Being Bold at Brentford
Tom Stobbart the Head Groundsman (seen on the left), was only appointed at Brentford Football Club in August, but has had to make some very quick and bold decisions to help alleviate the mounting problems on the Griffin Park surface.
When Tom left school he first attended Sparsholt College and qualified in Forestry and Woodland Maintenance, before packing his bags and travelling through Asia and Australia.
On arrival back in the UK, he decided that he was best suited to the outdoor life and at 22 applied for a job as Groundsman at the St Christopher School in Letchworth. The 12-acre private school had a nine-wicket cricket table, one lacrosse pitch and three football pitches. Luton Towns School of Excellence played their fixtures at the school on Sundays, so along with the 580 pupils and a Saturday goal keeping courses there was a lot of work to do. Tom learnt much about groundsmanship from going on IOG run, one and two day courses, but he also gleaned expertise and information from the head gardener who, wise in age, instilled the importance of timing and patience and also pride in his work.
Tom now works using three main principles; that help him to cope with the pressures of work in a stadium environment.
1, There will never be enough money to do everything. 2, Whilst one tries, perfection may never be reached. 3, There is never enough time.
When Tom arrived at Brentford the season was already underway, he started work on Sunday the 19th August, preparing the pitch for the Worthington cup first round match against Norwich on the 21st.
He said ' when I came for my interview, I asked to see the pitch, facilities and machinery available to me, the pitch looked fantastic and I was slightly daunted at the prospect of looking after a football league pitch. However, by the end of the Norwich game I realised that there were some serious underlying problems, highlighted by areas of damage where the turf had rolled up following tackles, into pieces as long as two feet.'
Tom immediately asked the Stadium Manager and the Managing Director to view the damage on the pitch after the game. He was able to show and explain to them that the pitch was severely compacted, had a root depth, at best 25mm deep, a thick layer of thatch and yes, you guessed it- was covered entirely with Poa.
Investigations of prior maintenance followed this closer insight and it was found that the surface was rolled after games with a large water filled, tractor-mounted roller and fed with regular high Nitrogen feeds, which is why the pitch had looked so good!
The decision was made for immediate action, so following a soil analysis, a late summer renovation was implemented to alleviate the compaction, thin the sward and try to develop root growth. Tom felt he had little to lose by taking such steps, given that the pitch was already a time bomb of problems.
The pitch was first scarified lightly, with the removal of about 36 jumbo bin liners of grass and thatch.
The thatch removal was followed by pencil tine spiking, at a depth of 100mm (4") to help increase the air/soil ratios. Using a Sisis 'Vari-Seeder' borrowed from the lads at Chelsea FC, Tom over seeded with 200kgs (8 Bags) of LA14 from Rigby Taylor. He put 150kgs (6 Bags) spread evenly across the pitch and put the other two bags over the two eighteen-yard boxes and centre circle.
Since the renovation, the seedlings have emerged and are now maturing well, Tom still anticipates a difficult season ahead, but at least he has started on the road to improvement.
There is general acceptance that there is very little money available at the present time, even to the point where Tom and his assistant are improvising by sieving out the fibre from bags of existing fibre root zone, to use the sand/soil mix for divot repairs. Root growth is slightly improved and on the day that I visited,
So Tom has had his pitch further de-compacted in return for some bacon butties and a full sausage and mash lunch, provided by the club- it was very much appreciated by all the Groundsmen who took time out to come along and look at the effect of these machine operations.