At twenty-four years old, Kiel Barrett believes he is the youngest Head Groundsman in the Football League. Having learned his trade under the watchful eye of Jason Booth at Headingley Carnegie, it was a short hop across the city to Elland Road, home of Leeds United AFC.
Our editor caught up with him at the start of a hectic schedule of three homes games in seven days to see how he is settling into his new role and how he prepares for a matchday
Leeds United Association Football Club was formed in 1919. Their Elland Road ground has always been their home and they are believed to be in the top ten most supported clubs in England.
Having spent the majority of their time in the top flight, the club plummeted down the leagues during the 'noughties' following financial difficulties, and returning to, what they would consider, their rightful place in the Premier League is proving problematical, with the latest in a succession of managers, the irascible yet charismatic Yorkshireman Neil Warnock, now tasked with the job.
Kiel Barrett was appointed as Head Groundsman on 9th August 2012, following the retirement of the long-serving and vastly experienced Norman Southernwood who, as well as fourteen years at Elland Road had long spells at Headingley (6) and Halifax Town (14) plus a year at Bolton Wanderers.
Kiel had previously worked at the Headingley Carnegie stadium, learning his craft from the experienced and respected Jason Booth. During his first season, he is being supported by Norman whose vast experience is on hand to help him as required. For example, and with the weather forecast showing a drop in temperatures to below freezing, Norman came in to show him how to operate the undersoil heating system to best effect.
Like any new job, it can take time to get into new working practises and get to know everyone, and Kiel confesses that he is still coming to terms with the fact that he has more responsibility and is managing a completely different stadium pitch to the one at Headingley Carnegie, where an old soil based pitch had to cope with both codes of rugby being played on it and a congested fixture list.
One of things he most likes about his new job is the time he has between fixtures to prepare the pitch. Having said that, I caught up with him at the start of a hectic schedule of three home games in seven days - two Championship league matches against Charlton Athletic and Birmingham City, and a League Cup tie against Southampton.
I arrived at the ground at 10.30am to find Kiel and Oliver Brown (his new apprentice) completing the rolling of the pitch using their Allett Buffalos. It had already been cut the previous day, but Kiel wanted to give it some more definition.
Kiel is part of a five man team which is responsible for looking after all the club's pitches. Kiel and Oliver are solely responsible for the Elland Road stadium pitch, whilst the training ground Head Groundsman, Chris Drury, and assistants Jamie Glover and Jonathan Gardiner look after the pitches at Thorp Arch, and also help out on matchdays.
Kiel has been very pleased with the way Oliver has settled so quickly. He has been quick to learn and take on new responsibilities, already helping to mow the pitch, with marking out next on the list of skills to master.
The stadium pitch is of a sand ameliorated, fibresand construction, laid over an ash drainage layer with a herringbone primary drainage system. The undersoil heating system was laid back in the late 1970s, with an automated watering system added later. There is a big camber on the pitch which helps with water run-off.
Norman had familiarised Kiel with the renovation work carried out on the stadium pitch back in May, which centred around koroing off all the old vegetation, power harrowing, relevelling, topdressing with 120 tonnes of new fibresand and overseeding in two directions with a dimple seeder. Twenty bags of R14 were used. The work was carried out by local sportsturf contractor, Alan Chappelow, who has known Kiel for a few years, having worked together on a number of projects, so a smooth transition is already in place.
There are some localised problems that Kiel is also aware of. Iron pans have formed in several areas which can compromise the drainage capabilities of the pitch. In addition, some of the piping for both the undersoil heating and pop-up watering systems was not laid at a uniform depth. This means that Kiel has to be careful when setting the depth of any aeration equipment to ensure no damage is done to the pipes.
Kiel explains that, like many an old pitch, there comes a time when the only sensible solution is to lay a brand new one, utilising all the latest developments to suit the club's requirements and its unique stadium environment. He is confident that, once the club get back into the Premiership, there will be the opportunity to do just that.
In the run-up to the Charlton game, Kiel had been fortunate to have a sixteen day window to prepare the pitch for the onslaught of three consecutive home games. He had used the time to carry out thorough repairs to divots and scars, verticutting and mowing on a daily basis at a height of cut of 26mm. He also took the opportunity to demo a Toro ProCore, using it to solid tine down to 175mm, followed by overseeding with five bags of R14.
Regular brushing to remove surface dew, to reduce the risk of disease, was undertaken during this period, but the mild and wet weather led to a sudden attack of leaf spot, which Kiel tackled with an application of Chipco Green. He was confident that he had caught it early enough to enable a quick recovery. Carbendazim was also applied to control worms.
