Battling dual use and an unpredictable climate

Dave Saltmanin Football

Five months of unpredictable weather and dual use at the DW Stadium has meant that Dave Saltman and the Wigan team have had to pull out all the stops to get the pitch through the winter.

In this article, he details the products used and the work undertaken to ensure that the Warriors and Latics both have the best possible playing surface for the return of rugby league's Super League in February and the final weeks of the EFL Championship respectively

My first article this season at the DW Stadium in Wigan took us up to the end of August, but didn't include an application of 150kg Maxwell Advanced 14:2:7 which went on to the pitch 30th August.

The lads then prepped the surface, double mowing and marking out ready for the Wigan Warriors vs Widnes Rugby League game on the 1st September, the 11th fixture of the season.

After repairs on the Monday, the pitch was sprayed with 40kg of Sol Control 26:0:26 and 2.5 litres of Primo Maxx.

On the 5th, the Latics decided to have their training session at the stadium after team photos to save the players travelling too much.

On the 7th, Rob Woods applied 2.5 litres of Heritage Maxx; disease had just started to creep into the sward again and it wasn't taking up nutrients as it should. After the chemical had dried, the verti-drain was hitched up and we aerated on a tight pattern in first gear with 80 degree heave.

On the 8th, the verti-draining was finished off, alongside a ProCore spiking operation at 65mm centres which was perfect timing as heavy showers started to blow in with 5mm of rain later that day. More rain continued for the next few days, so we got an application of 180kg Maxwell Premier 12:0:6 spread.

On the 14th, thunder and lightning and another 6.5mm of rain descended. On the 15th, we applied 40 litres of Biomass Sugar and 20 litres of Sea Action seaweed. The pitch was taking the rainfall well and the lads prepared the pitch up to the 17th for the Latics vs. Fulham game. After games, any major divoting was done and the pitch rotary mowed. Any sand/seed divot repairs were carried out the next day and, on the 19th, the lads worked on all the surrounding pitch side storm drains, clearing out debris, while Rob verti-drained the pitch again.

On the 21st, we applied a half rate 140kg slow release Lebanon 25:0:5.

On the 22nd, the pitch was cylinder mown both ways and then again during the day of the 23rd, before marking out for the Wigan Warriors vs. Catalan match. The Warriors season was coming to a climax and the Super 8s play off was now looking like a possible place in the Grand Final game at Old Trafford for them.

Rain continued to fall most days and we had to work around the showers to get the pitch turned back around for football on the 27th as Latics played Wolves.

We fed the pitch with 180kg of Maxwell Premier 3:3:12 on the 28th, as we moved into an autumn/winter feeding regime of hardening the plant.

The games were coming thick and fast and the pitch was again turned back for rugby league as the Warriors played their final Super 8s game against Hull FC on the 30th. The Warriors went on to lift the Super League trophy at Old Trafford shortly after. No more rugby league now until February.

We opened the pitch up again with the verti-drain on the 1st October and the ProCore on the 3rd. On the 10th, we applied another 3:3:12 and the five goalmouth lighting rigs were deployed for the first time this season. We had been waiting for some electrical work to be undertaken on the sockets to bring them up to date with the latest legislation. We had a rig in each goal area and three in front of the West stand tunnel side.

On the 11th, we did two applications using the tractor mounted sprayer, 6 litres of Ringer for worm control and another with 40 litres of Biomass and 20 litres of SeaAction seaweed.

On the 13th, the pitch was ProCored at 65mm centres, before the cylinders went on to get ready for the visit of Burton Albion on the 15th.

After repairs, the pitch was aerated with the verti-drain on the 17th and, with around 6-8mm of rain falling daily, it was pleasing to see the surface draining consistently.

On the 22nd, Latics played Brighton, results had not been going well and the team were sat firmly in the Championship's relegation zone; unfortunately, the team suffered another loss and this turned out to be Manager Gary Caldwell's last game.

The regular rain and mild weather had combined to help another bout of disease and the pitch was sprayed with 10 litres of Interface and then fed with 160kg of 3:3:12 on the 24th.

On the 27th, we applied 40 litres of Biomass sugar and 20 litres of SeaAction seaweed. The next day we applied 260kg of Lebanon Country Club slow release 8:4:24.

The pitch was prepped again for the visit of Reading - the team now managed by Warren Joyce - on the 5th November. We recorded nearly 19mm of rain on the Thursday and Friday, but still used the irrigation through Friday night and Saturday morning to keep the pitch stable.

On the 7th, there was a slight frost in the morning but, once it lifted, the pitch was verti-drained at tight spacings, but with no heave. On the 8th, we had a heavy frost, Pro-Coring the pitch again once it lifted, and the next day we had 9mm of rain. On the 9th, we applied 180kg of 3:3:12.

3mm of rain fell during the 10th and then 35mm of rain on the 11th. We put out germination sheets down the west side of the pitch, and they stayed in place, with some severe frosts, until the 15th.

Since we had a break in fixtures, we needed to get the team experienced in the deployment of our rain cover system. So, on the 17th, the sheets were unrolled and fixed in position down the pitch. Over the next few days, we had nearly 50mm of rain, but these storms were alongside some strong winds and, whilst not ideal, the covers stayed on until Wednesday 23rd. When we removed them, there was plenty of 'candyfloss' mycelium patches and we debated about spraying the pitch with fungicide again.

The decision was to leave it as more cold weather was imminent, so we fed the pitch with another 180kg of 3:3:12 on the 24th. The cold air moved back in and we had a sub-zero night and a white frosty pitch on the 25th and again on the 26th. The cold weather checked the disease and the grass responded well to the feed.
We checked the drains leading down to the river and they were running fine on the 29th.

