A brand new pitch has also seen the introduction of a new maintenance regime at Rangers FC's Ibrox stadium, who signed their first ever machinery deal with John Deere dealer Nairn Brown Limited of Busby at the end of last year.
The new pitch was installed in just seven weeks over the close season by contractor Souters Sports in time for this season's Scottish Premier League kick-off in August. Ibrox is only the third British football ground after Newcastle and Bristol City to feature a 100mm Fibrelastic rootzone from Mansfield Sand, and the first in Scotland.
As head groundsman David Roxburgh explains: "The original high specification pitch we put in 17 years ago had come to end of its natural life, so we had to invest in a brand new generation pitch with a completely new rootzone to get the surface right again. After removing the old turf, the upper rootzone and part of the lower rootzone to a depth of 150mm, a new pure sand rootzone was installed up to within 100mm of the final surface.
"The top 100mm was then filled with the new Fibrelastic product, sand mixed with synthetic fibres which contain a percentage of elastic, and the grass seed was sown into this. Fibrelastic has been tested by our consultant agronomists, the STRI, and provides great stability and consistent performance across the whole surface. We've also invested in a new TIS irrigation system and new MLR portable lighting rigs to promote grass growth throughout the playing season."
The initial five year contract finance deal signed with Nairn Brown and John Deere Credit saw the arrival of two 4520 52hp compact tractors with ComfortGard cabs, one equipped with a front loader and one with a snow blade, a 3720 41hp compact tractor with ComfortGard cab and front loader, two 6x4 Gator diesel utility vehicles, an X748 lawn tractor with rotary mower deck and collection system, and three John Deere 500 ride-on triple cylinder mowers.
These are shared between Ibrox, managed by deputy head groundsman Paul Matthew, and the club's Murray Park training facility at Milngavie, with David Roxburgh overseeing eight grounds staff across both sites. In addition, four new John Deere R54RKB 22in rear roller walk-behind rotary mowers were bought in the summer, specifically for use on the new Ibrox pitch.
"We needed to look at the best way to maintain such a high performance sports surface, and so I studied what was happening with other pitches in England," says David. "Many of my counterparts use mowers to clean the pitch surface after matches, not just for grass cutting. The new rotaries are used as much as a maintenance tool for hoovering up any debris after games as they are for cutting and striping, with the advantage that they leave a lighter footprint.
"When the lights are in place, we'll really be applying a summer regime throughout the winter. This high level of maintenance means extra work for the staff, particularly on match days, but all to the benefit of the pitch. The club has invested very heavily in these improvements, more so compared with English Premiership sides with their TV income, but we've now got a very good asset and a good platform to build on for the future.
"As far as the machinery goes, this was also a major deal for the club, and we went through the due process with all the major suppliers," adds David. "Nairn Brown came way above anyone else in terms of back-up service and support for Rangers Football Club, and the professionalism of the dealership is what really made the deal.
"John Deere comes with a very high reputation anyway, so we had no qualms about using their machines, but probably more important is the relationship we have with the dealer. Any issues we've had, they've been dealt with immediately - and not just because it's Rangers, that's what Nairn Brown promises and delivers to all its customers."
A & B) Rangers FC head groundsman David Roxburgh (right, also pictured with the 3720 compact tractor) and groundsman Alan Carlin with two of the new John Deere rear roller mowers on the new pitch at Ibrox.
C) A John Deere 500 triple cylinder mower and 4520 compact tractor loader at Rangers FC's Murray Park training facility.