Whilst some of their northwest rivals are struggling in the lower leagues, 'little old Burnley' are enjoying life in the Premier League once again. None more so than their Head Groundsman, Paul Bradshaw, who is relishing preparing pitches at the top table. Whilst their stay may be short, according to most pundits, the Clarets at least have a pitch worthy of the top flight and one which offers Sean Dyche's men every chance of survival
On the back of a return to the Barclays Premier League, after an absence of four seasons, Burnley Football Club has been required to make a number of significant changes at their Turf Moor home in order to meet stringent league requirements.
The players' tunnel has been relocated to the corner of the stadium, between the James Hargreaves and David Fishwick Stands, meaning that both teams now emerge in front of the home supporters instead of visiting fans.
Other necessary changes have included a new, wider, television gantry measuring nineteen metres in length which, effectively, utilises the space previously occupied by the press box and the installation of a number of goal line technology cameras in the stands. The club has also invested in the playing facilities, renovating the stadium pitch, purchasing new mowers and undertaking the resurfacing of a number of pitches at the training ground.
It is five years since I last visited Turf Moor and, in the interim period, nothing much appears to have changed apart from a Desso pitch which was installed after their last Premier League campaign in 2009.
This pitch has served the club well and Head Groundsman, Paul Bradshaw, has been extremely pleased with the way it performs; "there's always plenty of stability and it delivers a great playing surface when the grass plant is kept healthy," he confirms.
In the shed, Paul now has two new Dennis G860s with eight blade cylinders and verticut and brush attachments, three brand new Hayter Harrier 56 Pro rotary mowers, a Toro ProCore 648 aerator, an Everris Accupro spreader and a Techneat 125 SPPS pedestrian sprayer.
In recent years, the club has also invested in four SGL MU27 baby lighting rigs which are used mainly in the goalmouths and warm up areas.
Paul, who has been at the club nine years, has a team of four staff. His Deputy Head Groundsman, Barry O'Brien, has been at the club for seven and half years; Aiden McGough, twenty eight years; Chris Pickles three years, whilst newest recruit, Daniel Joyce, joined the team in September 2013.
Paul and Chris remain at the stadium whilst the others work at the training ground. On match days, all the staff report for work at the stadium, coming in early to prepare the pitch and stay up to two hour after the match to replace divots and rotary mow the pitch.
In preparation for life back in the Premier League, and as soon as the last Championship match was played at Turf Moor, Paul applied glyphosate to kill off all the vegetation; whilst the grass was dying off, the club were still using the pitch for corporate games and school cup finals.
As soon as these were over, Premier Pitches came in at the end of May and, within three days, had completely renovated the pitch. The first task was to clean off the surface debris to expose the Desso fibres. This was followed by a rake and relevelling of the pitch, applying eighty tonnes of Mansfield sand, verti-draining to a depth of 120mm and putting on an 8:12:8 pre-seed fertiliser, ahead of drilling in several directions with sixteen bags of Johnsons Premier seed.
With favourable air and soil temperatures, the seed quickly germinated and, within a couple of weeks, the sward was receiving its first cut using the Hayter 56 pedestrian rotary mowers set at 35mm. After several cuts with the rotaries, the Dennis G860s were introduced to improve the quality of cut and help firm up the pitch, gradually reducing the height to 25mm.
It was then a case of getting into a steady cycle of cutting and feeding to promote growth and increase sward density. Paul's feeding programme at the stadium is very much like other clubs; a base feed followed by a regular topping up with liquid feeds and biostimulants.
The club's training ground is situated in the grounds of Gawthorpe Hall, an 18th century mansion now owned by the National Trust and run in partnership with Lancashire County Council. Affectionately referred to as the "Downton of the North", Gawthorpe Hall was redesigned in the 1850s by Sir Charles Barry, designer, amongst others, of the Houses of Parliament and the 'real' Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle in Berkshire.
It is interesting to note that Burnley were the first league football club to build a dedicated training complex way back in the 1950s, however, many clubs have now surpassed Burnley's facilities.
The training ground provides one single Fibresand natural grass pitch, one 3G synthetic pitch and a smaller synthetic training area. Adjacent to these pitches, there are a number of additional soil base pitches that are used extensively when conditions allow. However, they were often prone to flooding in the winter months.
With the return to the Premier League, the opportunity to invest in these pitches became available, with the club modifying three soil based pitches by incorporating around 23,000 square metres of Fibresand and installing irrigation and drainage systems.
My visit to Turf Moor coincided with the game against West Ham on 19th October. I was accompanied by a friend of mine, Dave Whiteman, a mad keen Burnley fan and professional photographer. We arrived at the ground at 9.00am to be met by Paul. We were given our match day passes and a car park ticket. The aim of the day was to follow the groundsmen and record all the activities and match day routines.
