Students from Oatridge College in West Lothian have been learning what it takes to keep the green, green grass of Celtic Park in top condition, during a unique visit, hosted by head groundsman John Hayes, to the magnificent stadium in Glasgows east end.
The legendary, award-winning Hayes told the greenkeeping and sport turf management apprentices that it was the first time in his 30 year career that he had welcomed a group of students to Paradise, as the home of the current Scottish Premier League Champions is known.
The party included 2nd Year Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) Level 2 students and some from Falkirk Council, currently undertaking a pre-SVQ 2 course.
Football rivalries were well and truly buried as Hayes gave the group a tour and revealed how he and his team of six ground staff deal with problems like the lack of sunlight on the playing surface during the long winter months, and the wear of tear of up to 40 matches on the pitch during the season. The same team also look after the Clubs training complex at Barrowfield and the new £10-million development at Lennoxtown, altogether five grass training pitches, two synthetic outdoor pitches, a full-sized indoor pitch, five-a-side pitches and goalkeeping training areas.
Andrew Aitken, a second year SVQ Level 2 student who works at Deer Park Golf and Country Club in Livingston, says: ?The experience was a real eye-opener for all me and would be for any football fan, no matter what club they support. I am really proud to have been part of the first ever student tour given by John Hayes in his long career at Celtic Park.
It was really amazing to learn just how much work is involved. For instance, even with the entire ground staff involved, it can take up to two hours after a match to replace all the divots or six hours for two staff the day after. Every match day the pitch has to be cut which takes four hours or rolled and another one or two hours to line it depending on conditions.
John also has a fund of stories about the team and the different managements he has worked with over the years and it was also fascinating to hear first hand about the history of the Club and great occasions, like being the first British team to win the European Cup.
47 year-old Hayes joined Celtic through a job creation project when he left school and became head groundsman 15 years ago. He was the Institute of Groundsmanship?s UK Professional Football Groundsman in 2006 and the IOGs Scottish Football Groundsman of the Year in 2006 and 2005.
Following the visit to Celtic Park, the Oatridge party travelled to Falkirk to be shown around the Barenbrug Seed Companys custom-built premises by Operations Manager Billy Nimmo.
Barenbrug is a family business and was founded in Holland in 1904, but has grown into a multi-national, with a presence on five continents. The
company supplies to agriculture, gardens and sports venues including, here in Scotland, all seven golf courses on the St Andrews Links.
The company has research stations all over the world, which develop new types of grass, a process that can take up to 15 years. In 2005 Barenbrug initiated substantial mixture trials at SAC Aberdeen that enables them to source data relative to species and cultivar interactivity rather than just single cultivars. These Scotvar trials are unique to Barenbrug aiming to test performance of cultivars within our harsh Scottish climate.
Andrew Aitken says: It was a great day and a tremendous learning experience for the whole group, even though we had different interests in greenkeeping and sports turf management.