The weather last month was remarkable, with many parts of country experiencing very mild temperatures and above average rainfall.
December is the darkest month of the year with the grass only receiving a potential of around eight hours of light each day, though, by the end of the month, the days will be starting to stretch out again (December 21st being the shortest day). This will place extra pressures on pitches that suffer from long shadows during the morning and early afternoon.
No surprise then that Premiership grounds, with high stands, struggle with parts of the pitch being in constant shade. With the introduction and use of light gantries, this has improved matters in providing grass with the light it requires for growth and recovery. But, of course, lighting rigs are not within the purchasing power of all and, in these circumstances, some harder work may be required.
The real challenge during December is trying to keep as much grass cover on the playing surfaces as possible, and prevent pitches being used when they are saturated.
Sand applications can be a benefit to ensure pitch playability, but it is important to understand that, in the absence of a good free draining soil and/or a good drainage system, little or no benefit will be gained from just adding sand to a worn goalmouth or centre circle area, and walking away.
Applications of tonics, such as seaweed based products, can also be applied in accordance with your annual programme to help harden your turf against damage and the ingress of turf diseases.
Keep an eye out for disease, and treat at the early signs. If worm activity is a problem, then brushing the surface when dry will help to dissipate the casts, reducing the problem of smearing.
Start thinking now about your machinery service requirements and put them into a programme. Some forward planning, at this stage, of what service requirements are needed for which machine.
Post match repairs:- Divoting. This is an obvious, continue this essential work and it will pay you dividends later in the season. Brush to bring the grass back upright. Cut with a box to clean surface debris.
Keep casual play out of goalmouth areas if you can. This can be easily achieved if you have a set of portable goals that can be moved around to different parts of your field or pitch. However, if you have socket goals, then your task may be a little more difficult.
Pitch set-ups:- Continue your pre match preparations: brushing, spiking, cutting, marking out, not forgetting your post and net inspections.
Useful Information for Pre and Post match activities
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Continue cutting regularly, 25 -37mm, to ensure a good sward density. Check the cutting action of your cylinder regularly to ensure that the units are cutting and not tearing the grass.
Pedestrian rotary mowers are becoming more popular in professional football, reducing the weight of machinery being used on the pitch and doing a good job of cleaning up the sward profile.
If you haven't already turned some thought to your machinery service programme, start formulating a plan of what service requirements are needed for which machine, and a time when you will be sending your mowers out for sharpening etc., so they are not all sent out at once. Look at the overall condition and check for any extra requirements needed to keep it compliant with current health and safety legislation. Check also for things that may cause a problem in the future, such as fatigue fractures on handlebars or on grass box carriers etc.
Keep your machinery in tip top condition. Grease where you find a grease nipple, oil where you see a metallic moving part, check the oil and check the water. If in doubt, consult the manufacturer's manual. Clean it when you've finished. All this may seem mundane, but will keep your mower going when you need it, and save you money in costly down time.
Useful Information for Mowing
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Continue the work of brushing to keep the air circulating around the base of the plant, particularly important for removing early morning dew and controlling disease.
Brushing during the right conditions has benefits, but I have seen some pitches where the grass has become smeared with mud through brushing or dragmatting while the grass is still damp, and particularly in the presence of worm casts. Of course, the rain will wash it off the plant eventually, but it will rob the grass plant of valuable light. Much better to leave it until the right conditions are available to carry out the task.
Useful Information for Dragmatting and Brushing
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Take your time when marking out, as rushed lines will invariably wander and will look messy. This creates a poor impression, lowering the overall standard and vision of an otherwise perfect surface. An accurate line will make such a difference; you should always be prepared to run a string line out to aid you in this, particularly if you already have a crooked line.
Keep line marking equipment clean and serviced, keep batteries charged and ensure spray jet line markers are cleaned out properly; nothing worse than coming to use your line marker and it will not work.
Ensure you goal posts are safe and secure and meet the football leagues guidelines (Approved Goals).
The FA, along with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Health and Safety Executive and the British Standards Institution, would like to draw your attention to the following guidelines for the safe use of goalposts - http://www.thefa.com/News/my-football/facilities/2011/nov/GoalPostSafety
Too many serious injuries and fatalities have occurred in recent years as a result of unsafe or incorrect use of goalposts. Safety is always of paramount importance and everyone in football must play their part to prevent similar incidents occurring in the future.
Useful Information for Goal Posts
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Check weekly - goals for loose bolts, and tighten as necessary.
Check nets - make sure the net is properly supported at the back of the goal and isn't sagging.
Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely. Make sure that they are tidy and free from litter.