'Desso' Grass master pays dividends at the McAlpine
By David Markham
Robert Ellis, head Groundsman at the McAlpine Stadium at Huddersfield, owes much to the Grass master system which combines natural and artificial use.
The system was installed at the McAlpine in 1996 two years after the highly acclaimed stadium was opened and it has paid rich dividends.
The McAlpine is one of the busiest stadiums in the country with Second Division league football with Huddersfield Town and rugby league with Huddersfield Giants. It is also used by the Rugby League authorities as a venue for prestigious international matches so the attractions of the Grass master system are obvious.
McAlpine was a pioneer for Grass master, which was developed by the Dutch firm, Desso. Aston Villa, Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers followed McAlpine by installing Grass master pitches the following year.
The pitch is laid by computer controlled machines similar to giant sewing machines which inject green artificial grass fibres into the ground at 2cm intervals to a depth of about 20cm, leaving approximately 2cm of fibre visible. The stitching process takes about four weeks to complete.
Natural grass is then sown between these polypropylene fibres to create a pitch that is 97 per cent natural and three per cent artificial. The result is a pitch more resistant to wear and tear, hence its attraction to the owners of the busy McAlpine.
Robert Ellis, who has been head Groundsman for three years said: "We probably couldn't stage both sports without the Grass master and still have a good pitch for football. Football is the priority because it is more important to have a good surface for football than rugby league.
Robert Ellis started at Huddersfield Town's old Leeds Road ground, a few hundred yards away from the McAlpine and was assistant Groundsman for eight years before becoming head Groundsman.
It's a busy job with few breaks in the sporting action. Because Huddersfield rugby league club dropped down a division - from Super League to Northern Ford Premiership - their season goes through to September and then there are the end of season play-offs although the football season is shorter this season because of the World Cup.
In fact, Huddersfield Town's league programme ends on April 13, but then McAlpine will stage three local finals and Huddersfield may also be involved in the Second Division play-offs.
Robert Ellis said: "In all, during the current season, we have 29 first team football matches, 15 reserve matches, 20 rugby league games plus one FA Youth Cup tie, the rugby league international Great Britain v Australia and the rugby league World Club Challenge Bradford Bulls v Newcastle Knights."
In fact, the rugby league programme has been particularly heavy during the last year. The Super League season lasted from March to September when Huddersfield Giants were relegated to the Northern Ford Premiership, whose season started on the first weekend of December.
Robert Ellis said: "Fortunately, we have had only one game called off and that was Cardiff City on February 26.
"We have our own spiker so I can spike the pitch regularly. I used the spiker for the Cardiff game, but we had two or three heavy showers before kick-off and we couldn't cope.
"During the winter I spike the pitch frequently which keeps the pitch open. I would have liked to have had more grass cover, but the pitch has done well to say how much use it has.
"We only had a three week spell last summer for re-seeding. I did all my re-seeding before one of the rugby games and then there was a three week spell before the rugby matches resumed.
"This year we have a month in May when we can do some remedial work on the pitch. We are going to take the foliage off the pitch and clean top of the all the thatch that is there. I haven't got a lot of thatch, but I want it out. I have also got a lot of meadow grass in the pitch so I want to take it out.
"I use a verti-drainer which keeps the pitch open and enables me to get as much air as possible circulating round the roots system."
Robert Ellis added: "I have an assistant working with me on the main pitch at the McAlpine and someone who works part-time at the golf driving range. I have also have an assistant who is permanently based at our training ground at Storthes Hall and the assistant at the golf driving range also works there as well."