Chelsea problems revealed
By Billy Martin (Kestrel Golf and Sports)
The situation at Chelsea was always going to happen. The club have known for the last 3 or 4 years that the pitch was coming to the end of its natural life span.
The cause is not just the shade and light problems, which are well known, but the pitch has very fine sand as a root zone coupled with Desso fibre reinforcement. This combination has created a very compact root zone, which has been caused difficulties to grow and retain grass.
There have been complaints from the players who were complaining about the hardness of the pitch as well.
In the last couple of years Chelsea have had to revert to turfing the pitch twice a year just to keep some decent grass cover.
Last summer we put down a pre-ordered root zone pitch from Inturf and it held up well until mid-December. The Groundsman was thinking it would probably last until February, but December was extremely wet and the team was playing and training on the pitch during the rain showers; the wear agitated the roots and caused them to die back.
We already had an order from Chelsea, to be ready to lay a new pitch, so we moved in on the Sunday after the Charlton game.
We removed 360 tonnes of the remaining root zone turf. As we expected, the soil was very anaerobic, so we made a decision to put in a layer of charcoal to ensure that, if there were any gasses in the soil, they would be filtered out.
We inspected a couple of pre-grown pitches at Tillers Turf and decided to go for a sandy loam turf rather than the root zone turf. It's proved to be the right decision.
We were very lucky, considering it was January, that the temperatures were very kind. By the time of the first game we had managed to tease a root out of it, which has helped with the stability. Not that we thought there would be a problem because it was 40mm thick turf in the first place. The turf had a high predominance of fescue because we thought it might give us a little bit of extra stability with thatch to hold everything together.
The aim was to ensure Chelsea's pitch lasted until the end of the season, and then the whole lot is going to be ripped out.
The Groundsman tells me another reason for the compaction is the undersoil heating which is very shallow, between 150 to 200mm below the surface. Aeration and verti-draining is obviously very difficult; the staff can only go down to a depth of 100mm with the spikers. It was adding to the compaction problems and giving rise to the black layer.
So, it was more than just the light and air problems; there is a sub-surface problem as well as an anaerobic problem.
Sometimes, because of the training there, there could be up to sixty players on the pitch. Even the best surface in the world would have difficulty maintaining its grass cover with that sort of use on a regular basis.There were some comments about the preparation of the pitch before the Charlton match, but I can assure you no sand was put on or taken off. There was little grass cover, about 15%, but it in no way affected the game. The pitch played no better and no worse than any other thinly covered grass pitch at the time of year.