Donations will aid International football in Ghana
By Frank Boahene, Fulham FC
In my role as Fulham F.C Head of Corporate Grounds I completed an overseas visit in July 2003 to see at first hand the two national football stadiums in Ghana. My initial brief was to assess the quality and state of the two stadiums, and to look at a number of areas:
· Conduct training needs analysis
· Work with the local people
· Look at the quality of the stadium pitches
· Change pattern of working
· Assess irrigation systems
My findings are quite revealing in terms of facility management, resources and finance. One of my aims was to conduct a training needs analysis to establish the skills and knowledge gap in the Groundsman staff team in Ghana and to look at a number of methods of bringing them up to the standards that are held in Britain.
As far as I could ascertain there were no qualified grounds staff working as part of the team in Ghana. This excluded facilities such as golf courses. Sports grounds tended to be managed by horticulturalists.
There were members of staff who are university trained in horticulture, these members hold top positions in their department and have an understanding of plants and flowers. My additional findings show that these people lacked experience and knowledge in preparing professional playing surfaces. I realised it would be pointless to try and teach at this stage and that my time would be best used concentrating on carrying out a full assessment of the facilities and the skills level amongst the team members
I found the overall condition of their stadiums to be poor, also with the lack of grass cover. None of the stadiums have any form of irrigation so I spent time gaining local knowledge to establish where we could gain access to a good long-term water supply.
On my return to England I wrote a comprehensive report outlining my findings and offering advice on how improvements could be made over the short term and long term.
I suggested that a five-year plan for the improvement of the stadiums needed to be initiated by the Ghana F.A. This report details how we should start making the suggested improvements to raise the quality of the stadium pitches. I?ve also made suggestions about a training programme which will improve the skills and knowledge of the grounds team. This knowledge can then be used to implement a reliable water programme, which could see the introduction of new watering technologies and machinery.
I contacted the IOG to seek their support in endorsing the use of the training manual for grounds men and combine it with my own and existing training methods being used in Ghana. One of the difficulties that I encountered was that of cultural differences, particularly around staff management.
One of the cultural aspects of Ghana is that workers show respect to their elders and carry out orders, without questioning. One example of this - the labourers presently working as Groundsmen were given a small pedestrian rotary mower and told to cut the stadium pitches, they would not consult with the team managers to discuss heights of cut, pitch preparation or watering requirements. My aim is to change this pattern of working and encourage good dialogue between international team managers and the ground staff.
One of my aims was to get an irrigation system installed at both the stadiums (Kumasi and Accra), which will make a huge difference on the sward quality. I am happy to report that to date this has been a success.
Work with the local people
As part of my original brief I was advised to work with the local people. The ministry of sport in Ghana put me in touch with the country?s leading agronomists/horticulturalists and a number of commercial companies who provide machinery and fertilisers. I met with these individuals and organisations in order to look a ways of working together to find solutions and methods of improving existing practices. For example in the U.K we use organic materials (seaweed), but the availability of these products in Ghana is limited and very expensive. Alternative materials were sourced which included chicken manure.
Both myself and the ministry are working together to offer a continued service to solve this ongoing problem.
One of the problems I have encountered is that the species of weeds in Ghana are new to me. In England I would have simply applied a selective 2-4-D based weed killer to solve the problem. This method would not have resolved the problem in Ghana, due to the weed types and the lack of a regular water supply. One step towards resolving this problem is that a team of thirty staff have been employed at both the national stadiums. Part of their tasks is to hand weed the playing surfaces.
I originally drew up a list of machinery to be use at the stadiums, but I have found that there were very limited suitable grounds maintenance machinery available in Ghana, only Massey Ferguson, supplying tractors for the cocoa and agriculture crops industries. My recommendations are to buy and maintain simplistic machinery, Hayter?s rotary mowers, with rear rollers in order to achieve the striping affect on the pitches.
I have also started work with a grass seed producer from Holland to look at what grasses could be use in the Ghana, taking into consideration the environmental conditions. Now there are irrigation systems installed in the stadiums, which will help with establishing swards from seed germinations.
We are currently maintaining Bermuda grass swards that are propagated from sprigs and I want to continue with this method because it works very well, especially now that a fertilisation programme is in place. The Bermuda grass works very well in the stadium environment, this seems to be the ideal grass type that is able to cope in extreme hot and humid climate conditions.
I observed on my recent visit in January 2004 that there had been a dramatic improvement in grass cover on the pitches, in comparison to the conditions that I encountered in July 2003. Both the pitches at the stadiums were showing nearly 100% grass cover.
I now await my next invitation to Ghana, when I will be attempting to resolve the issues around funding of this programme with the Ghana F.A. I have been made aware that Ghana has limited funds and there is no funding allocated for the purchase of machinery, improvement of drainage and to carry out end of season renovation works. From information shared with me, I am aware that the last time any renovation works were carried out was in 1978, over twenty-six years ago.
I was able to collect soils, which I used to carry out soil analysis test on the stadiums? pitches. This was necessary to evaluate the hydraulic conductivity of the pitches. I have used the information gained to design and cost up suitable drainage schemes to eradicate the current drainage problems identified at both stadiums.
The Ghana F.A has committed themselves to build a brand new pitch. The work has already stared, a complete new build with proper drainage and rootzone profiles. Once this facility is up and running we can then turn our attention to correcting some of the problems at the two international stadiums.
The Ghana F.A has fully taken on board my recommendations and is now working to put in place a management structure for staff training and to recruit trained staff members to the team. They are considering sending two of the present ground staff to England for a six month training programme to gain the experience necessary of working with football league Groundsmen.
The objective is to train these staff to the necessary standard, in order that they are able to prepare and maintain the pitches to international requirements.
They are also in the process of appointing a head Groundsman and five staff to be supported by an agronomist at each stadium. If we can secure the appropriate machinery and implement a good end of season renovation programme, there is no reason why the stadium pitches cannot compete with other international stadiums and provide pitches worthy of the Ghana national side.
The next international game in Ghana will be held in June 2004. It would be rewarding for me to visit at this time, preferable before the game, so that I can observe the pitch conditions prior to the next world cup qualifier. This depends on my commitments at Fulham.
My next target is to try and secure funding for machinery for Ghana. I am actively looking for donations, or sponsorships from the turf grass industry. The Ghana government will be happy to provide shipping arrangements for any items that I acquire. You have to put into perspective that even a marking machine costs a lot of money in Ghana.
I would therefore like to put out an appeal to see if we can obtain the necessary sponsorship or donations of funding or machinery from British companies. This would enable us to purchase essential tools and equipment (new or second hand), which will be used to maintain the pitches at the national stadiums.
The Ghana F.A now has a five-year plan with clear guidelines on stadium pitch maintenance, detailing minimum and maximum performance standards, which will ensure that the pitches meet the expectations of team managers, players and spectators.
By improving the level and quality of the playing surfaces at the stadiums, we may also be able to encourage European base players to play in Ghana. At present there are at least six ? ten Ghanaian currently playing in the English football leagues. There are Ghanaians playing for Everton, Reading, Fulham and other clubs.
My target is to achieve the goals set out in the five-year plan. We will then be able to introduce this programme in other sporting areas within Ghana. This will not only raise the profile of sport over all in Ghana, but will act as an inspiration to the next generation of players. The majority of young people these days want to become football players, they have identified this as a route out of poverty and a means of obtaining a higher standard of living not only for themselves but also for their families and communities.
To summarise, we are now looking for any forms of help and assistance to improve the quality of Ghanaian football. This help and assistance can be in the form of specialist advice or machinery/tools, which will enable us to continue to raise the standards.
I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Many thanks.