Being immersed in football groundsmanship once again has meant head down and back to match day deadlines; even stricter than those Peter Britton affords me to write my forewords!
The opportunity to be back on the tools did give me a tinge of trepidation to start with as I wondered whether I was still sufficiently 'in the know' and passionate enough to dedicate myself to looking after grass again. The worries of whether the grass would germinate after renovations, thicken up to produce a decent sward and have sufficient root depth to withstand the early onslaught of pre-season fixtures all came back to haunt me.
A few sleepless nights and nightmares about two foot long grass on matchday - and me unable to get to the ground to cut it - reminded me why I started Pitchcare in the first place. To allow easy interaction and knowledge sharing for everyone in our industry. So the countless articles and message board threads that I've read during the last fourteen years must have sunk in because, with hindsight, I had little to worry about seven weeks after seeding.
I've written an article for the October/November issue outlining my experiences at Shrewsbury Town since May; a similar story perhaps to most winter sports groundsmen who have to deal with the longer season, increasing fixture lists and more demands from players/coaches and hierarchy. Even at this level (Football League One), the supporters seem to be more knowledgeable and demanding than they were a decade ago! This actually is great, and I have had countless conversations this season already with supporters who seem to have a real interest in the welfare of the playing surface and its continued success.
Although only about a quarter of the way through the campaign (twelve games to date), and with winter looming (forecasters again offering a very cold outlook), I'm comfortable with the progress and we are still working hard to get the grass plant to its optimum and winter hardiness.
Who knows what's in store, but frost covers on and off regularly and snow clearing may well be a large part of our remit for the next few months. Damage limitation of the turf is our priority.
I will write at least one more article about our work and the maintenance regime that we are following, so that I can provide a full season of maintenance and costs for looking after a stadium pitch. The relative costs associated with this are a drain to any club but, in the greater scheme of things, a small price to pay for a decent playing surface. I hope that at least some of you can look at the schedule and cost of works and persuade your powers-that-be to improve the budget available to you.
As I write, England have been knocked out of the Rugby World Cup, leaving what now feels like an empty tournament to be played out on our shores. By and large, the pitches have stood up very well, again proving how good we are at maintaining the best sports surfaces in the world.
England's failure to get out of the pool stages could well leave a £1.5bn shortfall in our tourism industry; isn't it amazing how we calculate the real cost of everything these days. Likewise, the often shortsighted approach to maintenance costs of the surfaces can result in expensive injuries, loss of players to other clubs with better facilities and a much larger renovation or reconstruction along the line.
It does seem, though, that we are getting our voices heard and, if we keep pushing home the point, we will get the recognition and financial support we require.
Good luck to you all this winter.