March Football Diary

By Laurence Gale MSc

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It has been a testing time for most football groundstaff, due to the severe cold and wet weather we have been experiencing in most parts of the country. Even the Premiership clubs, with their vast array of resources, have struggled to maintain their own pitches. The combination of poor weather and heavy fixture lists have taken its toll on pitch quality.

Many clubs have lost a fair amount of grass cover and are unlikely to get any back until soil temperature rise consistently above 8 degrees C and natural light levels improve.

Let's hope this cold snap moves on very quickly. We need the ground to start warming up. A lot of pitches will be struggling, and March is when clubs and leagues try to catch up with their outstanding fixtures. It's a very busy month and, potentially, very damaging to the surface.

Ideally you should have completed a soil analysis of your pitch to find out its nutrient and pH status and, depending on the results, buy and apply the appropriate fertilizer products for your pitch requirements. Whether you choose to use a granular or liquid product, they will not work until the grass plant becomes active and begins respiring again. However, there tends to be a quicker response from liquid products as they get into the plant tissues quicker.

Good housekeeping will keep any damage to a minimum - get on the pitch as soon as possible after a match and replace divots. Use a hand fork to replace and tap down the divot. As the weather warms up (hopefully), and if your budget allows, do some over-seeding particularly on the bare areas. Use 4 to 6 bags of specified Rye mix in any window between games, this will be very beneficial in promoting grass coverage for the last quarter of the season. Establishing a good sward again now will help to cut costs at the end of the season and give the new grasses longer to develop.

Renovations should be in the forefront of your mind. Bear in mind any problems that you may have encountered during the season ("wet-spots" or poor drainage). Try to solve these problems during or before renovations start.

You should, by now, have quotations for your renovation work and a provisional starting date with the contractor, or booked the machinery with your local ground care hire shop.

March tasks for football

Task

Frequency

Reason

Aeration


When conditions allow

Keep up your aeration programme, using needle tines or slits. This will be beneficial at this time of year to keep the water moving through the profile and allow air to get to the roots.

On sand-based pitches spiking will help to keep the playing surface "soft" and this will also enable you to tine more frequently, with minimum disturbance to the grass and playing surface.

Brushing/Sweeping

Daily/weekly

Keep up with the drag brushing/matting or harrowing when conditions permit, for dew and worm cast dispersation, this operation will also help stand the grass up prior to any maintenance work.

Disease

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Daily/weekly

Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Red thread (Laetisaria fuciformis) can still be quite prolific at this time.

Divoting

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After matches and training

An important part of the maintenance programme, particularly at this time of the year. Get on the pitch as soon as possible after games.

Use a hand fork to lift depressed turf and gently pressing with the foot is the best way to return divots. On larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels.

Levels may need to be restored in the goal areas, by light top dressing and raking over.

Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.

Drainage

Weekly

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

Fertiliser programme


As appropriate

Apply a fertiliser dressing if required on the basis of the results of a soil analysis.

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 usually carried out when grass growth begins.

Harrowing/raking

When conditions allow

Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Irrigation

As required

Very little required. If you do have to irrigate then it is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied.

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 string line helps keeps the lines straight and accurate.

Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy, which may sometimes affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces.

Machinery (Repairs and maintenance)

Daily/Weekly

Check equipment and machinery ensuring heights of cuts etc. are correct. If you have not had them in for a winter service yet, then hurry up and do so!

Mowing


As required

Cut at a height between 25mm-45mm. Continue to mow on a regular basis, although frequency of mowing will be dependant on growth, ground conditions and presentation requirements.

Cutting grass in very wet conditions can be detrimental to the playing surface. Mower vibration can cause the finer particles in the soil/rootzone to migrate to the surface, allowing air pores to become blocked. This will inevitably help to seal the surface, making it difficult for water and air to enter the ground. The mower will also smear and damage the surface especially when turning. 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

  • Inspect pitch surface and line markings

  • Check 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 by unkempt edges.

Seed bare & worn areas

When conditions allow

As the weather warms up, and subject to finances being available, this is a good time to over-seed. Use germination sheets, if you have any, to aid the process of germination but look under 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

Soil and air temperatures are not ideal for effective responses from herbicide products. Hand weeding will be the most effective method of weed control during the winter months.

Soil tests



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Ideally once or twice a year, or as required.

Good time to do your soil testing in readiness for the new growing season. Money can be wasted on inappropriate feeding.

Soil sampling is an important part of Groundsmanship. 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.