Old Trafford was chosen to be the venue for what turned out to be the final qualifying game on England's path to the world cup 2002.
The team had trained in Manchester at both our Cliff training ground and our Trafford training centre. As to be expected the weather took a turn for the worst as the week wore on. England trained on the pitch at Old Trafford on the morning of Friday 5th October. It had rained for most of the night and was still raining at 9am that day. The pitch had taken the rain really well and I was confident it would be fine.
I take my hat off to the professionalism of the England coaches and manager. I approached them regarding the training session and they were mindful of the next day's game and trained accordingly. Steve McClaren did his warm up where I asked him to and he made very little mess. Sammy Lee did his work and he was the same, absolutely brilliant.
The one's we Groundsmen always worry about are the keepers. I have to say that Ray Clemence was as good a keeper coach as I have ever seen do a training session!
He kept the players on the move throughout the whole morning. Yes he did go into the goals and create a little wear but with three keepers for 1 1/2 hours he was just great and I thank him for that. We had a portable goal on the halfway line and the squad played 11 a-side in the west half of the pitch. It finished with a practice of free kicks around the box.
We put the big divots back inside of ten minutes and went for lunch awaiting the Greeks in the afternoon.
They had requested to train at kick off time 3pm. They were once again fairly helpful and warmed up on the north side wing. I spoke to the manager through an interpreter and he also wanted the portable goal on the halfway line and to use the west half of the pitch to play 11 a-side.
It began to rain about 5pm and with the forecast of up to 9mm of rain overnight I decided to keep all the kit off for the night. We divoted in two directions and I was quite happy with the way it had performed in over three hours of training.
Saturday morning dawned dry and cool. I drove into work at 7am and went straight into the stadium. We did get a fair amount of rain during the night and that had served to wash the grass and to stand up all the areas that had been laid down during training.
We cut the pitch lengthways using the two Allett Buffalo's. I also used the seat behind to give it a really good roll as well. I don't like using seat's normally but felt on this occasion it was needed to roll back yesterdays training as well as give me the best possible pattern. We then cut across as well giving me the pattern that I wanted.
We marked out and pinned the nets down. It looked magnificent. I was so proud to have got it looking so well despite the weather and the training.
The day had begun to brighten up a little and I began to irrigate. The soil underneath was still quite moist but I was trying to get the leaf wet as well.
By the time that both teams came out for there warm up it was really very warm inside the stadium. In fact my mind went back to Euro 96 when we held five internationals that summer in bright warm sunshine. The game was played in bright sunshine in what must have been the warmest October day in Manchester for a very long time.
In a really hard and tough encounter I felt that the pitch had done really well. Very few divots and we qualified as well. There was talk of the grass being "sticky "? If that means it was dry then yes it was, in such heat on a drying day it would be impossible to keep the leaf wet. We divoted afterwards and were very happy with the way it had played during the two days.
Now we get ready for the Super League Rugby cup final this Saturday.
There is no time to lose as the games are now coming thick and fast here at the Theatre of Dreams………and in reflection, I am pleased he practised those free kicks on Friday.