In the final part of the Wigan Athletic trilogy, Dave Saltman picks up the story after carrying out dimple seeding through the diamond of the pitch following the Brentford game on the 21st January ... and heading into a particularly wet period.
The weather remained cold, dark and damp, with a combination of frosty mornings and rainfall which was standard for the time of year although, being the north west, more prolonged than other parts of the UK. For the next few days, the repairs continued with careful attention up and down the mowing bands to repair scars and get grass standing upright again. More small damaged areas were replaced with imported turf; the turf (from Tillers) had been rolled out in the players' car park and kept in good condition for use as and when required.
On the 28th January, we had 7mm of rain followed by a cold night and frost, and another 10mm of rain during the next day. The rainwater continued to drain well through the pitch and, on the 30th January, we applied 1 litre of Proteb and 10 litres of Chipco in a first application, followed by 5 litres of phosphite, 20 litres of iron and 40 litres of Biomass in a second application. The fungicide was used due to a few evident signs of leaf spot on the shaded west wing that had appeared.
The next day, 180kg of Maxwell Premier 3:3:12 was applied after the rain stopped mid-morning. With more rain forecast, it was perfect timing and another 9mm of rain fell that night.
The lads started to prepare the pitch on the 2nd February, giving it a light cut with the Allett mowers.
The next morning, the pitch was mown again crossways and then marked out ready for game 26, live on Sky Sport against Sheffield Wednesday. As always, we had one eye on the forecast and irrigated after the marking was dry, but stopped giving the pitch a second round as heavy rain was due. In the end, only about 2mm of rain fell all evening and we felt that the pitch had been too dry for the game.
It was sod's law that the heaviest rain didn't then come until the early hours of the next day with what would have been a perfect 7mm. Still, the lads set about repairing the pitch again, initially with divoting and then a rotary mow.
Left: the pitch on 3rd February and right: late into the evening on 18th February
More rain overnight and the repairs continued with Rob, Adam and Tony working diligently to get the pitch recovered.
Work was delayed for a few hours on the morning of the 6th as we had to wait for a heavy frost to thaw, but the lads managed to finish off divoting and get the Alletts out to settle the surface again. Due to the forecast, the white lines were brightened and straightened up, before another 9mm of rain descended during the night.
7th February, match day, Latics played Norwich gaining a draw. Pitch held up well generally, but grass loss through the middle, particularly in the warm up areas, was becoming more apparent as each game passed.
Due to the cold weather and the need to get on the pitch, we turned on the undersoil heating for the night of the 8th; the next morning the pitch was vertidrained in a low gear, with no heave, to full depth. Tony and Adam continued the pitch repairs whilst Rob sat freezing on the tractor, going up and down.
On the 10th February, we applied 180kg of Maxwell Premier 3:3:12 to keep the plants ticking over nicely. We also turned off the heating as the forecast showed temperatures rising again under thick cloud cover.
More rain returned for the next couple of days, with regular showers day and night. The lads worked around the weather to finish off the repairs.
On the 15th February, Rob sprayed the pitch with 40kg of Sol Control 13:0:39, 20 litres of SeaAction seaweed and another 5 litres of phosphite to help strengthen the plants.
The next two days, the pitch was mown both ways and then marked out before game 28 on the 18th when we played host to Preston North End. We had steady drizzle throughout game, which helped keep the surface firm. Straight after the game, we set about turning it around for the rugby match the next day. The match day staff stayed with us for an hour or so to help with divoting, before we mowed the pitch with rotaries and greened out the football markings.
We removed all the football goals and put up the rugby posts before calling it a night around 1.00am.
Left and middle: end of February wear and right: 3rd March linemarking
The following morning, the lads marked out for rugby and walked the pitch to repair as many scars as possible. We irrigated in the morning after marking out and drizzle again came for the game as Warriors played Cronulla Sharks in the World Club Challenge - the Warriors victorious.
On the 20th February, it rained throughout the day and we applied another 60kg of seed, spread from 18 yard box to 18 yard box with the fertiliser spreader, hoping that much of it would find its way to the bottom of stud marks.
The lads worked hard over the next three days, mostly in the rain, to get the pitch repaired and ready for the second weekend of back to back fixtures. Around 54mm of rain fell in those three days as Storm Doris hit the UK.