Paul and his assistant, Chris Pickles, had already been at the ground for an hour and a half and were busy completing the first cut of the pitch, mowing lengthways using their two Dennis mowers. Height of cut was set at 25mm.
The recent warm weather had stimulated a fair bit of growth, with Paul taking off six boxes of clippings on the lengthways cut and two on the widthway cut.
In the week leading up to the match, Paul cut the pitch with the Dennis mower on the Monday, followed by an application of a liquid/biostimulant feed, and then cut again on Thursday.
The first lengthways cut was completed at 9.45am, which was then followed by the second cut of the day widthways. By this time, Barry, Aiden and Daniel had arrived to start marking out, cutting around the goalposts and getting the main goals and portable goals set up for the pre-match warm-ups. The main goals were checked for alignment and set up for the goal line cameras.
String lines were used to help keep both mowing and marking lines straight. Barry was using a spray jet line marker which gave him a very bright line in one operation. Paul was keen to get the pitch completed by 12.30pm, allowing him plenty of time for any unforeseen jobs.
By this time, the stadium was getting busy, with stewards having their debriefing and tour parties being shown around the ground by past players. We managed to catch up with and speak to one of the clubs celebrated former players, Andy Lochhead, who played for Burnley from 1960-1969 scoring 128 goals in 261 appearances. I asked him if he would have liked to have played on today's excellent pitches? He shrugged his shoulders and said; "yes, most of the time we played in six inches of mud".
With the pitch preparation now completed, it was time for some well earned lunch and, following the groundstaff's match day tradition, we all trooped over to the local fish and chip shop to sample their delights, with me buying a steak and kidney pie, chips and mushy peas, which was devoured in the mess room ahead of the next task.
It was now 1.45pm and time to get back out onto the pitch to keep an eye on the warm-up routines and be around for any last minute requirements. At this time, Paul would also decide whether to water the pitch; usually, at this time of the year, it is only applied to wet the surface to aid playability.
Using his hand-held remote radio, Paul is able to activate the sprinklers individually, with each one timed for about two minutes and, with up to four on at a time, it doesn't take long to cover the majority of the pitch. As soon as the warm-ups were completed, the portable goals were taken away and a final divot repair was carried out.
Most of the pitch repairs had been completed by the time the players came out onto the pitch. We made our way to our designated seating in the away end of the ground - being sat amongst the West Ham supporters was quite an experience!
Like many Premier League games this season, it was end to end entertainment with the match being played at a terrific pace. Burnley set themselves up well and were playing the better football, creating a good number of chances - hitting the post and having one goal disallowed.
By half time, they should have been three goals to the good.
During half-time, we went back out on the pitch to knock back any scars and divots whilst Paul watered the pitch.
With such a good first half, we were hoping that Burnley would get the goal they needed; however, it was not to be. West Ham had changed their tactics and played a more direct game, catching Burnley on the break and, within four minutes of the restart, were two goals to the good. George Boyd pulled a goal back for Burnley, but West Ham substitute Carlton Cole nodded in to seal the points. So a 3-1 defeat; depressing for the home fans, but the West Ham supporters were jubilant.
A couple of flares were thrown onto the pitch, resulting in burns to the grass. Paul said that he would inspect the burns and expected that, within a couple of weeks, they would have grown out.
After a quick debrief of what ifs and whys, it was time for the groundstaffs' final task to be completed before they could go home. With the weather staying dry, Paul was keen to get the pitch cleaned up and rotary mown.
With three Hayter rotaries on the go, it would be another hour and half before they completed their match day routines, finishing around 7.00pm, a long day indeed.
It was a great day and both Dave and I enjoyed our match day experience. I would like to thank Paul for putting up with us and wish him and the rest of the Burnley staff the best for the remainder of the season.
A fan's view...
Memories are made of this for life-long Burnley fan, David Whiteman
Blacklaw, Angus, Elder, Cummings, Miller, Adamson, Connelly, McIlroy, Pointer, Robson and Harris. It may seem a bit sad to some, but I can still remember the team from when, as a young boy, my dad stuck me on his shoulders and took me to Turf Moor for the first time to see my beloved Burnley. And what a team it was.
The previous year, little old Burnley emerged as First Division Champions beating, amongst others, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City at fortress Turf Moor. The following season, as English Champions, we would play the best teams in Europe in the European Cup, eventually losing in the Quarter Final to the mighty German Champions Hamburg, 5-4 over two games. Heady, heady days!
Fast forward around twenty five years and I was once again 'on the Turf', but under very different circumstances. Burnley Football Club, a proud founder member of the Football League, was bottom of the Fourth Division and needing a win against Leyton Orient to prevent relegation from the division and into non-league oblivion. The records will show that goals from Grewcock and Britton secured the win and league status but, my, oh my, it was a close call!
