By Dave Roberts
The main problem at the Dell is drainage. Five years ago it was decided that although we needed a new pipe drainage system installed, due to us moving we would be unable to replace the drains, all we did was a sand banding operation. This consisted of injecting a continuous slit of sand 8 inches deep, 1 inch wide and 16 inches apart across the whole pitch. This was to help the movement of surface water through the rootzone into the drains, which were jetted to clean out the accumulations of silt. However, when it rains at the Dell, the pitch behaves like a sponge. After one day of heavy rain the pitch is fine and firm, after the second day of rain, it starts to get soft and spongy, and after a third day of rain it forms puddles and becomes virtually unplayable. This is fine because most years we don't get many periods of three continuous days of rain. However this year just in October, November and December we had 37 inches of rain (as much as our normal annual rainfall).
This has made routine maintenance a nightmare, the most used machinery this winter has been our Mountfield rotary box mower as it is very light, and our Sisis soil reliever to keep the surface open, this helps to decompact and help dry out the surface. Our normal cylinder mowers have been sitting idle, as the pitch has been too wet to use them. Divot repairs have taken as much as 24 man-hours following matches.
Please lord, bring on the summer! The most exciting thing this year will be the opening of our new stadium. In May 2000 the old gasworks at St Mary's in Southampton was bulldozed and ever since the work has continued to build and finish The New Dell. From my point of view, the new pitch is the most exciting part. The stadium and pitch are being built by a Scottish company Barr Construction. The design and build project means that both the stadium and pitch are to the construction companies specifications, meeting both the architect and clubs requirements. This is not all bad and I have been involved in discussions regarding the pitch construction, which is to a very high quality. The main plusses are the drainage and the air movement system that will blow air under the pitch or over the pitch. (This is to counteract the problems we face in a wrap around stadium, of a lack of air movement inside).
The drainage pipes are 2.8 metres apart, running across the playing surface. We now have three time as many drains as at the old Dell. Above the drains there is a gravel carpet which has been covered with a thinner grit layer. Then we have a sandy routezone to be placed up to the surface. This means that water will drain incredibly fast across the whole pitch, so another winter like this one should not be a problem in the future. At present, the gravel and the grit layers have already been placed, hopefully by the first week of May, we will be in a position to seed, so my next report will be more detailed about the construction and development of the pitch and stadium.