Busy week at Knowlsey Road
By John Edwards, Head Groundsman
Having to host two sports that run consecutively does, without doubt, entail a lot of hard work and often some heartache here at St Helens. And, particularly now when we are into the overlapping period, February- May, when both rugby league and football are using the Knowsley Road pitch.
It often means matches on successive days. This week we have had to accommodate five games in eight days, three rugby and two football.
We had our first Super League X home match last Friday night. Home matches generally start at 6pm with a warm up game, this week St Helens U18s versus a French side, followed by the main match at 8pm which, incidentally, was our highest first match attendance (13,378) in the summer era. The team had a good 40 -18 win over Widnes Vikings.
On Wednesday evening we had a football match between St Helens Town and Liverpool's academy side, so we had to change the pitch over, taking down the rugby posts, erecting football posts, re marking and so on.
Thursday was spent changing back to rugby for St Helens U21 playing Wakefield Trinity Wildcats at 7.30 pm. I then have the luxury of all day Friday to change the pitch over again for another football match on Saturday.
This heavy fixture scheduling does pose a number of problems. We do not always have enough time to prepare the pitch properly and, obviously, this is compounded when we have poor weather. We just have to make the best of it at the moment. Having worked here for the best part of twenty years I know that the pitch will respond and recover once we get some warmer weather.
Photograph (John left,Tommy right).
The only time we have for pitch renovation is in May when I usually have a 15 day period between the Saints' home games.
In that time I reduce the height of cut from 33mm down to 25mm, scarify the pitch to reduce thatch levels, vertidrain and top dress with 70 tonnes of sand and over seed with 6 bags of Rigby Taylors R14 Premier winter games renovation seed. The pitch is then fertilised with either a 6:9:6 or a 15 :10:15 balanced fertiliser. The exact choice of materials will be dependant on a soil analysis and the condition of the turf at the time.
We have a Rainbird automated pop up irrigation system, with 10 heads around the pitch, and three movable sprinkler heads. We only water for the plant's requirements. We do not water to alter the playing characteristics of the pitch, mainly because in rugby league the players do not like to be slipping on the surface.
The sward height is kept at 33mm all year round, by mowing with a 36" Mastiff mower. I also have a compact mini tractor with brush attachments and a rotary deck which I use to clean up the playing surface. We also have a SISIS slitter that is used to aid our programmed aeration works, we vertidrain 6 times a year when conditions allow.
We mark out our pitch lines using a wheel to wheel transfer line marker. Having two sports to mark out keeps us very busy, we use a green colour compound to mask any redundant lines.
Summer rugby has certainly helped me prepare better quality playing surfaces for the sport, the turf responds very quickly to wear and tear. With high temperatures and rapid re growth I am able to keep the sward in a much healthier and aesthetically better condition which, in turn, provides our players with a safer and durable surface to play on.
February and March are the two key months for me, with regard to how the pitch performs and the damage it suffers. It is really down to the weather and the amount of fixtures during this time. This week will certainly test the pitch out, especially being soil based with only a primary drainage system. We just hope we do not lose too much grass cover.
Life can be very difficult, there are only so many hours in the day to do the work. To keep a good surface when we are faced with these conditions and number of games stretches us to the limit. There is certainly very little time for complacency.
However, it is all worthwhile when we see the team performing well and the crowd in good humour, and especially when we're winning.