The pitch was mown/rolled twice in the build up to the Latics vs. Derby match on the 3rd December, game number 19. It was repaired over the next couple of days, we had frost on the 5th, followed by another 40mm of rain over the next few days, so we applied 160kg of 3:3:12 on the 8th, allowing the feed to be washed in.

A fateful night on the 5th as Wigan got drawn at home in the FA Cup 3rd round in January, yet another fixture to pencil into the diary!

We had eased right back on our preparation of the surface, to try to avoid more plant damage. We'd also noticed how the west side was starting to become a little unstable, so had ceased any more aeration, for the time being at least.

I went through the irrigation with Rob and the lads on the morning of the 14th, Latics were playing Newcastle that evening, live on the TV. It was important to get the soil moisture spot on, leading right up to the warm-ups before each game to help keep the surface stable.

The pitch played as well as it had done for a while, and the pitch was repaired and then prepared for the visit of Ipswich on the 17th. The game was played in severe fog; after the game, it made for an eerie experience as the lads couldn't see far and often each other!

We again had some wet and mild weather and, this time, the disease appeared overnight on the 20th, more candyfloss mycelium patches evident across the surface. I had reports that disease was rife everywhere so, despite having to spray again, I didn't feel that we were alone. A mix of 1 litre of Proteb and 10 litres of Chipco Green was used, along with 5 litres of Phosphite and 20 litres of iron on the 21st.

On the 23rd, we put down a full rate 300kg of 3:3:12 to help boost the strength of the plant, now the disease had been firmly stopped in its tracks.
The fixture list had been a little bit kinder to us over the festive period, with no game now until the 2nd of January. The pitch was monitored over the next week or so, with just the daily moving of the lighting rigs, which took ten minutes one day to push the wheels over a little and about forty-five minutes every second day to move the rigs to a new position.

The weather was wet and wild over Christmas, so the pitch didn't lack moisture. 5mm of rain fell overnight into New Year's day, but the forecast showed temperatures dropping again to minus 2OC, so the undersoil heating was turned on for the first time this season as soon as the lads got in to work.

The pitch was mown in one direction and marked out ready for the game the next day against Huddersfield. The irrigation was set for a 3 hour watering at 7.00pm and 4.00am on the match day. The heating stopped the pitch freezing, but there was some frost on the leaf due to the necessity to water in cold conditions. Although the pitch was losing grass through the middle, the surface was playing well enough and there was still near 100% cover in the goalmouths and the wings.

The pitch was divoted and rotary mowed after the game and then proper repairs started the next day. More rain proceeded and followed another heavy frost that impacted on how much work could be carried out, but the surface was rolled again with the Allett cylinder mowers in advance of the FA Cup 3rd tie against Nottingham Forest on the 7th. There was drizzle throughout the game, which helped settle the surface immensely. We now hadn't done any aeration for a month, but the pitch was taking rain and irrigation very well and the 'unstable' west side was playing much better.

At the beginning of the season, the west side had held some water; if you read the first article, you will remember we had to stop our preparation on the day of the first rugby match because a heavy shower had left surface water lying for a couple of hours. Clearly the regular summer/autumn aeration programme had worked well.

A win against Nottingham Forest meant that Latics were in the draw for the Fourth Round, and we had news that an FA Youth Cup game would be played at the stadium, to allow the younger members of the squad to taste stadium action.

With the youth game against Southampton on Wednesday 11th to contend with, the lads set about repairing the weekend's damage. The game was played with Wigan's U18s edging through to the next round. There were a few small patches on the west side that had become unstable and we were struggling to find any quality turf on the edges of the pitch to use for turf doctoring. We now had a ten-day break to the next match.

The weather fluctuated between rain and frosts. During the days, the temperatures stayed in single figures and growth was non-existent.

I ordered a pallet of thick cut turf from Tillers to arrive on Tuesday the 17th, which allowed the lads to carry out their normal repairs and apply another half rate 180kg of 3:3:12 to the grass.

The turf arrived early on the Tuesday morning and we placed training discs on the spots that needed to be repaired. We then worked across the pitch, edging out and preparing the damaged areas, before cutting and laying in the new turf to a finished level. The turf was good quality and, unfortunately, did show up the rest of the pitch.

I had also brought with me another 260kg of Lebanon slow release 8:4:24, so hopefully this, combined with the feed that went down the week before, would bring the colour of the pitch back up and help these turf repairs marry in. The Lebanon was applied the next day.
The pitch was then double mown/rolled on Thursday and again Friday, and marked out ready for game 25 of the season against Brentford on January 21st.

After the repairs and rotary mow in the week following the Brentford game, we applied seven bags of Limagrain's Action Replay seed. We gave special attention to the middle of the pitch which was showing signs of wear and tear, following the many midfield battles over the past six months. Primarily, we seeded 18 yard box to 18 yard box and two mowing bands either side of the half way line going across.

Our next game was due to be Norwich on the 29th, but an FA Cup tie away to Manchester United meant this fixture moving back to the 7th February. An away draw was warmly accepted by us, maybe not so by the fans. The upside is that the club should make some money from the shared gate receipts at Old Trafford and there's a little extra respite for our pitch. We have a daunting fixture list with the rugby league starting again mid-February.

As I write, our next game is Sheffield Wednesday live on Sky on Friday 3rd February. By the time you read this article (end of February), we will have embarked on our dual use schedule again, including eight back to back weekends (rugby/football) in ten weeks. How the pitch fares will be as much dependent on the weather as anything else.

We have more root mass now than we did after the pitch was re-turfed in February last season, so I have my fingers crossed that the pitch will get us through this season, and that spring starts much earlier than it did in 2016.

Good luck to all of you.

All products mentioned in this article are available from the Pitchcare Shop