As a result of the storm conditions, the next game was then cancelled by the stadium and was reverse fixtured at Widnes instead on the Friday night. The Latics were very concerned that, if the fixture went ahead, it could have meant the postponement of the football match due to take place the day after. Despite the pitch coping well with torrential rain that morning, there was an isolated area of standing water, it was agreed that postponement of the rugby match was a prudent action. We had a visit from the RFL on the Friday morning for a pitch inspection, by which time the weather had subsided, but the correct decision had been taken in line with EFL regulations.
Still, it did give the pitch a breather from what would have been four games in eight days and the lads turned the rugby back to football instead on the Friday to welcome Nottingham Forest on the 25th. This was game 30 and we were still in February. The pitch took another 6mm of rain the previous evening and was irrigated up to warm-up time at 1.30pm to keep soil moisture at the right levels.
Rain seemed to be the order of the month and we had another 15mm by Monday. The daytime stayed reasonably dry, allowing the pitch to be divoted, with some more small turf repairs also carried out.
We now moved the five goalmouth lighting rigs out into the centre of the pitch to help aid recovery in these areas. The goalmouths and west wing were near 100% cover and we felt more comfortable that, with the spring weather imminent and the good work that the lights had done, that these areas could cope. The lights had proved their point to the club at this stage.
On the 28th, 8mm of rain/sleet fell during the night until 10.00am and another 5mm up to 4.00pm.
Pitch repairs and spraying on 7th March
The start of March and we applied 180kg of Maxwell Premier 3:3:12 to the pitch prior to another 14mm of rain that descended in the evening. The next day, the lads used the Procore along the south side of the pitch behind the goals. The forecast was ever changing and it was decided on the 3rd to vertidrain the pitch in low gear to full depth with no heave, and Procore the east side of the pitch prior to that evening's Warriors versus Leigh game. It was a good call, as 7mm of rain fell between 11.00am and 7.00pm, with a further 3mm of rain during the game. The pitch played well in the conditions, with very little surface damage.
The lads went in on the Saturday to get divoting done as it was a dry day. After a very cold, wet and dark January and February, we were now hoping that the pitch would start its recovery.
On Sunday, 13mm of rain fell and the lads spread 80kg of seed through the middle on the Monday.
On Tuesday the 7th March, the pitch had a dose of 40 litres of Biomass sugar and 20 litres of SeaAction seaweed. Temperatures were on the rise now and we wanted to make sure the plant wanted for nothing as we looked to stimulate recovery and germination.
Another half inch of rain fell intermittently as the lads prepared for the game against Bristol City; the team lost and this was the final game for manager Warren Joyce.
On the 13th, we applied 180kg of Spring/Summer Maxwell Premier 12:0:6, trusting that winter was firmly behind us; on the 15th, Rob sprayed 40kg of soluble Sol Control 13:0:39 and 20 litres of Humimax (our new humate).
Lighting rigs in action on 17th March
The pitch was prepared again for the visit of Aston Villa on the 18th, with another 22mm of rain falling before and during the game.
Another back to back to contend with as the lads worked late into Saturday evening to get the pitch turned around for the Warriors v Huddersfield match on the Sunday afternoon; some more rain to work with, but irrigation required as well to keep moisture levels at a premium. The pitch held up well for both games that weekend.
As we went through the next week, 32mm of rain was recorded whilst the lads repaired and prepared the pitch again for game 35, Warriors v Hull FC RL Friday evening game on the 24th.
No peace for the wicked and the lads worked through the Saturday to divot and rotary mow the pitch. On the Monday and Tuesday, repairs continued and the vertidrain was used in the lowest gear to maximise the number of holes, creating space for the roots to colonise. 140kg of Maxwell Premier 12:0:6 was applied.
March finished with some more rain - 36mm - no surprise there then, but with it came warmer weather and there were plenty of seedlings coming through now across the pitch. Existing grasses were also responding well and the regular mowing was helping the pitch to thicken up quickly.
On the 4th April, we applied a tank mix of 40 litres Biomass and 20 litres of Humimax.
The pitch was prepared ready for the Warriors v Castleford game on the evening of the 6th; damage was now becoming limited as the root mass increased rapidly.
