Sharing the Shay

David Markhamin Rugby

Halifax Town

By David Markham

Groundsmen Mark Hans and Graham Osbourne had very good reason to be grateful for the friend with a verti-drain who saved Halifax Town's New Year's Day match at the Shay.

After two matches in two days on the last weekend of 2002, and continuous rain, something needed to be done to make sure Halifax's match in the Nationwide Conference could go ahead.

Graham said: "We had three matches in five days - Halifax Town v Morecambe in the Conference on the Saturday, a rugby league friendly between Halifax Blue Sox and Salford the following day, and then Halifax Town v Leigh RMI on New Year's Day."

The Leigh match was in serious doubt and was played thanks to some verti-draining on the pitch on New Year's Eve.

Graham said: "Oliver Warriner from Oliver Warriner Landscapes, based at Holmfirth, arrived at the Shay at 3.30pm. He verti-drained three quarters of the pitch for us to a depth of 13 inches, working until 8pm.

The holes were almost full of water when we arrived for the match, but the pitch was perfectly playable. It didn't stop raining, but Halifax Town were desperate to play because they need the money."

January is a hectic month at the Shay - there are four first team matches for Halifax Town and two Rugby League friendlies - the rugby league season begins in February.

Mark and Graham are not only responsible for the pitch, but they also clean the ground - the stands, the terraces, the car parks - and they look after the all-weather five-a-side pitch.

Their main problem is the fact that there is no break in the action with football and rugby league teams sharing the ground - there is a similar situation at nearby Huddersfield and it is a problem that the groundsman at Valley Parade has had to face with Bradford City and Bradford Bulls sharing the same ground for the last two years.

With rugby league taking place from February to October there is a significant overlap with the football season. It is virtually impossible to get onto the pitch to do remedial work.

The Shay is also affected by a massive area of clay - 4 metres wide and 100 metres long - two feet underneath the surface. When it rains heavily the water has nowhere to go.

Graham said: "We took away a 25 metre strip, which was the worst area, last year and put down hard core and soil hoping the water would pass through. But the rest of the area is still wet.

We need to get rid of the clay as soon as possible, but there is not time because of the large number of fixtures. There is a three week gap in the summer, but it isn't enough time to do anything much.

In the calendar year 2002, there were 36 football matches, 27 rugby league matches, 22 local cup finals, 13 football training sessions and 23 rugby league training sessions. In one week in August there were four matches and two training sessions, all in a six day period.

We also have three 'double weekends' coming up, with rugby league matches on Friday nights and football on the Saturdays."

Despite all the time limitations, last summer Mark and Graham somehow managed to apply 40 tons of rootzone - 70% sand and 30% soil - to give the pitch more stability and to help with drainage. They repeated the exercise just before Christmas.

Graham said: "We are just bodging all the time. We have told the Calderdale Community Stadium Company, who run the stadium, that the pitch needs a lot of money spending on it.

Ideally, we would like to take off the whole surface and apply fibre sand, but our problems are not helped by the fact that when they built the new stand they chopped off the drains."

Machinery at their disposal is also somewhat limited - a Dennis 860 mower, a 25-year-old motorised machine with spiking and brushing attachments, and a disc seeder. They also have access to another mower, courtesy of the local cricket club, which means they can roll and cut the pitch in one and a half hours.

Bearing in mind the problems the two have to face, they do a remarkable job. Keeping the pitch in a playable condition is their aim and, when you consider they had 85 matches and 36 training sessions last year, I would say they are succeeding.

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