HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE
By Keith Kent
It is a long time since I last wrote but I have lots to tell. I don't know whether I am getting old or not but the magic of the festive fixtures seems to pass me by these days.
I must admit that I had three days off in a row over Christmas. Someone who puts together the fixture lists must have decided that Old Trafford had hosted that many games already that we deserved a break!
The rest and enjoyment that I got out of those three days were immeasurable.
To get them though I had to work hard in the preceding days. We were at home to Southampton on the Saturday before Christmas. The weather had been really cold with frost at night bringing temperatures of minus 3. I used my under soil heating to keep the frost out of the ground. It had done a fine job but I felt that it was drying out the pitch too quickly, so I irrigated from about 11am just, as the day was warm enough. The sun never really got up that day so it remained cold inside our stadium all day. In fact the warmest air temperature reached was a miserly plus two degrees.
Straight after the game I set my stall out.
We started divoting on the far wing; I had one of my team raking the goalmouths and linesman's runs. He also lifted the nets as he went. Then two of my men came onto the pitch with both of my Allett "Buffalos " and rolled behind us as we feverishly divoted into the evening.
By 6-45pm that night I was a happy man, not only was the pitch put back flat having been divoted, raked and rolled but United had won as well!
I turned the under soil heating off so as to allow the temperatures in the pitch to drop and the overnight temperatures weren't too cold.
The next morning (Sunday) we all came into Old Trafford to walk the blocks again. This time we went along plugging any big divots that I felt would not survive another game.
I spiked the pitch with the Multi-core, using solid tines I was able to open all the pitch and replacing any divots behind the machine. As we left at about 2pm that afternoon there was snow in the air, nothing to bad just flurries now and then. It really did feel like Christmas.
Now I know there are a lot of people who think that it is easy having under soil heating, after all what could be easier than pressing a button.
It is a lot, lot easier but even with this system there are times when snow and ice have to be removed from the pitch. There is also the additional worry of over heating and drying out the pitch too much.
Now having said that, I have experienced both sides of the coin with not having under soil heating as well and am greatly appreciative of the system.
I watched with horror as so many games fell foul of the weather. I was not surprised so many bit the dust. I was just amazed the way people in the media speak with such great shock!!!
When winter bites and temperatures fall as low as they did just what chance do you have of playing?
I felt for all those brave, brilliant Groundsmen who were out with hot air blowers and covers all over Christmas to no avail. The sense of loss when you lose a home fixture is only something that a Groundsman can feel. The hurt and pain is sometimes just too much to bear. I know, I have been there both here at Old Trafford and at Leicester City many years ago. The feeling of helplessness is just terrible. To all of those who fought a losing battle I take my hat off.
Without under soil heating in weather so consistently cold you do not have a chance. You can cover the pitch and spend hours with blowers and do a fantastic job. But if the daytime temps do not get above minus when you take the covers off, the pitch is going to freeze.
I honestly take no pleasure in saying as much, the weather is our biggest influence in everything we do. I know that some of the covers that are used today are brilliant. Remember I worked on the very first " tent " at Leicester City way back in 1971 so I do know how far they have come. But if Mother Nature is against you and temperatures refuse to rise then I am afraid we are struggling.
People always say to me that it is only the big clubs that can afford heating systems? Well, these systems cost around £160,000 to install, and will probably still be going strong in twenty years, that works out at £10,000 a year including the running costs. That's excellent value for money, even for the smaller clubs to keep their winter games on?
Remember you only install it once, you only use it when you need to, it does not cost anything to sit and wait for bad weather.
I know even the best laid plans can go wrong, if it were to snow an hour before kick off you are stuck. In this day and age the police also have a big say about safety on the roads and quite rightly so. Who wants to be going across the Pennines say for a game in snow, frost or indeed fog?
I heard that old chestnut of having a winter break again!
Well I can tell you this, that three day break did my pitch, my family and me a whole world of good. If we were to have two weeks where no games were played I do honestly believe it would do us all the world of good. Players could rest and recover from nagging injuries and aches and pains, pitches would get a break at a time of year when there is nothing going for them and fans could have a break and come back all the keener for it.
My vote would be for a break at Christmas.
That is my own personnel opinion and not that of my club and I doubt if many would agree with me. For a lot of clubs it is the busiest time of the year and they would not give it up.
This I can understand but if you were to stave the people for a fortnight and kick off again in the New Year surely everyone would be twice as keen for the rest?
What do YOU think?
So I will sign off having given you something to argue and think about…Happy New Year
(Editor- I think a break after the FA cup third round is played in January for one month would be favourite Keith)!