13 Common sense prevails

200272617048daveroberts.jpg By Dave Roberts

The Christmas period is always a trying time of year, balancing extra fixtures with inclement weather and trying to spend some time at home with the family as well.

The game on the 30th December though was more trying than most, as the St Mary's pitch was subject to prolonged heavy rain after lunchtime, just an hour before the Championship match against Leicester City.

It is the nightmare scenario that we face as Groundsmen, close to kick off, the stadium open to the home and travelling supporters and torrential rain that is coming down far quicker than the pitch can drain or shed it off.

When the players came out to warm up, the pitch was playable however large areas of the pitch were water logging and they started to cause some damage during their intensive workouts. The rain was now monsoonal, and I spoke to the referee, Phil Crossley who was keen that the game should kick off at the designated 3pm slot.

I suggested to him that he came to my office and take a look at the radar forecast that I had on my Weathercast software. He obliged me and could clearly see a break in the clouds after about a quarter to four. I said that if he was prepared to put back the kick off, my staff and I would be able to clear the excess water from the worst areas and the rest would drain through quickly.

We went to speak to the two managers, explaining the possibility that the game could be saved. Both George Burley and Rob Kelly were keen to play; their only concern was keeping the players warmed up.

While my staff and I used squeegees and forks to remove the excess water away from the playing surface, I said to Mr Crossley, that he could use my office to keep an eye on the forecast.

Most of the time the general public don't see the work and effort that goes on within the stadium, but here we were removing water watched by a near capacity crowd.

We worked hard and the rain eased up. Both the managers brought their teams back out to warm up, and were careful to train off the pitch.

We kicked off at 3:45pm in the end, the pitch was draining pretty well and that bears testament to the spring renovation that we did, incorporating 200 tons of sand into the surface, our continued aeration program and the DryJect operation, where we injected another 16 tons of sand, into the profile, that was carried out in November. And more importantly the hard work of the 20 lads here who really pulled out all the stops and worked in ridiculous conditions getting soaked to the skin.

The band of rain that moved up from the South West that day, passed through Southampton after lunch, hitting the rest of the country through the afternoon. According to our weather station we had in the 40minutes before kick off 6mm of rain fall on St Mary's this was on top of the 15mm we had had in the night, it was too much for most pitches to take in and be playable immediately afterwards. Watching the round up of the games that evening, it was good to see how many grounds had managed (through hard work and management) to get their matches on. I felt sorry for those who got the heaviest rain midway through their games-they didn't stand a chance.

The club were obviously delighted that the game was played and the additional time that supporters were in the stadium saw all the tea bars emptied of pies coffees and pints! The team got the right result and it was pleasing to hear the Leicester manager, Rob Kelly, say 'There are no excuses about the pitch from our point of view, and Southampton had the same delay as us. It was just a disappointing performance.'

In my view without the technology available to us the referee would have either abandoned or postponed the game, fortunately thanks to weathercast, Dryject, hard work and common sense, it was game on, (however we now have some very heavily worn areas that will take little more than a miracle to get them green again before the next fixture, fortunately they are on the wing and are flat and playable).

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