Have a happy New Year
By Dave Saltman
With the celebrations of Christmas already seeming like an age ago. We look forward to 2006 with renewed vigour and hope.
2005 was an eventful year for us at Pitchcare, the on-line magazine has continued to grow, we moved into bigger offices, welcomed Peter and Dan to the fold, launched Pitchcare the magazine, new educational courses and training as well as expanded the shop range.
The message boards have been vibrant and on the whole helpful, though I wish like many, that they were used entirely for more constructive commentary. Perhaps everyone should make a New Year's resolution to get together as an Industry and help move us all forward. There are a great deal of experienced Groundsmen, Greenkeepers and Agronomists in the UK and abroad, who are willing to impart their knowledge to others in the trade, through Pitchcare they do so for free. To these people we congratulate you on your time, effort and, in some cases, patience.
December has been a cold month with fixture lists affected by frozen pitches and cancelled games. The forecasters tell me that the next couple of months are going to continue in the same vein with small pockets of milder weather occurring every few weeks. I know from my own experiences that the winter sports Groundsmen will be up to their necks in fixtures-desperately trying to keep the ground soft and able to take a stud. While the summer sports Groundsmen will be attempting some routine maintenance around the ground or on their machinery.
But spare a thought for all the Groundsmen who found themselves working throughout the festive period, working hard to get fixtures played on Boxing Day, the 28th and on New Years Day. These diehards will have forgone their families to prepare and check their surfaces, stayed sober in case of call outs and problems and probably suffered worry filled sleepless nights-a typical Christmas!
Here is a story of such heroism, the person and club shall remain nameless but no doubt will warm the hearts of those of you who can recount similar experiences.
In the middle nineties a football league club had two fixtures to play between Christmas and New Years Day, the daytime temperatures had remained below freezing for six days, the evening temperatures had hovered around -5 Celsius.
The pitch had been spiked in advance and had the benefit of a full set of frost covers, which had been covering the prepared surface since Christmas Eve. The game on the 29th December kicked off after careful deliberations with the referee. The covers were removed half an hour before the league match started to allow a brief warm-up before the game and then the youth team and stewards helped pull the covers back on at the final whistle.
The air was so cold that the pitch turned white during the game with frost gathering on the leaf. Fortunately the cold didn't have a chance to penetrate the surface of the pitch in the two hours that it was uncovered.
On the 30th it started to snow and by the evening the frost covers on the pitch had been buried below a four-inch carpet. The Groundsman let himself into the club on New Years Eve to review the problem of how to get the game on the following day.
He called the Secretary and the Stadium Manager to the ground and a meeting took place in the office. Whilst the pitch had started to freeze on the night of the 29th the snow was now acting as an additional layer of insulation, the pitch was soft and the Groundsman was confident that if labour could be raised the game would be played. The referee for the New Years Day game was contacted and asked to travel down that day so that early decisions could be made. The local radio station was contacted and they very kindly repeated the clubs plea for help over the airwaves. The local authority was also contacted as well as two local builders merchants.
At seven thirty on New Years morning the Groundsman arrived at the Stadium to find a handful of blurry-eyed supporters armed with shovels, brooms and wheelbarrows already gathered. By 8 am the referee had arrived from the local hotel and he and the Groundsman walked the pitch, pulling up covers in the goalmouths, the centre circle and the wings to check the firmness of the ground. The Groundsman gave the referee his assurance that the pitch wouldn't freeze if the covers remained on the pitch until kick off although the snow would have to be cleared in advance. The referee was happy to trust the Groundsman's judgement but requested further inspections during the morning.
More volunteers arrived at the ground and the Groundsman got them organised into small work parties clearing the snow from the frost covers methodically, by 9 am there were about 200 helpers piling snow along the advertising hoardings surrounding the pitch.
The pitch of course was not the only priority, walkways and concourses and public access into the stadium needed to be clear so as to satisfy the Health and Safety concerns of the local police force. The Groundsman took to his tractor and using an old chain harrow, drove up and down the internal roads breaking up the compacted snow and ice, while volunteers spread salt and grit delivered by the Council.
The opposition were travelling down by coach and were in contact with the club secretary who assured them of the match being played. They were clearly not happy as the radio was announcing cancelled fixture after fixture and it appeared to them to be a long and wasted journey.
By 11 am the snow had been cleared from the pitch and the volunteers set about removing snow from the lower tiers of seats, the walkways and concourses. More salt and grit was spread and the Groundsman took a trip up to the local builders merchants to buy some orange emulsion. The marking paint in the marker was of course frozen solid and needed to be thawed using boiling water from the kitchen, the orange emulsion was mixed in with the water and paint to produce a bright mandarin colour. The Groundsman then asked two volunteers to pull the covers up in front of him as he carefully over marked the pitch lines, the covers were then gently relayed behind him. The goals and nets were put up and the corner flags inserted with the help of a large peg and hammer to make the holes in the ground.
At midday the referee was again consulted and an agreement reached that the covers would be taken off the sunny East wing only at 2:15pm to allow the players to warm up. The rest of the covers would be lifted at 2:50pm just prior to kick off.
The opposition manager arrived at 1:50pm to throw in his two pennies worth, obviously unhappy at the referee's decision to play (perhaps his players were feeling a little under the weather or maybe there were one or two niggling injuries to his players that he didn't want to risk) but despite his protestations the referee stayed favourable to the Groundsman's advice.
As more games were being postponed the town had become busier and busier with supporters looking to get in to watch a game of football anywhere. The Groundsman had never seen a stadium so full more than an hour before a kick off. Thousands more queued outside and took up vantage points looking in through the corners.
At 2 pm the stewards and the youth team helped to remove the covers from one of the wings and the players came out to warm up. When they went back in, the youth team and available stewards removed the rest of the covers to the sides of the grass. The frost covers looked like giant Swiss rolls filled with snow. The Groundsman crossed his fingers for the referee and for the pitch to hold up for the next hour and a half.
At half time the Groundsman ventured onto the pitch, similarly to the game on the 29th there was very little in the way of divots, although the grass was severely bruised. The referee gave him the thumbs up on his way in for a welcome cup of tea.
The home team players, 2-0 to the good, came back out for the second half, patting the Groundsman on the back for his efforts, although the Groundsman felt at the time that if the score line had been reversed he might have endured a different reaction. At full time a packed stadium had watched the team romp home to a 4-0 victory, a result that started them on a momentous revival for the rest of the season, which resulted in promotion.
With the exception of the Opposing manager's post match comments, the Groundsman had only one complaint all day, and that was from the commercial manager, unhappy that his advertising hoardings had been buried under the snow, but the Groundsman went home happy in the knowledge that his game was one of only nine senior fixtures played in the whole of the British Isles on New Year's Day.
From everybody at Pitchcare have a fantastic New Year and we'll raise our glasses to a prosperous 2006.