Always busy at Bristol City
By Craig Richardson Head Groundsman
As with most league football clubs Bristol City are always trying to maximise the use of their stadium. For the last three-years we have held concerts in June, which in most cases brings additional responsibilities for me, especially as it involves covering the whole pitch for several days during the summer growing periods.
This year we are looking to programme two concerts in June and July. This will certainly test my skills as a groundsman, knowing that I will have to fit in all this extra work with all the renovation and growing in between May and August.
The club have also agreed to a seven million pound rebuilding programme of the Wedlock Stand as part of it ground improvement scheme partly funded by the Football Foundation.
The new stand will accommodate modern conference facilities, bars and 16 corporate boxes along with seating capacity for 5200. The new stand will be higher than the present stand and may add to our already shading problems on the pitch.
We suffer shading on a least a quarter of the pitch, a factor that needs to be addressed during maintenance regimes.
Communication is a key issue when planning and managing the pitch facilities. Knowing when fixtures are due and when we have TV matches is important for me in that I can prepare and plan work to ensure the pitch is playable.
Presentation is not always the be all and end all of my work, I set my priorities in the following order: -
1.The pitch is playable, ensure the game is on
2.Produce the playing characteristics required for our team
3.Aesthetically present the pitch for play
The present pitch is a fibre sand construction that was installed about ten years ago. We have a 100mm depth of fibre sand over blinding and drainage layers. We also have a 15-sprinkler pop up head mains watering system to help maintain the fibre sand system.
Watering is essential when managing fibre sand constructions, a desired amount of water is required to maintain both pitch stability and grass plant growth.
Managing fibre sand systems are completely different to managing soil based pitches, in that water and fertiliser inputs are greater
I also take soil temperatures to keep an eye on optimum growing conditions. Even with the recent good weather the rootzone temperatures were still only hovering around 7 degrees Celsius. Ideally we need temperatures above ten to see a significant movement in growth. However, being a sand profile it generally warms up very quickly.
I am very pleased with how the pitch as performed this season, which has been mainly due to the fact that we were able to remove a lot of black layer last June that had been accumulating in the pitch for some time.
Last year we got Carl Pass from Premier Pitches to carry out a complete renovation of the playing surface. This consisted of fraise mowing off the top 25mm of surface material, rejuvenating the fibre sand profile by stirring in an additional 100 tonnes of fibre sand materials and re-levelling. The pitch was then oversown with Advanta MM60 seed mixture.
That left us with less than five weeks to our first game. To be fair the surface was ok at the start of the season but not ideal. It really needed a bit more time. However, come mid September the pitch played very well.
The benefits of fibre sand pitches is that we get very little divot/scarring damage occurring. Thus reducing the time I have to spend repairing the pitch after play. However there is a price to pay for managing fibre sand pitches, increased watering, fertiliser and aeration regimes are necessary to maintain herbage cover and stability of the pitch.
As with most sand based pitches leaching of nutrients is our main problem, we have a variable fertilising programme at Bristol City. I like to feed little and often. Using mainly straight fertliser products during the playing season and maybe a slow release after renovations (June, July, August).
I try to apply my straight fertilisers (12:0:9) on a three weekly basis, but other factors weather, temperatures and fixtures can often dictate this. During cooler periods and in the winter I may try other products, something like seaweed meal and iron to stimulate colour and performance.
To prevent the surface and the fibres from compacting I carry out regular aeration works utilising our Wiedenmenn Terra Spiker. A versatile machine. That enables me to aerate at different depths. I spike weekly at 75mm and then spike monthly at 150mm, it is important to prevent consolidation of the sand and fibres.
After match maintenance regimes
As soon as the match is finished I begin to put back any divots/scarring that has occurred. I then brush and roll the pitch with the Dennis mower which helps restore levels ready to begin the grooming and mowing in the coming week. From Tuesday, depending on the weather and time of year I may end up mowing the pitch on a daily basis.
It usually takes me about one and half hours to set up the hoses and complete the watering. This is usually completed by 1.30 PM.
During the pre-match warm up, I am able to utilise a semi portable goal system that is set up outside the main goal area. This helps to reduce wear from the main goal areas.
This year we have only suffered from a bad spell of leaf spot, often a difficult disease to spot early on in its life cycle, especially as the symptoms generally show up as leaf tip yellowing. Which also can be interpreted as nutrient, magnesium deficiencies or drought stress. Once we had identified it has Leaf spot we applied a batch of fungicide but were probably to late with our application, resulting in me losing up to 30% grass in some areas.
End of Season renovations
We operate a policy of fraise mowing every year but alternate the depth of the fraise mowing. Last year we Koro'd off the whole top to reintroduce new sand fibre materials and get rid of old surface material. This year we are planning to remove only 7mm of material thus enabling to clean up and get rid of unwanted grass species.
The pitch will then be aerated, top dressed with 100 tons of straight sand and oversown with MM60 coated with headstart fertiliser material. This seed can germinate within five days.
We are hoping to start this work after our last match on April 30th. However, if we find ourselves in the play offs would mean we could not start until Mid May.
I am keen to get an early start this year as I need to get the work completed well before our first concert date (June 14th). With two concerts planned (June 14th and July 1st) the setting up and taking down of the staging will no doubt influence the growth and health of the new sward.
The very nature of the event means that I will have aluminium flooring covering one end of the pitch up to 18-yard box area and Terra Plast plastic floor covering on the remainder of the pitch.
The Terra Plas flooring is not so bad as it allows some and air and water into the pitch, However the aluminium flooring does not. The flooring will be on the pitch for well over 8 days for each concert. This means that we will be taking up the covering between concerts to work on the pitch and try and rejuvenate it with aeration, brushing and feeding practices, trying to de-stress the grass plant. After the last concert in July I will have only 4 weeks to prepare and bring the pitch round for the first match in August.
Every time we do this it becomes a steep learning curve. Nearly all clubs are now trying to maximise the use of their stadiums and Bristol City is no different.
I enjoy the challenges that are constantly thrown at me in producing a quality playing surface for well over 50 fixtures and fitting in with other stadia activities. Without these challenges I am sure life would become very boring.