Forest trumps!

Laurence Gale MScin Football

ForestClough.jpgWhen Nottingham Forest's previous incumbent packed his bags and headed for the bright lights of the big city, in stepped Ewan Hunter to take on the role of Head Groundsman at the club made famous by Brian Clough

It has been a busy season for us to date with over eighteen games played at the City Ground since the start of the season back in August. We have just completed a run of six games in eighteen days and I am pleased to say the pitch is holding up well, especially after the dismal weather we had during the renovation period in May and June.

My staff have worked extremely hard during the summer getting the pitches up to speed after our end of season renovations. There are five staff ,plus myself, who work together to oversee all the day to day management of our pitch facilities at the stadium, academy and training grounds.EwanHunterCutOut.jpg

Craig Sharp and George Carless work at the training ground where the first team and reserves train. Chris Moody and Craig Watson look after the academy ground which caters for the youth teams, while my deputy Matt Tietjen and I look after the stadium pitch. However, we quite often find ourselves being moved around on occasions to help one another out. On match days we work together to ensure the pitch is at its best for the game.

Our renovations have been quite intensive this year. Apart from the normal cleaning up of the surfaces, and reseeding, we have installed some new secondary drainage at the academy ground and upgraded the stadium pitches automatic watering system with the fitting of six new infield sprinkler heads. The work was undertaken by Hewitts.

Stadium Pitch Renovations

The work centred around the installation of infield pop up watering sprinklers. The reason for doing this was to aid the efficiency and control over watering and, more importantly, to enable us to water the pitch at half time during matches. The previous method of dragging hoses out was impractical.

Basically, the work involved koroing (fraise mowing) off the top 15-20 millimetres of vegetation, installing the new irrigation pipe work and fitting six new Hunter 141 sprinkler heads into the pitch. Once this work was completed 60 tonnes of MM 355 sand was topdressed onto the surface, vertidrained and brushed in several directions. The pitch was then oversown with Advanta MM 60 grass seed at a rate of 35 g/m2.

ForestDennis3.jpgWe cut the main pitch with a rotary mower at 35 mm in different directions for the first six cuts working down to about 28mm. Then we used our lighter Dennis cylinder mowers whilst our Ransomes Mastiff were being serviced. We mowed for a few weeks at this height before bringing the height of cut down to 25mm for the start of the season. The pitches were fertilised with 10:15:10 during renovations then every two to four weeks with 14:2:7.
We found ourselves feeding about every two weeks due to all the rain. We used a controlled release 12:0:10 to try to prevent leaching. This only gave us four weeks before yet more feeds were required.

Academy and Training pitches

We had to carry out more intensive work at the academy than normal. We koroed off the upper two training pitches, taking off 40mm due to large areas holding water. These had become over compacted over the years mainly due to the training sessions always being conducted in the same areas. Hewitts installed some secondary sand band drainage at one metre centres, topdressed with 150 tonnes of kiln dried sand, vertidrained and oversowed with Advanta MM 60 seed.

All other pitches, at both the training ground and academy, were scarified, top dressed (60 tonnes per pitch) vertidrained and seeded.

Ongoing maintenance

Ongoing maintenance regimes are pretty much the same for all the playing surfaces. We have a rigorous programme of cutting, feeding, watering and repairs. The height of cut during the summer is maintained at 25mm and raised, in late October, to around 28 mm.

After each home game we go straight out onto the pitch, lift the goals and nets, get the flags in and start repairing the divots. Two of us will then begin brushing the pitch with our Dennis mowers picking up most of the loose debris. The other four will spread out and put back as many divots as possible in the time it takes to brush the whole pitch, which is usually about an hour and half . When this is done we wash down and put the kit away and head home after a long day.

On Monday the staff revert to their normal duties working back at their respective facility.ForestMatt&Ewan.jpg

Matt and I will continue to divot the main pitch and then mow to clean up. The frequency of mowing is dependant on growth and weather conditions. During the height of the growing season we cut every day but, once temperatures begin to drop and growth slows down, we may reduce this frequency to two to three times a week.

We try to aerate with the vertidrain on a three-week cycle (weather and fixtures dependant). As with all Groundsmen, the weather is the major driving force determining when we undertake our maintenance regimes. I try to get all the work done the day before a match, with the exception of the final cut (width ways) and marking out.

On match days all six staff go to the City ground to help out, arriving at 8.00am. Two staff begin mowing and, once they have completed the first few bands, we can then begin stringing out and over marking. We use a transfer wheel line marker which we feel gives us the best line.

The rest of the staff then start putting out the main goal posts, practice goals and protection nets. By this time, around 11.00am, we then go and get a bite to eat and return about 12.30pm. Once all the pre-match jobs are done, and again depending on the weather and the forecast, we will give the pitch about an hour of water - just enough to keep the rootzone moist to prevent the pitch crumbling - which tends to happen if the fibresand pitch is allowed to totally dry out.
ForestForking.jpg Players will then come out to warm up between 2.00pm and 2.45pm. If the weather is hot we may have to reapply some more water after they have finished.
Now that we have the new pop ups in the middle of the pitch, we are also able to water at half time. This tends to be when the manager wants extra zip on the surface or, if it's very warm, we may want water at half time to keep the sand moist. The half time water tends to be middle sprinklers only which cover about 80% of the pitch anyway. The middles come on in two lines of three sprinklers which we put on for about three minutes each.

All the staff are on duty when the players come out to warm up - three at each end. We tend to keep out of the way but we will intervene if the players/coaches are doing anything which is detrimental to the pitch or is against the Football League guidelines. We are also there to put back as many of the warm up divots as we can before kick-off and finally to take down, and store away, the portable goals when the keepers have finished their warm ups.

We all go back out onto the pitch at half time to divot for fifteen minutes and I will put the water on for six minutes if needed. The new watering system has been a godsend. I am just hoping that we do not get too many requests for half time water going into the winter months as this will be detrimental to the health of the pitch.

Touch wood this year, to date, we have had no attacks of disease. However, I have sprayed for worms. We currently use no wetting agents or growth retardants at the ground as the current cultural operations seem to be working fine. I usually get three soil reports carried out by Rigby Taylor and adjust my fertiliser programme accordingly. A programme of liquid iron is also applied to the sward when required.

The table below details the fertiliser programme for the stadium pitch; the fertiliser is in granular form and is spread using a tractor mounted wag tail fertiliser spreader.



No. of bags

1st Jun

RT 10:15:10


13th Jun

RT 10:15:10


28th Jun

RT 14:2:7


9th Jul

RT 14:2:7


24th Jul

RT 14:2:7


6th Aug

RT 14:2 :7


17th Aug

RT 12:0:10

slow release 11

31st Aug

RT 14:2:7


1st Oct

RT 5:5:10


15th Oct

RT 3:3:32 + trace elements


We have managed to replace some of our old kit with new, and now have five unit fairway mowers instead of triples, which are great and save loads of time, as do the spray line markers. I am delighted with how things are going. Standards are improving all the time and I am pleased with all the staff and the results we are achieving.

I am sure we will have testing times ahead. As I write this in November, I'm sure the Christmas period will be very challenging and, going into January and February, will also test the pitch to its limit.

However, it's what our industry is all about - facing the challenges and learning new skills and experiences. It is these challenges that make us better Groundsmen.

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