0 Groundsman tackles Poa head on

Improve drainage, discourage Poa

By David Markham

Headingley Groundsman Jason Booth has declared war on meadow grass and is also is working hard to improve drainage at the famous Leeds rugby venue after getting rid of the 35-year-old undersoil heating system.

The 29-year-old Groundsman has to provide a pitch for Leeds Rhinos Rugby League and Leeds Tykes Rugby Union clubs to play 12 months a year.

He and his staff also have to look after the recently completed training complex at Kirkstall, a mile down the road from Headingley.

Jason was assistant Groundsman at Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 1990 and 1994, working under Keith Boyce, who was in charge on the cricket side at Headingley. He has been back at Headingley for just more than two years and has been in charge of the rugby grounds for one and a half years.

He said: "Although we are busy at the training pitches, my priority is Headingley where my biggest enemy is meadow grass - Poa Annua grass. It grows along the surface. It builds up as thatch and it holds the rain in winter.

Our main aim is to get water from the top to the drains as quickly as possible. So, I have undertaken a programme of scarifying. It is a question of keeping on top of the meadow grass and not let it overtake the rye grass, which we put into the pitch.

I am winning the battle. It went three years without renovation because of the large number of games, but this year I have done a major programme of scarifying.

For the main pitch we use two 36" Ransomes Mastiffs cylinder mowers and a Kubota St 35 tractor, a Wiedenmann Terras spiking machine for verti-draining and a Wessex mechanical brush.

We do a programme of scarifying once every two to three weeks and I am just in the process of doing light scarifying before the winter comes.

We have also had a massive drainage problem at Headingley. We had the oldest under soil heating system in the country. It was installed in about 1965 and it used to ensure that Leeds RL could always play no matter what the weather. That made Headingley a popular choice for BBC TV when they used to show live Rugby League on their Saturday afternoon Grandstand programme. The heating system was set four to six inches below the surface and you could only spike to that level to avoid damaging the cable.

In February we abandoned the under soil heating system. That has allowed us the chance to spike to any depth we want to do and we have gone down to 16 inches and the drainage has improved.

Below the heating system, the ground was as hard as concrete because undersoil heating dries out the ground. Now we can get through to the land drains.

The club decided the undersoil had to go if we were going to play all the year round rugby. I think we will see a drastic improvement in the ground. It is a decision we had to make.

The only drawback may come when we try to play our traditional Christmas matches, but we will be using frost protection sheets. They protect to minus three or four degrees. In any event, I think we are going to have more rain but less frost and snow during future winters.

"Headingley had been used for rugby union - Leeds Tykes - as well as rugby league since 1996, which means we have 12 months rugby but it has taken us six years to catch up."

Jason said: "I believe that 90 per cent of our job is presentation. The ground needs to look well. If it looks awful that gets into the players that it won't play well either.

We have a main pitch at Headingley for Leeds Rhinos Rugby League and Leeds Tykes Rugby Union teams, two practice pitches in a modern complex at Kirkstall about a mile down the road from Headingley, which belonged to the old Kirkstall RUFC.

We also look after a council owned pitch where Milford RLFC play. We are also responsible for 25 acres of land at Abbey Gardens, which used to be a farmers' field but we have turned it into four training pitches for academy team and the full-time professionals at Rugby League and Rugby Union.

We have full-time professionals at Leeds in Rugby League and Rugby Union who demand facilities as good as anything if not better than the Headingley stadium.

Morrisons, who have a supermarket on an adjoining site, bought the area at Kirkstall and re-laid two pitches. They were supposed to bring them up to standard for community use. Unfortunately, they employed landscape gardeners instead of a sports pitch construction company so the pitches had to be re-done.

We dug to a depth of three feet and screened the soil, re-laid it, stone picked, stone raked, laser levelled and seeded it.

The work was completed in September 2001 and the players have been using it since March.

The adjoining pitch, which we call, Pitch 3 has been rotovated, stone picked, stone raked, laser levelled and seeded. We brought in contractors to do both pitches, but I was overseeing everything.

The pitch we know as Pitch 2 is playing very well - the players call it Wembley, which is a big compliment. I want pitches to look well as well as playing well and you can only know that from the players. Their compliments make it all worthwhile."

Jason has two assistants, Garrick Edwards, a 22-year-old from Zimbabwe and 18-year-old Leighton Millthorpe.
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