November Football Diary

By Laurence Gale MSc

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Many football pitches up and down the country may well now be near to or reaching field capacity due to the heavy rain we have been experiencing. Pore spaces, particularly in soil dominate pitches, will be filled with water (saturated). Playing on saturated pitches will certainly result in surface damage. Soils, when saturated, lose their stability and strength. The action of players running, stopping, sliding and turning in studded/bladed boots will result in surface damage. The severity of the damage will be dependant upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.

To help keep the top 100mm free draining a programme of surface aeration is necessary. This is achieved by regular spiking with solid/slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more when conditions allow. There are other specialist machines that can help with improving surface drainage, for example the Blec Ground breaker and the versatile vertidrain machines that are now available. Frequency will be dependant on resources available, money/labour etc. Most league clubs will be aerating on a fortnight/monthly basis varying the depth of aeration.

Top dressing with an approved sportsfield sand, sand/ soil (70/30) dressings will certainly improve/restore surface drainage characteristics of your pitch. Ideally, an annual dressing of between 60-100 tonnes of material should be used, preferably applied in the spring, however, light dressings of sand can still be applied in November during favorable conditions.

While temperatures remain moderately high for the time of the year, at between 10-12 degrees C, grass growth will be stimulated. There is still time to apply some late autumn/winter fertilisers, something like a 4:0:10 or even a longer slow release 11:0:33 N P K product that will see the grass through the winter period.

Diseases can still be prevalent in November, due to the cool wet ground conditions, and particularly with heavy dews on the playing surfaces. It is important that groundstaff remove these dews to prevent disease attack. Many stadium clubs are experiencing outbreaks of leaf spot and some red thread. A dose of approved chemical fungicide will help control and prevent the spread of these diseases.

A wetting agent is sometimes used with the fungicide to help ensure it penetrates deep enough down into the soil profile.

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Worm activity inevitability leads to worm casts appearing on the playing surface. These worm casts can be very problematic, casts tend to smear the surface, which in turn can affect surface water drainage capacity as well as providing a seed bed for weed germination.

Historically, earthworms have been controlled chemically, killing all earthworms in the turf. The most widely used chemical was chlordane, an organochloride, now banned due to it's wide ranging toxic effects and persistence in the environment. Other chemicals such as benomyl, carbendazium, thiabendazole and thiophanate-methyl (all of which are primarily fungicides) have an effect on earthworm populations. Research has shown that thiophanate-methyl is the most effective at reducing casting. All these fungicides are considerably less effective at earthworm control than chlordane.

November tasks for football

Task

Frequency

Reason

Aeration

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When conditions allow

Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, at varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan and provide adequate air space for roots to colonise. Soil organisms can still be active in November so any aeration processes will help increase microbial soil activity.

Brushing/Sweeping

Daily/weekly

To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.

Disease

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Daily/weekly

Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Fairy rings, red thread, leaf spot and fusarium can often be widespread during November

Divoting

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After matches and training

Playing surfaces are becoming wetter increasing the likelihood of surface damage during games. Repairs and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces.

The use of a hand fork and foot techniques is the best way to return/replace divots. However, on larger areas, the use of harrows will help return levels on the pitch after play.

Drainage

Weekly

Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working efficiently.

Fertiliser programme


If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured)

Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results.

Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant during the winter months.

Goal posts

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Weekly

Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Check nets to make sure they aren't damaged.

Grooming/verticutting

As required

Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side grass growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are carried out on a regular basis, often weekly or fortnightly, in conjunction with your mowing regimes.

Harrowing/raking

When conditions allow

Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Irrigation

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As required

The need for irrigation has been greatly reduced. Lower temperatures and early morning dews have increased the humidity of the air above the turf surface, thus reducing evaportranspiration rates (ET).

If you do have to irrigate then it is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied. Ensure that the water gets deep into the root-zone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil, thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.

Many professional football Groundsmen often have to water the pitch prior to games, to specifically speed up the playing surface for players.

Litter/debris

Daily/Weekly

Inspect and remove debris from playing surface, litter, twigs and leaves.

Marking out

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As required

Use approved marking compounds/materials and ensure all line markings comply with FA rules and regulations.

Always check your lines, it often pays to string out your lines when marking. Using a line helps keeps the lines straight and accurate.

Machinery (Repairs and maintenance)

Daily/Weekly

Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.

Mowing

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As required

Remember to check the height of cut; at this time of year, the pitch can be cut at a height between 19mm-35mm. Continue to mow the on a regular basis. Frequency of mowing will be dependant on growth, ground conditions and presentation requirements.

Cutting grass in very wet conditions can often be detrimental to the playing surface. The mower may smear and damage the surface especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Quality of cut will be dependent on what type of mower is used. Cylinder mowers can offer different cutting qualities, which are governed by the amount of blades on the cylinder. A five bladed cylinder will give you a fine quality cut on rye grasses.

Post match renovation

After matches

  • Replace divots

  • Repair worn areas (goalmouths / linesman runs)

  • Top dress to restore levels (localised)

Pre match inspections

As required

  • Inspecting pitch surface and line markings

  • Checking post safety

  • Keep goalmouths roped off to stop unwanted early use - in an ideal world the pitch should be completely out of bounds.

  • Tidy up the edges of the pitch, strim around advertising signs and crowd barriers. Presentation on the pitch will be let down badly by unkempt edges.

Seed bare & worn areas

When conditions allow

Seeding of sparse or bare areas can still be carried out. Rye grasses will still germinate in November without the aid of germination sheets. Use germination sheets to aid the process of germination but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.

Ensure you use new seed as old seed may not give you the required germination rates.

Weeds

As required

It's now getting late into the season for applying selective herbicides; soil and air temperatures are not ideal for effective responses from these herbicide products. Hand weeding will be the most effective method of weed control during the winter months.

Soil tests

Ideally once or twice a year, or as required.

Soil sampling is an important part of Groundmanship. The results will enable the manager to have a better understanding of the current status of his soil and turf. There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main tests to consider are:

  • Particle Size Distribution (PSD) this will give you accurate information on the soil type and it's particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate top dressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.

  • Soil pH, it is important to keep the soil at a pH of 5.5-6.5, a suitable level for most grass plants.

  • Organic matter content, it is important to keep a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile.

  • Nutrient Levels. Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.

Once you have this information you will be in a better position to plan your season's feeding and maintenance programmes.

References: Worm information provided by Mark Bartlett, National Soil Resources Institute, Cranfield University 2005.