Clearly, I am a fan. A big fan. A 'thick and thin' fan, supporting my home town club through triumph and disaster for the whole of my life. So, when Pitchcare editor Laurence Gale asked me if I would be interested in accompanying him to my beloved Turf Moor to take photographs of the groundstaff at work, I bit his hand off … almost to the elbow! You see, Burnley FC is once again in the big time. Yes, our little town, population around 80,000 are once again competing with all the giants of the richest league in world football. Burnley's opponents on the day, West Ham United also play in the same colours, so the capacity crowd of around 20,000 was a sea of claret and blue.
We arrived at the ground around 9.00am, to find the groundstaff already hard at work. Ask fans about the workers at any club and they will name the manager, players, physio, club chairman, even the mascot, but you will be hard pressed to find anyone who can name the groundstaff.
Head man, Paul Bradshaw, has been at the club for nine years, moving back to his hometown after honing his skills at Liverpool FC. The Turf Moor pitch already looks immaculate to my untrained eye, but Paul and his assistant Chris Pickles are already giving the hallowed grass the second cut of the morning. It is still more than six hours to kick off, but the place is a hive of activity. In addition to the cutting, the white lines are sprayed on with military like precision … all except the penalty spots and corner quadrants ... they are hand painted by Paul himself.
I remember, as a schoolboy, getting the opportunity to kick a ball around the Turf Moor pitch and it was absolutely magical; now just walking around the stadium gave me the same thrill. By coincidence, I bumped into a childhood hero and Burnley legend, Andy Lochhead who first played for the Clarets in 1961, the same year that I started to support them. A big, bustling centre forward, he was much feared by centre halves everywhere and became the leading scorer in only his second season at the club.
In a career that saw him play for Leicester, Aston Villa and even Denver Dynamos in the USA, Andy returned to Burnley after retiring and now looks after the sponsors on match days. As we looked out over the magnificent pitch, I asked him what he thought about the quality of the playing surfaces these days. "Incredible, is the only way to describe it" he says. "In my day it was not uncommon to be running around in ankle deep mush, and with the old fashioned boots that often meant carrying around five pounds of mud throughout the game!" I asked him how many more goals he would have scored had he had the opportunity to play on a pitch of this quality, but he modestly declined to give an answer.
Another ex-player who kept a connection with the club throughout a long career was Arthur Bellamy, who sadly died this year at the age of 71. Arthur made his first appearance for Burnley in 1963, against Manchester City in the old First Division, scoring on his debut in a 5-2 win. He went on to make more than 200 first team appearances for the club before being transferred to Chesterfield in 1972. He returned to Burnley after retiring from the game and, in 1979, he rejoined the club as youth coach and later assistant manager and, finally, head groundsman before he retired in 2007.
These days in the modern era, when footballers retire they have often amassed a fortune in a relatively short time and can live out their days in relative luxury. Not so long ago, when a footballer finished playing he had to find another way of earning a living.
I still visit Burnley quite often and it is amazing how many ex-players still live in the town. Many of them married local girls, some took over pubs, others bought fish and chip shops and others had milk rounds … a far cry from today's game where a lucrative second career in the media often beckons.
It is 3.00pm and referee Kevin Friend gets the first half under way. The match is played in a terrific atmosphere and the end to end football would please any neutral. The home side have created the most chances, but it is still 0-0 when the teams return to the dressing rooms at half time. Waiting pitch side with divoting forks at the ready, Paul and his team have just fifteen minutes to repair the divots before the teams are out for the second half. Laurence cannot resist the temptation and he is also soon out there with borrowed fork.
Just minutes into the second half and disaster strikes for the Clarets as a ball is flung in to the box from the left hand side and new signing, Sakho, rises to head the Hammers into the lead. Even worse to come for the home fans as, just five minutes later, £12 million signing Valencia plants a superb header into the corner and West Ham are now 2-0 up away from home. It did look for a time that, when Burnley's George Boyd pulled a goal back in the 60th minute, it was game on, but veteran striker Carlton Cole sealed the win and the points with a goal twenty minutes from time to ensure West Ham manager Sam Allardyce had a happy 60th birthday.
So, disappointment for the home side and smiles all around for the Londoners who are having their best start to a Premier League season in years.
And what about us? Little old Burnley, the smallest town in the entire division, without a win and languishing around the foot of the table? Most of the pundits have already written us off, saying that Burnley will be relegated straight back to the Championship, but they have been wrong before. I remember, just last season, when Crystal Palace and Sunderland were both rooted to the foot of the table at Christmas, but they survived and lived to fight another day in the Premiership.
Whatever happens, to see Turf Moor buzzing once again with a full house and quality visitors every other week is fantastic, and will live long in the fan's memories. We may not survive more than one season eating at the top table, but you never know. Miracles can happen ... can't they?
Interview with Paul Bradshaw