeing similar rises from 32% to 41%.*
So, something must be fuelling the thirst to get the boots on.
Many players have turned to more social forms of football, small-sided matches on artificial surfaces at purpose-built centres, such as Gol in Cardiff or Play Football in Swansea. Futsal being another continuing growth area.
Their numbers are increasing and they are a boost to encouraging fitness and participation, but they are less common outside the cities and they don’t offer a replacement to organised 11-side club games.
The Football Association of Wales have a target of building 50 new artificial (3G) pitches in Wales by 2024. That would double the existing number and take the total figure to 100. To put that into context though, it equates to a pitch for every 30,000 people in Wales.
One club who took the plunge six years ago was Penybont, a club formed from a merger between Bridgend Town and Bryntirion Athletic.
They used funds from the sale of land to build a 3G pitch at their new home, now called the SDM Glass Stadium, and now they have progressed to the Welsh Premier League they are at a level where there are more 3G surfaces than grass.
“We have only had one match called off in that time and that was when we had about three feet of snow,” says Penybont secretary Mark Evans.
“Apart from the first team, the pitch is utilised all the time through our own academy, and two junior mini clubs under our umbrella – Bridgend Town and Bryntirion Athletic – who also use it. It’s a godsend.
“As part of the merger, the pitch was one of the things that had to be resolved. We probably had one the best grass pitches around, but we had a full-time groundsman. Even then, some games were postponed and training sessions were cancelled, so it was the best way to go.”
Penybont’s 3G pitch cost £220,000, and they followed the likes of Barry Town and The New Saints, but Evans has words of caution for any club thinking that might be a one-off cost.
“At the end of eight years you have to replace it. So, this is not a one-off cost. And you also have repairs and if something goes wrong the repairs are not cheap.
“But even the grass pitch we have here next door, you are talking a minimum of £1,000 every pre-season just to make sure it’s up to scratch.
“Most of the clubs in the Welsh Premier have now moved to 3G pitches. There are a lot of teams in the Bridgend area, but the costs are not cheap to install or maintain – especially for small clubs.”
Between 2014 and 2016 the number of full-size 3G pitches in Wales rose from 29 to 45, with estimates now of that figure being around 60.