The Minnesota Vikings played the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium on September 29, bringing a little bit of American football excitement to our shores.
The game was a sellout, and the presence of American football jerseys from all NFL teams was noticeable on the streets of London. This was the first NFL game this year at Wembley, but was followed by the San Francisco 49ers versus the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 27 (after this column was written). So we have an appetite for your national game here in the U.K., and many in the crowd had traveled from other countries of Europe to watch the NFL U.K. spectacular at Wembley.
The Vikings won the game 34 to 27 in what was described as a tense game and entertaining for the crowd. Wembley Stadium will now host at least one game each year until the 2016 season, so we have a continued opportunity to watch American football in England.
The day after the game was played, I had the pleasure to take Jerad Minnick of the Maryland SoccerPlex into Wembley Stadium to meet with Tony Stones, the head groundsman, and his team. Jerad was very interested in seeing the effects of the game on the Wembley pitch (field), as 11 days prior to the game Tony had hosted Roger Waters – The Wall concert, and then grew back the surface from soil.
While I made the introductions in Tony’s office, Paul Ashcroft, the groundsman from Arsenal Football Club (Emirates Stadium), arrived. Paul was equally intrigued at the level of damage, or lack thereof, to the surface.
Jerad has a personal interest in natural grass surfaces, and like me believes that natural grass can take a lot more play and retain its many beneficial characteristics if it’s maintained and managed differently. This has been proven many times, but the poor surfaces – not the good ones – always make the headlines.
Photo courtesy of Simon Gumbrill
Jerad, Paul, Tony and I walked onto the surface where less than 18 hours earlier the game had taken place. I expected a scene of turf carnage, but it was fantastic! A few minor scars, but nothing that would not heal very quickly in the hands of an able groundsman.
The surface at Wembley is similar to that used by Allen Johnson, fields manager at the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field. The GrassMaster hybrid surface is durable and plays superbly if managed correctly by the groundsman.
As the surface was so good, we spent more time talking about the paint and markings and how to remove it before Tony’s next game, as we do not use emblems on the surface in soccer, and the badges and numbers have to be washed and grown out quickly.
Over the next five days, I took Jerad to see stadiums at Twickenham (rugby), Arsenal FC (Football Club) and London Colney, St. George’s Park, Sheffield Wednesday FC, Nottingham Forest FC, Headingley (cricket and rugby) Manchester United and, of course, my Manchester City Etihad Stadium. So thank you to all the groundsmen that gave us their time and explained the maintenance practices they use to keep the surface in fantastic condition. All of the stadiums and training facilities are grown in from seed, not one has sod.
We visited the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) at Bingley to view their trial areas for all forms of natural grasses and the science and common sense that go into the research. They have many trials for disease, wear tolerance, shading and lights all ongoing at Bingley.
Jerad then left to visit Paul Burgess at Real Madrid to see their maintenance practices. They’re located in a warmer climate, but with equally demanding facilities.
F.C. Porto in Portugal is hosting the ESSMA (European Stadium & Safety Management Association) conference, where Jerad is the keynote speaker. He will explain in his unique way the similarities between European and American pitch management, and no doubt some other interesting and unforeseen topics of his choice.
This conference is a fantastic opportunity for European groundsmen and stadium managers to share ideas and discuss levels of pitch management, enabling our peers to see the groundsman’s perspective. I am not sure if you have anything similar to ESSMA in the U.S., but I believe it is of huge benefit here in Europe, and may be worthwhile you joining if it is ever possible.
Later this month I am donning my black tie for an official dinner to celebrate the start of the UEFA Women’s Under-17 Championship Finals 2013/14, here in the U.K. So I will have to remember my “sensible head,” and I hope it still fits, as I have not worn it for quite some time!
Simon Gumbrill is sales director at Campey Turf Care Systems, U.K.