It was a much easier task now for the lads to repair and prepare the surface and, on the 8th April, Latics played and beat Rotherham.
On the 11th, we applied 140kg of Maxwell Premier 12:0:6 and then got the pitch double mowed on the 12th and again on the morning of the 13th ready for the Latics v Barnsley game that evening. Another win and maybe Latics could turn the season around under caretaker manager Graham Barrow.
Left: the pitch on 4th April, middle and right: 25th April
No time for the lads to dwell on what may be, as another Rugby League game was imminent on the 14th, a big local derby as Warriors entertained Saint Helens. There was drizzle throughout the morning and the game, which kept the surface nice and firm.
On the 17th, the pitch was vertidrained through the middle six mowing bands longways and, on the 19th, we applied 180kg of slow release Lebanon Pro-scape 25:0:5.
Mowing was taking place daily and the lads were taking off around twenty boxes of grass per day. The weekend of the 22nd/23rd saw another back to back with Cardiff arriving on the Saturday and Catalan Dragons on the Sunday. The lads said that the pitch didn't look like it had a game on it after the weekend, let alone two competitive matches.
On the 24th, we applied 180kg of Maxwell Premier 12:0:6. If no heavy rain was being forecast, we would irrigate every day to ensure the pitch recovery continued.
We had a nice little break now, the pitch was taking rainfall and irrigation well, colour and health were good and, apart from mowing, there was very little to do. The lads were taking some time off through this period, working on a rota so, whoever was in, would check and mow the pitch, set the water and disappear soon after 11.00am to relax for the rest of the day.
On the 2nd May, we sprayed on 40 litres of Biomass and 10 litres of Humimax - the root mass was now excellent.
Still use boards for turning mowers on 4th May
The pitch was prepared ready for the 5th with Warriors playing Salford on the Friday evening. The lads were all back in for this and worked through Saturday to turn the pitch around for the final Championship game of the season. Unfortunately, the Latics results hadn't gone well in the previous few weeks and the club were relegated back to league 1 after the 1-1 draw with Leeds United on Sunday afternoon. This was game number 43.
On the 8th May, we applied 180kg of Maxwell Premier 12:0:6, after a rotary mow, brush and then cylinder mow of the pitch.
Now the football season was over, the pitch was hosting youth, corporate and community games, starting with the U18s Latics v Bournemouth on the 9th. For the next ten days, we estimated well over 600 players of mixed ages enjoyed the DW surface and our team received a lot of praise for the quality of the pitch. Every day it was mown, marked out and watered, with some vertidraining also carried out.
On the 22nd May, we applied a last application of 180kg Maxwell Premier 12:0:6.
We had one more corporate football match on the 25th, before the lads turned the pitch back for the final RL game before renovations. The Monday bank holiday game was Warriors v Wakefield and the pitch looked tremendous. With continuing injury problems, Warriors lost again, but the players and coaches were full of praise for the playing surface.
So, that was that, our one year contract was at an end. The season has been challenging with dual sport on a Fibresand surface. Outside of my experience at The Millennium Stadium in the early 2000s, it is probably the most difficult surface that I've managed.
Pitch back to its best
It has been a fantastic experience and an absolute pleasure to work with and bring on our three full time staff in Rob Woods, Adam Lawrence and Tony Jump. They stepped up to the plate and worked some very long days to maintain the surface and bring it through the season largely unscathed and without the need for a re-turf.
During this season, we brought the nematode population under control, removed any previous drainage issues and fears and kept near on 100% grass in the goal areas and the west wing, the key problem areas of high wear. We did this by concentrating the five goalmouth rigs we had at our disposal in these areas and proved, without doubt, that with additional lighting it's more than possible for the pitch to be kept in good shape in the future. Had we had additional lighting rigs, the middle of the pitch would have been much the same as the areas that benefited from artificial light.
I would like to extend my thanks to Wigan Athletic for the opportunity to work at the DW Stadium, the Chairman David Sharpe, CEO Jonathan Jackson and Stadium Manager Andy Birch, my direct daily contact, for all his help and trust. We have enjoyed a great partnership of transparency and cooperation because, without this, the high usage endured at the stadium would have been much more difficult to manage.
All products mentioned in this article are available from the Pitchcare shop