Bradford Bulls return home
By David Markham
Groundsman and flying Rugby League winger, Roger Simpson, is hoping that the pitch at Odsal Stadium will be in tip top condition when Bradford Bulls return to their traditional home in March after a two year gap.
The Bulls played their Super League matches at Bradford City's Valley Parade ground in 2001 and 2002 because they expected Odsal to be out of use while a planned stadium re-development involving a supermarket and an hotel went ahead.
However, the scheme was first delayed and then collapsed when the outside developers pulled out. Now, the club are embarking on a more modest re-development, which began just before Christmas.
The stadium, which is several hundred feet above sea level, a mile from the M62 on the south side of Bradford, has the reputation of being one of the bleakest sporting venues in the country.
But it housed a record crowd of 102,000 for a Rugby League Cup final replay in 1954 and it has enormous potential, which the Bulls hope to bring to fruition in the next few years.
Roger, who has played Rugby League for 18 years - 12 at Bradford and six at Batley as a pacey winger - is keen to point out that, although the Bulls first team have been playing away from Odsal the pitch, which is set in a bowl, has still been busy.
He said: "Training is based at Odsal and the under-21s team have played here along with Bradford City Reserves. City Reserves played some matches here to ease the pressure on Valley Parade when the Bulls first team were playing there. The reserves are now back at Valley Parade.
It was a hectic schedule with the Bulls' players training on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and City reserves playing on Thursdays. That left only Wednesdays when I could prepare the pitch.
I am employed by Bradford Council, who still own the stadium, but they are soon to hand it over to the Bulls.
The council did Bradford City a favour by letting the reserves play at Odsal and, even though the Bulls first team have not been playing here this last two seasons, at no time did the council allow the pitch to deteriorate.
They still spent money on renovation but, without the help of my assistant Leigh Beattie, who has been employed on a casual basis, the pitch would have been in a bad state.
As it happens, the pitch is in the best condition I have seen at Odsal at this time of the year."
Roger, who has combined Groundsmans duties and playing professionally for 16 years, is being hampered in his pre-season work by re-development, notably the new corporate facilities that are being built at one end of the ground. It means he can't work on that part of the pitch until the work is completed.
However, despite the re-development, pitch renovation work has progressed. Roger said: "We have done the top dressing, over seeding and we have re-laid the turf in the centre circle. The new turf arrived on big rollers. I had to cut it into sections, carry it on to a scaffold and then on to the pitch.
The seeds were just coming through before Christmas, but then it snowed and we have not had the chance to look at them since then. There were two or three inches of snow on the pitch before Christmas.
At present I have the cut the grass to two and a half inches, which is the highest 'cut' on my mastiff, but when the summer comes along I will drop the level. Obviously, I had to cut the grass lower when Bradford City Reserves played here.
I have a 36 inch cylinder Ransomes mastiff for cutting the grass and I adjust the blades accordingly.
I also have a tractor with attachments for spiking, brushing and light rolling, but we also use forks to get rid of the divots. Rugby players create a lot of divots, especially at this time of the year and you must deal with them as soon as possible. In winter the divots tend to freeze and in summer when it is hot they fry."
As well as Rugby League, Odsal has also been the home at various times for speedway and stock car racing. Therefore, the corners on the rugby pitch have been temporary so that they could be taken up to allow the two sports to operate on the track and then be re-laid for Rugby League.
Now, it looks as if only Rugby League will be played at Odsal and these temporary corners will not be needed. Roger said: "The turf was laid on boards so it could be removed for speedway and stock car racing. Now, we are looking to grow new grass in the corners."