Martin Sampson, Head Groundsman at Cardinal Vaughan School, often has to pinch himself! He reckons he has one of the best jobs in groundsmanship looking after the school grounds that lie adjacent to the magnificent Twickenham stadium.
Martin began his career working for a local authority in Wales but, after fifteen years, decided he wanted to get back into a 'hands on' job. He spent two years working at Gosling Sports Park before moving on to become Head Groundsman at The Stoop, the home of Harlequins RUFC. He then moved to Epsom College before finally taking up his present post in 2006.
Since his appointment, Martin has transformed the school grounds and has encouraged the school to invest in a lot of new equipment. Most of the income the school earns from the playing fields comes from letting their ground out to the RFU for car parking during matches at the stadium and from corporate hospitality, and much of this has been ploughed straight back into the facility. And, of course, the RFU benefit from having quality pitches nearby for training and practice.
The school also brings in additional income by hiring out to local clubs.
Martin now has a new Dennis 36" G680 cylinder mower, a Kioti Compact Tractor, a SISIS Quadraplay system, Wessex Proline finishing mower, Dennis FT510 mower with cassette system, Richard Long Topdresser, Charterhouse Disc Seeder and an Autoroller cricket roller.
Pitch improvements were carried out in July this year to the senior football pitch which included koroing and reseeding with RTR14. Results were excellent and the seed germinated well due to ideal weather conditions and the use of the new pop up irrigation system.
A new pitch perimeter crowd barrier, three new cricket practice nets, a new long jump pit and a three strip natural grass Surrey Loam cricket square were also installed. In total, the school has invested in the region of around £120,000 over the last three years.
Martin says that it is a win win situation. The RFU require the school grounds for key matches. He works very closely with Keith Kent and they help one another out by sharing equipment and labour.
The school makes use of the pitches every afternoon whilst, at weekends, they are hired out for morning and afternoon fixtures. The school charges between £80-£120 per pitch.
Spring renovations are centred around aeration, aeration and more aeration, then topdressing with 120 tonnes of 70/30 and overseeding with RT R14 and BSH A20 seed mixtures. Height of cut is maintained between 27-35mm.
Martin says that having access to the RFU Soil Reliever and tractor is a godsend as it enables him to keep the pitches in tip top condition. The pitches are also Quadraplayed twice a week with a combination of rakes, brushes and rollers.
In September 2008 Martin took on another member of staff, Russell Ashford, who is currently undertaking NVQ qualifications at Capel Manor college.
With so many games being played on the pitches, Martin and Russell take it in turns to cover the weekend rotas. There are at least four fixtures on the main football pitch. Generally, morning matches kick off at 9.30am and afternoon matches start between 1.00-3.00pm. To ensure each team gets a decent playing surface, Martin and Russell always divot, roll and brush the pitches between matches.
The lines are marked weekly using a Bowcom spray jet marker mixing the paint to a 3-1 ratio.
On Monday, it is generally a case of getting the pitches repaired, brushed, cut and remarked for the next set of fixtures.
However, one of the busiest times for Martin is during the lead up to an international match. It's all about preparing the surfaces to take the onslaught of over 1,000 cars and a 1,000 square metre marquee that overlaps the first eleven pitch.
The recent Investec series saw four back to back internationals. This meant the pitch was covered for well over thirty days. Before the base went down he mowed the grass, fed it with some 4:0:10 with turf hardner and punched holes into the soil profile.
As soon as the covering was removed, he again decompacted the surface, fed and oversowed with Barebrug's new SOS seed mixture 50% Barlington 50% 4tr1 that will germinate in cool temperatures. New germination sheets help promote growth and, all being well, the combination of decompaction, feeding and seeding should rejuvenate the pitch.
First Team Football Pitch - Renovation works after hospitality. November 2008
1. Marquee area brushed several times to raise sward
2. Cut area with combination of rotary/ cylinder mowers
3. Verti cut area
4. Aeration using RFU Soil Reliever
5. Slit tine area several times
6. Apply Barenbrug SOS grass seed
7. Apply Multi K miniprilled NK fertiliser
8. Lay Supreme Green Turf Growth Covers to aid germination
9. Monitor germination and remove/replace covers when necessary
10. Approximately mid - December apply XTEND 12:12:12 fertiliser to full pitch
Allowance made for further application of fertiliser prior to January 2009, only if necessary.