EWOOD PARK PLANS FOR UNITED
I am the Head Groundsman at Ewood Park, the home of Blackburn Rovers, working alongside Grounds Manager Steve Patrick. I have been with the club for 20 years, joining straight from school. Like most Groundsman I see the work as a labour of love, and a challenge!
The month of November has been the wettest on record - we've had eight games in that time and I would say six of them were played in the wrong conditions. It was just too wet.
One of those games was a rugby league international - Great Britain versus New Zealand. It was horrific for the pitch. We don't really want to have another ever again but, if the club think they can make money, then we probably will. I believe they've already been talking about having another one here.
However, we're very fortunate because we do get support from the manager. He arranged for a midweek FA Youth cup match to be switched to Blackpool, which gave us a bit more time to work on the pitch.
It was something of a surprise to learn that the match was due to be played here at Ewood Park. Most of the top clubs play their Youth games at other venues. We don't want to be killjoys and stop the kids from playing here but, if the conditions aren't right, there's no point in trashing the pitch.
Our last match, against Rotherham, was played in very muddy conditions and, to be truthful, the pitch is looking tired. We did do some over-seeding at the beginning of November but I'm not sure how much benefit we got from it. Nothing lost from trying though.
We're going into a cold spell and, hopefully, the pitch will dry out. The plan is to get it verti-drained. We've got a two week break before our next match against Manchester United on the 22nd December. In no way can we afford any slip-ups for that one, we can't afford to lose the match to the weather. The game will definitely be on, and the verti-draining will be a great help.
We've got undersoil heating, but we're not planning on using that at the moment. Just because it's frosty doesn't mean the heating should be put on. Steve Patrick and myself are not great lovers of undersoil heating. If there's likely to be frost in the pitch in the days immediately prior to the United game, then we'll use it, but not before.
So far, our Christmas fixture schedule doesn't look too bad - games against West Ham and Middlesbrough, and possibly another on the first weekend in January, dependent on the FA Cup draw.
We're still in the FA Youth cup, but I'm 99% certain the manager will make sure the game takes place away from here. Our reserve games are staged at Morecambe so, if the youngsters get a home draw, it will probably be played there too.
The Ewood Park pitch is used predominantly for first team matches, apart from at the back end of the season, when there are 3 or 4 reserve team games scheduled.
Daft as it sounds, it's probably best to leave well alone and keep off the pitch for a week. We want to avoid compaction as much as possible so the tractor will be used only out of necessity. If we do anything else, such as brushing, it will all be done by hand.
When the weather dries up and becomes milder we'll get it flat. Then, on the best day, we'll get the tractor on and open it up with the vertidrain, and then leave it to breathe. A couple of days before the United game we'll put the mower on and stripe it up ready for the match.
The only other operation we may consider is to give the pitch a spray. The grass is looking stressed and we're not sure if we've got a bit of leaf spot or Fusarium. The weather has been damp and mild so there may be a bit of summer disease. We may just give it a check with Rimidin and maybe even a spray with liquid iron to give it some colour. Other than that, we'll just leave well alone.
In general, we're not too disappointed with Ewood Park. We feel it has been better in previous years, but we've never had rugby on here before or had to deal with so many games played in such wet conditions.
We can cope - we always do.