When Pitchcare last spoke to Oli Makin, he was happy plying his trade at Rochdale's Spotland stadium. So how, just a couple of years later, has he ended up working at Doha in Qatar? It has a lot to do with his grandma, apparently!
Oli Makin's grandma always had him gardening with her and cutting the grass every weekend; "I suppose that got me into wanting to work outdoors from an early age," he says. "So, from an eight-year old cutting a garden in Rochdale, I am now Assistant Turf Manager in Qatar looking after seven grade A stadiums and numerous training fields. I couldn't thank her enough."
From school, Oli briefly worked as a volunteer groundsman at a local cricket club, before taking an apprenticeship at Rochdale AFC and progressing to Assistant Groundsman working under Phil Collinson. "He showed me great enthusiasm during my four year spell with him," Oli confirms.
He then had a couple of years out, playing cricket in Australia, returning for trials with Hampshire County Cricket Club, turning out for the 2nd XI on a number of occasions. "I felt I was close to being signed up," Oli reckons, "but it was not to be, so when the Head Groundsman's job became available at Spotland, I jumped at the chance."
Throughout his two year spell in the job, Oli showed the same enthusiasm afforded him by Phil to his apprentice, Drew Duffy, who has now taken over the role at Spotland following his departure.
During both his tenures at Rochdale, Oli completed NVQ Level 2 in Sportsturf and carried out Pa1, Pa2 and Pa6 spraying certificates at Myerscough College.
So, how and why Doha? "I was invited over by Mark Sinnett, a former assistant head groundsman at Bolton Wanderers, who is now the Turf Manager for Doha Landscape. The company is based at the Doha Golf Club. At this point, I should like to thank Rochdale AFC for giving me the opportunity to develop my skills."
"At each of the seven stadiums we look after, we have a team of five, with one allocated as site foreman. We have operational staff for use of heavy machinery, a spraying operator, mechanics for setting height of cut, sharpening blades and fixing any machinery breakdowns."
"Whilst some of the stadiums are new, others will be demolished and rebuilt in readiness for the 2022 World Cup. The new stadium pitches are sand based and built with sand straight from the desert. The older sites have heavy clay based pitches that will become sand based once rebuilt."
"Mark and I work alongside each other, under the director of sportsturf manager Darren Shaw, to ensure that each site is up to the high standards set by ourselves and the national Qataris. They rank presentation number one, then how it plays. But, for me, it has always been how it plays then how it looks. Obviously you want a pitch looking as best it can. Ninety-five percent of the time though, if it looks well, it normally plays well."
With temperatures that range from 24OC in December and January, up to a staggering 50OC in August, are there any special maintenance techniques? "Water, water and more water," states Oli. "Obviously, with the hot and dry climate over here, getting the timings right with the irrigation system is vital in keeping good grass coverage on the surface. In the summer months, when the rye grass can't survive in the searing heat, the Bermuda warm weather grass takes over."
"The biggest problems we suffer, weather-wise, are dust storms and heat stress in the midst of summer, when temperatures are at their highest. There's really not much we can do!"
"We aim to cut every pitch each day at a height of 25mm. On a match day, the main stadium pitches are double cut for presentation purposes. Aeration is carried out every six weeks on each pitch; or near as damn it. A preventative fungicide is applied once a month to all pitches and a pesticide is applied when needed - grubs, ants, worms and black beetles being the biggest 'bugbear' here. We have trained sprayer operatives who carry out all spraying as and when required."
"Marking out, using Raycam linemarker machines, is carried out on each day of training and for a match, with occasional double marking for games in the stadium. We cut all pitches with Toro Reelmaster 3100s."
"We carry out two renovations; one in winter and one in summer. Winter renovations consist of a light verticut, followed by verti-draining and seeding. For the summer renovations, we will heavily scarify all surfaces, clean up, verti-drain and then leave them for two weeks before topdressing. All pitches will be back in play after five weeks as the Bermuda just grows back naturally."
"The training pitches take a battering with community and school use, training and games. The locals like to get as much usage out of the pitches as possible, so they are also used for parties, concerts, school camps and the like; the list is endless. We have just got to fit the renovations in where possible. The usage is quite worrying here, even on the main stadium pitches. Each pitch will take between 10-16 games/training sessions on them a month, and that is no exaggeration; we have to work all our maintenance around when it is possible to get a free day. It can often be hard work getting time without anyone using the surfaces. There are no synthetic surfaces over here to relieve the pressure either; they would not be a viable option in this climate."
"We have just started on the full reconstruction of the Al Ahli Stadium pitch, which will be a fully sand based surface with full irrigation system and flat pipe drainage. All pitches have pipe drainage in them, but it's not tested very often in this climate!"
"All the work will be done in-house. The only external help we get is that we take soil samples once every six months and these are sent overseas to get the results!"
"All staff receive comprehensive training on machines etc., when they arrive for the first time, and we also keep them up to date with their health and safety certificates and ensure they are compliant with current legislation. We offer full ongoing training to staff as they require."
"The site foreman is responsible for first aid, but myself and Mark are also qualified and offer back up when needed."
"We try to get to a seminar overseas somewhere once a year. For example, Mark is off to Australia in June to attend a seminar, just to further his knowledge and skills within the industry."
Oli goes on to say that he feels our industry is in a very good place at the moment and is developing all the time, with new ideas and techniques coming from a wide range of people in the industry. "I doubt that, ten years ago, I would have had the opportunity to do this job," he suggests.
"But I still think that people don't realise the work that goes in to producing a world class surface. The majority of people still think we cut grass for a living! I aim to combat this by trying to explain to as many people as possible what actually goes on in our day to day work."
You could almost say that this Rochdale lad is 'Makin Waves' wherever he goes!
What's in the shed?
Toro Reelmaster 3100s x 15
Campey Raycam linemarkers x 20
Ransomes Mastiff cylinder mowers x 2
Toro Groundsmaster 3500s x 2
Dakota 411 towed topdressers
Dakota 407 mounted topdressers
Verticutters x 4
Graden SW04 (tractor mounted)
Wessex brushes x 4
Toro Zeroturns x 2
Honda rotary mowers x 20
Charterhouse Verti-Drains x 2
Numerous Stihl hedgecutters and strimmers
Machinery is purchased from local dealers Hydroturf.
All servicing is carried out in-house.
A Koro Field Topmaker and Air 2G2 are top of the wish list.