The dedication and enthusiasm of some groundsmen/women continues to amaze me on a regular basis.
I recently sat in on an interview for Horticultural Week, an English journal. Sally Dury, technical editor, tried to pry information for a story out of a very humble Steve Braddock, head groundsman at Arsenal Football Club’s London Colney Training Ground.
Anyone who has visited Steve at the Arsenal training ground would probably say that they have seen some of the best natural grass playing surfaces in the world. I do know that Ohio State University has a link to Arsenal Football Club for students, so the facility definitely has a link to the U.S.
In the interview, I made a comment about Steve that will apply to a lot of groundsmen/women throughout the world. I said, “Steve will never be happy, because he sets his own personal targets too high.” I believe this is the case, as each time he nears his target he will set another one to improve that little imperfection in the surface that I cannot even see. He strives for perfection.
This sort of dedication in groundsmen/women is the reason natural grass sports fields are the future for both professional and amateur level, and this is attributed to the dedication and professionalism of the majority of groundsmen/women, so thanks!
The silly season is nearly underway as the football (soccer) season in Europe comes to an end and the renovation or pitch preparation for the next season begins. If a training grounds staff has a lot of pitches, they can often start the season preparation early, as they have the upper hand over the stadium. Each pitch that can be taken out of play earlier will be stronger and more durable at the start of the coming season or for preseason training.
At the Arsenal training facility they start pitch renovations in March. This is very early by European standards, but Steve and Ars<0x00E8>ne Wenger, the Arsenal first team manager (coach), wants excellent playing surfaces at all times, and by starting early they always have a surface in prime condition. By cleaning out and growing in the first pitch in March, and then one every three weeks apart, the first team and reserves alike will always have a high- quality, stadium-grade surface to play on.
For me personally, this time of year is very hectic, as the installations of new Koro equipment is in full flow, both at the football clubs and for the contractors who have purchased the machines. The installation is vitally important, as incorrect use will not only damage the machine, but also, more importantly, the surface, so trained operators are a very important link.
In the last few weeks I have visited St. George’s Park, the training facility for the English Football Association, as they cleaned out the Wembley replica pitch for the first time. This pitch, as at Wembley stadium, has the Desso GrassMaster system installed, so Alan Ferguson, the head groundsman, had instructed Carl Pass of Premier Pitches to clean out the surface with the Koro Field TopMaker fitted with the Universe rota.
The Universe rota has been designed to clean out the unwanted organic buildup and debris from the surface of Desso pitches and leaves the synthetic fibers, with the rootzone exposed ready for overseeding.
The other 10 pitches at St. George’s Park are either constructed of a sand base or Fibresand, and these are maintained by Alan and his staff using their own in-house maintenance equipment.
I have visited Texas by way of an invitation from Jerad Minnick, a guy who, like Steve Braddock, seeks perfection and will work very hard to get near to it.
Jerad and a group of like-minded groundsmen were successful in trials last year using the Koro renovation method on cool-season grasses, and now they want to replicate the trials on bermudagrasses. A relatively new concept to me, but their confidence is contagious, and hopefully the trials will be too!
Joe Pemberton, head groundsman at Manchester United’s Carrington training facility, took a busman’s holiday and added credibility to my visit. I believe a lot was learned by all parties, not just in the discussions that took place in Texas, but also through the results of trials.
I also had the pleasure of visiting Paul Burgess at Real Madrid in Spain. This facility is always stunning and seems to improve every time I go to Madrid. Paul’s work ethic is unrivalled, and so are his socializing skills, so if you ever get to visit, be prepared!
The English Premier League season will finish on May 19. All games will start at the same time to hopefully culminate in a very exiting finale with teams trying to avoid relegation or win champions league places (top four), but unfortunately I cannot see The Premier League being won in the exciting and dramatic way that my team Manchester City FC won the Premier League title last season.
When the last day of the season has finished, the stadiums and grounds staff take on their alternate role as the next three to four weeks the stadium will take on as many corporate events on the pitch and elsewhere in the stadium to try and bring every available penny into the stadium. If you have the cash, the answer is likely to be “Yes.”
Companies pay for their staff to play on the hallowed turf, or Terraplas will be laid down for monster trucks to play on. Boxing matches make use of the large stadium, and Lady Gaga, Madonna or Coldplay may visit, requiring that the grass stay covered for weeks. It’s money for nothing as the surface is sacrificed, and the stadium revenue adds to the much-needed income of even the well-run and most successful football clubs.
After the concerts and events have been cleared off the grounds staff gets their surface back, and it is at this point that the success of the coming season is set and the dedication and personnel targets of each will kick in again.
Sodding is not an option, so how do they do it?
“Well, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it!”
Simon Gumbrill is sales director at Campey Turf Care Systems, U.K.