Head groundsman Clive Pring, who has been at the club for four years, first called in Speedcut last year after Exeter was promoted to League One to renovate the training grounds after their second promotion in two years. But, the main St. James ground has been on the same site, a former pig farm, for 105 years and levels were suffering - plus the pitch needed to be moved by six metres for future development of the stands.
The 9,000-capacity stadium seats around 4,800 with standing room for about 4,200.
"It had got to the stage where we needed to have a well-drained and irrigated pitch with decent levels and a better surface," says Clive. "Speedcut were completely professional throughout and did a brilliant job between May and June, working fast because the first game was due only five weeks after the pitch was finished."
On July 26 Exeter City beat Bristol City 3-1, the first game on the new pitch. Exeter City FC supporters revelled in the club's promotion twice in two years (from Blue Square Premier to League Two and then League One, where they are for the second season). The achievement of the team is even more significant in that supporters own the club themselves through a trust.
Clive was previously at St. Peter's School, Lympstone, for four years and at Woodbury Park Golf Club for eight years. "Thanks to Speedcut we are looking forward now to the next few seasons," he says. "These are really great times for Exeter City."
Exeter, managed for the last four years by Paul Tisdale, is aiming to be in the Championship League by 2015. Paul is so impressed by the new pitch that he was determined to kick the first ball on the new turf, just before their friendly on Monday July 26. "He is really excited by the way the pitch is looking and knows it will play well," says Clive. "It is all down to the attention to detail of Speedcut and contracts manager Kevin Smith, who saw the whole thing through from start to finish."
The job started in mid-May when Speedcut took off the top 200mm of surface and stored the topsoil (60 per cent sand) while they regraded the surface underneath. The topsoil was regraded and reapplied, with a five degree fall to the sides from the centre, and the pitch moved by six metres from one end to allow for future development. New drainage was installed with a 150mm ring drain round the perimeter and 80mm pipes installed at diagonal intervals of three-and-a-half metres down the length of the pitch.
Then a full Rainbird irrigation system - with 16 pop-ups on the outside and eight down the centre - was installed. Speedcut then applied 300 tonnes of blended sports sand before grading the surface for perfect levels. Washed turf from County Turf was then laid, ryegrass with small a fescue content for early rooting. Turf goes right up to the perimeter, which Clive is particularly pleased with. He decided that an artificial grass perimeter was too expensive.
Clive watered the new turf three times a day for the first two weeks and then reduced it as the roots developed. He cut at one and a quarter inches, reducing that by a quarter of an inch as the first game approached. With another friendly in July before the first League game on August 7, the pressure was on to keep the pitch in perfect condition. "I don't believe in cutting too short and this is such a good strong sward that the ball moves beautifully across the surface," says Clive.
Kevin Smith of Speedcut says: "This has been a major job and we are delighted at the results, achieved by working within a tight schedule. Clive and his team have been great to work with."
Clive has one full-time and one part-time groundsman at the main stadium and one full-timer at the training ground, rising to two in the summer. "We have a lot of demands at the main stadium but the constant maintenance has always involved plenty of aeration and keeping the soil structure open," he says. Clive uses a Wiedenmann aerator and has always done plenty of sand topdressing at the main stadium. But the site itself underneath had been the same as the original soil, and maintenance was becoming difficult with levels changing. "We now have a pitch which is going to stand us in good stead for some time," says Clive. "We pride ourselves on using science in everything we do on both the main ground and training surfaces."
As a former greenkeeper and school head groundsman, Clive has worked on every type of playing surface and is a keen advocate of training, being an IOG (Institute of Groundsmanship) member and formerly with BIGGA (British and International Golf Greenkeepers' Association). "Groundsmanship today involves a great deal of know-how and it is important to stay in touch with all the developments in seed, products and maintenance methods," says Clive (40) who lives in the nearby village of Aylesbeare and originally comes from Exmouth. He got into greenkeeping via a head greenkeeper mentioning a job vacancy at Woodbury Golf Club while he was supplying office stationery. "It sounded a good deal more interesting than what I was doing and I've never looked back," says Clive. "The club getting promotion has been a major lift for everyone and being head groundsman of a successful club is very rewarding."
SPEEDCUT DETAILS: 01865 331479 www.speedcutcontractors.co.uk
Image 1: Clive Pring
Image 2: Pitch on 5th June, ready for turfing
Image 3: Pitch on 26th July