Hamilton Academical's promotion to the Scottish Premier League (SPL) this season has done more than breath life into Scottish Football; it's also meant a change from artificial grass to the real, living, breathing McCoy.
Such are the SPL rules, that once a club enters this top category, un-natural surfaces however advanced are out, as matches at this level can only be played on grass. "We were having discussions with the club way back in January and February last year," says John Rushforth, Contracts Manager for Souters Sports Ltd., the sports ground construction company brought in to advise the club. "If promoted, the Accies were going to need a new stadium pitch and it was no use waiting until the last game had been played, we needed to plan ahead."
Knowing that they would need to create a new pitch profile, Souters contacted Bill Gillespie of P.S.D. Scotland. "We acted as design consultants for Souters. We showed them the depth of the new construction profile, specified the root zone and approved the individual materials," explains Bill. The new pitch would consist of a base sand layer (Levenseat LV 20) with an upper layer of sports root zone using the same sand in the mixture.
"The original stone drainage carpet had been put in place to suit the Field Turf artificial grass surface," continues Bill. "This needed to be regulated to the required levels and capped with a new layer of crushed stone material to prevent infiltration of the new sand base layer." Under pitch heating and a new pop-up irrigation system completed the new construction.
Head Groundsman Colin Fraser insisted on Lindum Washed Turf, having previously been in charge of the pitch at Livingston, which was renovated by Souters and laid with Lindum Washed Turf four years ago. "I knew how it performed and because we were spending so much money on the new root zone I didn't want to risk any contamination. Sometimes the soil attached to conventional turf and the properties incorporated in a new root zone don't mix and this leads to problems," he explains.
Colin travelled down to Lindum's headquarters outside York to inspect the quality of the turf in the field and ordered 8,740 sq metres. "With Washed Turf we try to ensure the minimum time between harvesting and washing and relaying the turf," says Lindum's MD Stephen Fell. "It is important that the turf is laid onto a damp rootzone, preferably with a mycorrhizal innoculant incorporated to encourage rooting and then regularly watered until the roots take hold. As long as our guidelines are followed, establishment is usually rapid."
Last season ended late for the Hamilton Accies but they were duly promoted to the S.P.L. and work began on the new pitch at the beginning of June. The first consignment of Washed Turf arrived on 24th of the month and six weeks later, on 11th August the new pitch hosted its first game. "It stood up reasonably well," reports Colin "considering that we were pretty unlucky with the weather." By November the new turf had developed six inches of root and the grass plant was hardening and increasing in density.
"The Rangers match was a real test," Colin continues. "We had the worst possible weather conditions but the pitch held up superbly. The drainage is wonderful, (I use coated fertilisers to avoid leaching) and the turf surface is working brilliantly. We're a high profile club, featured on Sky T.V. and we need to look good. Everything, all the pre-season work is coming together. I'm very satisfied."
By the end of this season the Hamilton Accies will have played 30 to 35 matches on their new grass pitch, but the youth teams will have played elsewhere.
This pitch is strictly for reserve fixtures and the Scottish Premier League.
For further information contact Lindum Turf on Tel: 01904 448675 or visit their website at: www.turf.co.uk