14 Exciting times ahead at Doncaster

Exciting times ahead at Doncaster

By Andy Thompson

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We never have a dull moment here at the Belle Vue stadium. There is only myself and Ken, my assistant and a young volunteer Neil, to complete all the work at the stadium, especially during the months of January -September when there never seems enough hours in the day to prepare and maintain the pitch for both Rugby and Football.

We have to cater for Doncaster Rovers first team and reserves, Doncaster Belles the ladies team and Doncaster Lakers the rugby league side as well as numerous youth and county games. This usually equates to around 86 fixtures a year, quite a heavy demand on our old soil based pitch.
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I have been with Doncaster Rovers for 6 years having worked at the training ground for 5 years before moving here to the stadium. We have a total of four staff to look after both the training ground and stadium pitches.

With matches being played all year round it's often difficult to find a window of opportunity for our renovations after the end of the football season. This year we started our renovations on May 8th, knowing we had to complete all the work prior to the next Rugby league match on May 15th.

Premier Pitches were employed to carry out the renovation work that involved scarifying the pitch in two directions. The pitch was aerated and de-compacted using the Imants Shockwave machine before overseeding with Rigby Taylor Mascot R14 using the Blec seeder and topdressing with 40 tons of 70/30 rootzone supplied by Mansfield Sands.

With games being played so quickly after the renovation, the newly germinated seed, especially in the goalmouth areas, is often difficult to establish. However, we keep on overseeding on a regular basis to infill any weak and bare areas throughout the season.

It is imperative we try and establish and maintain as much grass on the pitch as possible to sustain both the rugby and football fixtures, especially during August and September when we can have up to three fixtures in a week. A midweek game and a double header, Saturday football, Sunday rugby matches.doncaster-rovers-pic-2.jpg

It is often a struggle during the summer months to keep the pitch watered as we only have two self-travelling watering systems that require two days to water the pitch once.
Not an ideal system, especially when you need to be doing other work on the pitch.

The football manager also likes me to water the pitch prior to matches, which is not an easy task to achieve, as the system does not allow me to water effectively. I can only set the sprinklers to go up and down the centre of the pitch due to all the activities going on around the pitch on the morning of the match. Thus most of the water is directed on the middle and not the wings.

A double-header weekend usually means a busy few days for Ken, and me especially as we also have to help clean the stadium.

Maintenance

It usually starts on the Monday after the last game; we can spend a full day putting the divots back and mowing the pitch, using our Dennis G860's. We maintain a cutting height of 26 mm during the summer months and raise it to 28 mm for the winter period.

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Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday usually sees us continue our pitch preparations, further mowing, watering and general tidying up of the ground which also includes, dare I say, cleaning the toilets.

Friday is spent on final preparations, which include a final mow and the marking out.

We use a dimple line marker to mark out our lines and at the moment we are using Regal Line concentrated paint material for marking, mixing a 1-8 ratio paint to water during the summer months and 1-4 ration during the winter. A 10-litre tub of paint will usually last me for three mark-outs.

However, we have been using another product called Grassline, a heavy duty concentrate at the training ground and found it to be very resilient as well as producing a whiter line. We may trial this at the main stadium in the coming months.

Having to mark out for both rugby and football requires the need for three marking machines as we need to mark out with three colours, White for the main lines and green for masking them back out and red for the rugby league 40m lines.

On the morning of the match, Saturday (Football) I come in early to open and check all the buildings, gates and facilities and then set up the sprinklers for watering.

If we are having a double-header weekend, it usually entails me staying behind after the match and working late into the evening to get as much done for the rugby match the next day.

This will involve, putting back divots, mowing the pitch and removing, greening out all the football lines and cleaning the terraces. I then come in on the Sunday and change over the posts and finish preparing the pitch; finally over marking the pitch for rugby league, the game usually starts at 3pm.

Our fertiliser regime has been tailored to meet the needs of the grass plant, Rigby Taylor carry out soil tests to analyse our pitch needs, and then provide me with the information and recommendation of what fertilisers to use during the year.