Kiel's ongoing feeding regime will be centred around a combination of 12:0:9 and 6:0:27 granular feeds, topped up with few applications of sugar.
With so much wet weather and heavy rain leaching away a lot of nutrients, more frequent applications may be required to maintain colour and vigour.
Back to matchday preparations. Having completed the presentation rolling, the next task was to overmark the pitch. Kiel enlists the help of Oliver to move string lines, and uses a transfer wheel linemarker and a ready mixed paint. Each line is overmarked twice to get an even coverage. It takes the best part of two hours to complete the task.
If there is one trait that Kiel brought with him from Headingley Carnegie it was attention to detail. He was taught the importance of pitch presentation for matchdays, and says that Jason taught him that the little things can make a huge difference; cutting around posts and corner flags, taking time over marking and spending time repairing the pitch, for example.
The next tasks were to set up the goal nets, place the corner flags and assemble the portable goals used for pre-match practice. Once the pitch was set up to Kiel's satisfaction, he then took me high up into the stands to get a picture of the pitch, and for him to make one final inspection from this high vantage point as, he says, it helps identify any problems.
By this time, it was 4.40pm and time to take a well earned tea break whilst waiting for the other members of the grounds team to arrive.
Kick-off was not until 7.45pm, so we had about an hour's rest. I took the opportunity to meet up with some of Kiel's new colleagues from the stadium maintenance department, and refuel with pies and pasties.
Chris and Jonathan arrived from the training ground during my refuelling. The team take it in turns to help out on matchdays, and there are always four on duty.
Chris Drury has been at the club for over ten years and spends the majority of his time looking after the club's training pitches. Here, there are eight soil based pitches to maintain, along with an artificial pitch.
At 6.00pm the players begin arriving, and the place is now a hive of activity with staff, stewards and police carrying out final inspections and holding staff briefings. The club also allow visiting parties to be given a tour of the ground before the game.
The Elland Road pitch does not have a large off-pitch area, so warm-ups generally have to take place on the pitch. Reducing wear from fast feet warm-ups is Kiel's biggest concern, and he ensures that coaches are made aware of the damage they can cause.
To this end he tries to confine warm- ups to the most open areas of the ground, restricting activity in the shaded areas where possible. Kiel currently has no lighting rigs to aid grass recovery, but hopes that the money to purchase them will be made available in due course.
The automated pop-up watering system consists of eight heads set into the playing area and ten around the perimeter. However, with so much rain in recent weeks, the need to use the system has been dramatically reduced. After consultation, the decision was taken not to water the pitch on this occasion.
Both teams emerge from the tunnel and begin the warm-ups. Chris and Kiel keep an eye on what's happening and acknowledge both sets of coaches.
As soon as the warm-ups are completed, both sets of portable goals are taken down and stored away. Divots, especially where fast feet drills have taken place, are repaired.
The groundstaff then settle down into their allocated seats above the players' tunnel. These are possibly the best seats in the stadium. Kiel and his staff are responsible for rolling the tunnel in and out before, during and after the game.
As always, the Leeds fans are quite vocal, adding to the matchday atmosphere, especially when the home team took the lead in the thirty-sixth minute, a lead they maintained up to half time.
Once the half time whistle had blown, and the players had left the pitch, the groundstaff were back out repairing divots and scars. I even grabbed a fork to help out.
Half time seemed to go really quickly and we were soon back in our seats to watch the second half. Unfortunately, for Leeds, it was not one of their better performances as, within five minutes of the restart, Charlton had equalised.
The scoreline remained that way until the final whistle, leaving the home fans disappointed that two points had been dropped in their quest for promotion. In truth, Leeds had not played well in the second half and Charlton deserved the draw. As for Kiel, he was happy that the pitch had come through unscathed, with very few divots and damage.
With the game over, the groundstaff went out on the pitch to remove advertising logos and take down the goal nets. They spent the best part of an hour putting the worst of the divots back and cleaning up with rotary mowers.
It was now gone 11.00pm and, with the traffic having died down, I began my journey home. But, for Kiel and his team it was just another home fixture completed successfully, with their thoughts, no doubt, on the next day's workload.
Chris and Jonathan would be back at the training ground, whilst Kiel and Oliver would spend the rest of the week getting the pitch ready for the next game against Birmingham.
It was good to spend time with Kiel, and meet the rest of the team working hard to ensure that the Leeds players have good surfaces to train and play on to help them achieve their goal of returning to the top flight.