Tony Bell, head groundsman for Middlesbrough FC, has revealed that the secret behind keeping the pitch at the Riverside Stadium in such pristine condition is his unique and innovative approach to using the Dennis S500 PLUS 'dual purpose' machine.
Tony, who has been at the club since 1997, not only oversees the grounds maintenance at the Riverside but also at the training ground in Darlington and at the club's foundation site in Eston. Including the pitch at the Riverside, Tony and his team are responsible for maintaining thirteen grass pitches and two artificial pitches as well as 50 hectares of green space at the training ground.
Anyone would think that Tony would struggle to find enough hours in the day to ensure that the pitches and facilities live up to his extremely high standards. However, he still manages to find time once a month to overseed the whole pitch - using just the Dennis S500 Plus. Ever the perfectionist, Tony believes that this pedestrian machine with its quality and quantity of tines enables him to achieve the results he desires.
"Quite simply, I'm just not a fan of taking tractors on the pitch - as I don't like any weight on the pitch whatsoever. We originally purchased the S500 to use it on the linesman's runs, goalmouths and warm-up areas but then we got used to it and thought that we would use it to overseed the whole pitch."
"Yes, it is a full day's work but we can cope with it, and it does the exact job which we need it to. We use about four bags of seed, and it is probably a seven hour job, which admittedly is a little bit excessive - but this is why we have just taken delivery of another S500. Therefore, it will only be a half day's job and in my mind it is absolutely worthwhile."
Known as the 'dual -purpose' machine, the Dennis S500 PLUS has a 510mm (20") operating width complete with interchangeable spiker and slotter reels. The spiker reel punches through the 'surface pan' allowing air, water and fertiliser to penetrate the root zone, while the slotter reel creates ideal seed germination pockets thus reducing seed wastages. Using the optional seed box attachment, as Tony does, will ensure grass seed is dropped onto the ground at the prescribed rate and brushed into the pockets.
"It just has the double advantage of aerating the pitch as well," says Tony. "It allows a little bit of air and water into the top inch, which helps with oxygen, and at the same time we are putting some seed down - it's a win-win situation."
The S500 PLUS is not the only Dennis machine in Tony's armoury; a long-term admirer of the Dennis G860 interchangeable cassette mower, Tony recently upgraded his existing G860's to two brand new ones at the start of the season.
"I like to use the Dennis G860, and I use it on a daily basis," says Tony. "I'm very impressed with the quality of cut it offers, and I would say that the smoothness of the machine is the G860's best feature. It's extremely comfortable to use and when I am walking behind it, it's as if I am simply gliding along."
"The interchangeable cassette system is also a massive advantage; in just a minute or so you can turn it into a brush or a verti-cutter - or anything else depending on the requirement."
With the option of being able to fit a variety of heads including scarifiers, verticutters, brushes, spikers, and slitters as well as 6,8 or 11 bladed cutter cassettes, it is easy to see why the G860 is relied upon in stadium environments all over the world. In Tony's case, he uses the 8 bladed cutting cylinder to keep the grass at a constant height of 25mm. After games he will apply the brush cassette to clean out all the debris and in the summer months he turns to the verti-cutting cassette.
"All in all Dennis have been helpful all the way throughout and have provided a first-class service. They are very flexible in what they can do - they listen to what we say and want we want to achieve and I think that is really important," said Tony.