In previous years we had problems of shallow rooting, having less than 40 mm of rooting structure in our sward. This in turn resulted in the sward being damaged easily. Since introducing a suitable fertiliser programme combined with appropriate aeration regimes we have managed to increase the rooting to a depth beyond 100 mm, significantly improving the resilience of the sward to divot damage.

The feeding programme involves a number of applications of fertiliser products.

1st Application applied last November 2004 was: -

10 x 20kg bags 6:0:12 +2% mg +2% Fe
10 x 20kg bags Activate R granules

2nd Application Jan 2005: -
10 x 20kg bags 6:0:12 +2% mg +2% Fe
10 x 20kg bags Activate R granules

3rd Application March 2005: -
10 x 20kg bags 5:5:10 +5% Fe

4th Application May 2005: -
10 x 20kg bags 5:5:10 +5% Fe

5th Application June 2005: -
10 x 20kg bags 14:2:7

6th Application September 2005: -
10 x 20kg bags 14:2:7

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10 x 20kg bags Activate R granules

I have been very pleased with the way the pitch has responded to these feeds.

On the pest front, we are currently suffering a number of worm casts down the centre of the pitch. We have operated a spraying programme, using Carbendazim, which has suppressed the worms a little. I believe that because most of our watering, particularly for match preparations, is generally focussed down the centre of the pitch we are creating and encouraging a sustainable environment for these worms.

This practice has also initiated shallow rooting of the sward, after taking a number of core samples we can see a trend of shallow rooting averaging about 75 mm down the centre of the pitch, compared to wing areas where we can see roots penetrating beyond 100 mm.
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The problem lies in the fact that the watering system we have is some what lacking, Ideally we require a fully automatic pop up watering system which would give me greater control over irrigation needs of the pitch. However, with the club moving to a new stadium within the next 18 months, there is reluctance to allow any major capital expenditure until we have moved to the new ground.

New Stadium.

The future looks very good for us at Doncaster Rovers, after many years of negotiations we are finally going to get a new stadium. Work started this January on a 15,000-seat stadium with the ability to increase the capacity to 20,000. The stadium is expected to be completed and ready for December 2006.
The new stadium is part of the New Town development programme forming part of a multi sports Lakeside Complex in Doncaster. The facility will be Council run with Doncaster Rovers renting the ground.

However, we are not sure what the staffing arrangements will be as far as who will be looking after the new pitch as it will be council run. I am confident that our staff will be incorporated into the new complex.

Training Ground.

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Our training ground consists of four natural turf pitches and a brand new 3rd generation artificial training area (40x40).

We rotate the use of the pitches and maintain them to the same standards as the stadium pitch.

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We also have two Allett buffalo mowers at the ground that are used for presentation purposes.

The club recently acquired a new 3G training pitch facility, which was built on top of the old tarmac tennis court areas. The new pitch consists of a 50 mm pile carpet in- filled with rubber crumb and sand. We do endeavour to keep the surface clean with regular brushing. We do however; have problems with weed seedlings beginning to get into the carpet along with sycamore seedlings from nearby mature trees. Keeping the carpet clean is a daily task.

Interestingly most of the players do prefer to train on the grass pitches and very rarely use this new facility.

Between us all, we do try to help one another out, utilising and sharing equipment and labour between the training ground and stadium.

In this job we know we often have to work long hours to fulfil our duties, as I said there is never enough time in the day. Time is one of the most precious commodities for Groundsmen. We frequently have to work 70 plus hours a week to complete the tasks required to prepare and maintain the pitches here at Doncaster.

It always seems worthwhile when you see a well-prepared pitch looking and performing its best on match days.

I am sure there will be few tinges of sadness when we move to the new ground. I will surely take many fond memories of working on this Belle Vue pitch with me when we go. However, the opportunity to learn new techniques of Groundsmanship at the new stadium ground will no doubt soon begin to test my skills and experience of being a stadium Groundsman.


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