Rangers Football Club's Ibrox Park will host the Commonwealth Games Rugby Sevens competition. Head Groundsman, Dave Roxburgh talks us through his preparations for the event and what will be required to get the pitch back into play for the start of season 2014-15
Brief background on yourself and your current role at the club?
I was appointed Head Groundsman at Rangers Football Club in April 1987 from Kilmarnock Football Club where I had spent my previous twelve years as Groundsman/Head Groundsman.
As the Ibrox Head Groundsman, I am responsible for all areas under my remit and job description. When I first came to Rangers, I reported directly to the Team Manager as the playing surface was the area of responsibility directly linked to the playing structure, and still is to this day, despite now reporting directly to the Finance Director.
The remit is to provide the highest quality playing surface at Ibrox and to ensure it remains within the criteria of the SFL, SFA and UEFA for the purpose of playing professional football fixtures, ensuring that the surface is consistent throughout, and to provide suitable training surfaces for our professional footballers and developing youth players within the Murray Park training complex.
What facilities do you manage and what are your current staffing arrangements?
I am responsible for the maintenance and development of the playing surface at Ibrox stadium together with the maintenance and upkeep of our Murray Park training facility, with exception of the buildings.
Below me I have two deputies, one is responsible for the day to day running of Ibrox. and the other is responsible for the day to day running at Murray Park. Both my deputies come with different skill sets and knowledge required to implement the pitch maintenance programmes developed within the team at both sites. Below them we have seven groundstaff who work between Ibrox and Murray Park, depending on fixtures and work programmes being carried out at the time.
All groundstaff are highly skilled and have attended college and attained relevant trade certificates in groundsmanship, greenkeeping and landscaping. They were employed to bring their level of experience to the club to enhance and develop the department given the level of technology within the pitch constructions.
We have also run a successful apprenticeship scheme that has enabled two of my staff to develop their skill level to the benefit of the club, so much so that Alan Carlin is a prodigy of this apprentice scheme.
How and when did the opportunity first come about for the club to host the Commonwealth rugby sevens event?
With the Commonwealth village being built in the east end of the city, the opening ceremony is being held at Celtic Park and, with Hampden being used for track and field events, it fell to Ibrox to host the rugby, given the capacity and atmosphere that is generated within our stadium environment.
How long have you had to prepare for this event?
It has been in the planning for over a year to ensure that the pitch fits in with the commonwealth criteria for hosting the Rugby Sevens tournament. Pitch preparation had to be planned in and around all the other needs require within the stadium facilities.
What work will you be undertaking to the stadium/ pitch to accommodate this event?
The playing surface will have to be extended by 10m at each end to accommodate the touch down area, whilst maintaining the pitch profile, this will mean that the grass area will be formulated up to the stand walls at each end of the stadium.
The stand wall will need to increase in height to accommodate the surface profile, as it extends back out from behind the goals. This will also mean that, once the pitch extension is constructed, there will be no access to the track area to the Govan Stand side, so all stadium work will need to be completed before we start on the pitch extension programme 1st June.
The pitch construction will consist of covering the track area with boards to protect the rubber track, before laying a membrane to stop contamination of drains and pipe work.
A 100mm drainage pipe will be laid below the rootzone material to link up with the existing track drainage to ensure the rootzone above does not become waterlogged if the summer is wet (unusual in my part of the world!!!).
The rootzone will consist of a drainage gravel below a medium fine sand rootzone and will follow the contours of the existing pitch profile, along the width of the pitch, before being turfed (this area will not be Fibrelastic).
Thereafter, we will maintain this area as part of our normal pitch maintenance programme to ensure it marries into our pitch development and presentation.
Were you able to carry out end of season renovations prior to the Commonwealth Games?
We have to remember that Rangers Football Club are on a journey back to where this club should be, and its vital that the playing surface at Ibrox is prepared and ready to assist the team perform to the level expected for that to happen so, despite having the Commonwealth tournament at the end of July, we have renovated the pitch as normal.
If so, were they restricted in any way due to timescales?
We were running to a tight timescale to have the pitch renovated and the grass developed to take the punishing schedule of rugby games - one a week or so before we start our playing season - so there was little time for our end of season events that take place following the last home game.
Have you had to alter the surface in any way, e.g. additional decompaction, cutting heights, additional goal sockets etc.?
Before we renovated the pitch, we needed to install the rugby post sockets on a base of concrete. This involved digging down through our heating pipes and into the pitch profile below. Unfortunately, the concrete base will need to remain in position for one year and through our playing season before I can remove it due to the size and disturbance it would cause to the surface.
The pitch was renovated in the usual manner by stripping off the top 20-25mm of surface debris, before ameliorating back in 150 tonnes of fresh Fibrelastic rootzone mix, incorporating a 15:5:15 fertiliser as a base feed, before consolidating and overseeding using R14 Lolium Perrine mix. Seeding rate has been increase to provide and develop a denser sward that we would normally sow for the start of the football season.
Can you explain the work you will be carrying out on the pitch to get it ready for the tournaments?
The tournament will be played on our Fibrelastic surface, and we have had to inform all the participating teams that Ibrox is constructed with a Fibrelastic rootzone and will feel much different than many of the participating team will have experienced.
Underfoot for rugby the pitch will feel soft but the Fibrelastic material will remain stable and I'm sure that the feedback from the players will be positive. In any case, the teams will be able to get a feel for the surface a few days before the tournament starts.
The feeding programme to develop the pitch from seed has been intensified, together with speciality product to ensure maximum efficiency of plant development and will be adjusted depending on weather conditions within the stadium environment.
We will also start to firm up the surface much earlier than normal in preparation for the games; grass height, once developed, will be maintained at around 30-35mm
A total of forty-five games will be contested across two days of fierce competition at Ibrox Stadium, as sixteen teams strive in front of packed audiences for that single Gold. What will be your ongoing maintenance programme during the games?
The detailed maintenance during the games has still to be worked out, but staff will work overnight between events to ensure the pitch is ready for the next day's competition.
What will be your renovation work after the games to get the pitch ready for the football season?
The playing surface itself will not cause any concern, but removing the pitch extensions on each end of the stadium will be intensive and, given that our first home game of the season is scheduled one week later, things will be tight but, if it's well planned and managed correctly, then I will not worry too much. What is vital is that the stadium and my pitch plays its part in what will be a superb tournament, adding to the whole Commonwealth Games package, which is good for Glasgow and good for Scotland.