The midday Sun peered from behind a cloud and danced across the turf, neatly chequered patterns run the full length and breath of the pitch. The grass stood tall, proud and manicured, full of colour and vigour, ready for the onslaught that was about to follow.
Player's trampled across the fine turf, cutting swaths as they strived to give every ounce of effort. Buy the end of the game the pitch looked forlorn, a broken and desperate spectacle of what it once used to be.
But alas! When Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, all the kings' horses and the kings' men couldn't put Humpty together again. But this is not Humpty / Dumpty; this is a winter sports pitch going through its usual hammering on a Saturday afternoon.
As Groundsmen, we are an essential cog in the sports and recreation industry. We have the onerous but rewarding task of; repairing, preparing and maintaining a stage on which so many sportsmen & women depend for their performance and enjoyment.
So, it's safe to say that this once proud pitch will return to its former glory, all be it with some TLC and a Groundsman with a heart of gold and passion about his job.
Maintaining any winter sports pitch is determined by Mother Nature. Her Four Seasons provide the necessary windows of opportunity to allow a full maintenance programme to be managed throughout the year, with varying tasks through the playing and non- playing season.
When the end of a playing season arrives a pitch can sometime have as many as 60 -80 games played on it as well as training. Whilst it is accepted that clubs have very different budgets it is vitally important to understand what level of performance a pitch has to aspire to. A highly maintained professional pitch will require a high end budget, whilst a local league club may be able to get away with a low budgetary maintenance programme, where in some cases much of the work is done in house, which will result in cost savings for the club. Either way a decent playing surface has to be provided for and be fit for purpose.
Type of surface
The maintenance of a good quality playing surface for football presents the groundsmen with particular problems. It is no exaggeration to say that the sport is more difficult to cope with than any other winter game. This is partly a result in the nature of the game itself, which tends to be rather heavy on grass surfaces, creating patterns of severe wear and scaring on most heavily used pitches.
Goalmouths, centre circles and touch lines are particularly vulnerable to damage of this kind but wear also extends over the whole of the centre diamond, stretching from goal line to goal line and out to the touch lines, leaving only the corners of the pitch prone to light usage.
The surface should be true and firm to give good bounce without being too soft to loose traction. A rugby pitch for both League &Union however have different characteristics of wear such as scrimmages, line outs and of course the length of grass. Rugby, being a contact sport, requires a resilient surface as well as being impact absorbent if injuries to players are to be minimised.
The Grounds man's task is made even more difficult the higher the standard of sport being played, as a great deal of money could be riding on the conclusion of it; Postponements are generally unacceptable and matches have to be played under conditions which can be far from suitable.
For most pitches therefore there is a demand for extensive renovation work come the end of a playing season. The Groundsman is then faced with the task of re-establishing extensively worn areas which is made more difficult with the seasons becoming longer and with only a minimum rest period between the end of one season and the start of another. Clubs that ground share know only too well the problems that go with it.
Sports pitches built on indigenous soils will struggle through winter during the wet season; show signs of wear and tear and be prone to cancellations and postponements. Therefore to give the playing surface a good chance of surviving there must be a reasonable drainage system in place. Aeration is vital during the maintenance of sports pitches.
The purpose of aeration is to promote the breaking up of the compacted surface allowing oxygen to enter and undesirable gases such as carbon dioxides and hydrogen sulphide to escape. However, to relieve compaction the surface will require lifting.
Physical heave and shift in the soil breaks the compacted area's allowing pore spaces to increase and effectively cracks the compacted layers allowing capillary action for water to pass through the profile and into the drainage system.
In recent years considerable effort has been made in improving winter sports pitch drainage. A number of alternative pitch constructions are available varying widely in effectiveness and in the financial cost of the installation. The principle types of construction ranges from the native soil with a series of pipe drains through to slit drainage or soil amelioration to pure sand constructions.
Pipe drained pitches rely on soil structure for water to pass through the surface layer. Perfectly adequate on a lightly used pitch, but if the surface becomes smeared and compacted during wet weather, water transmission rates decline and even with closely spaced drainage pipes water will not reach them quickly enough to improve the quality of the surface.
One solution is to install slit drainage, a series of permeable bands at close centre, connecting the surface to the backfill of the drains filled with sand or sand over gravel. One thing is for certain are that all drainage systems can only be effective if an adequate aeration programme is employed to compliment them. The use of solid or slit tines when conditions are most suitable will encourage water movement through the profile producing a sustainable playing surface all year round.
Planning a programme
Before starting any maintenance works on a winter sports pitch it is important to have a month by month programme of key activities, ensuring that all resources are available with machinery serviced and in good working order.
The amount of work you can do will depend on the time of year and the amount of money available, therefore a budget plan should be drawn up to run along side your maintenance schedule with quotations from suppliers where bulk purchases and machinery hire are necessary. Access for heavy plant should also be considered and a route clearly defined.
Poor planning often leads to costly mistakes and lost opportunities. Keep records from your supplier of machinery hire, topdressings and other working practices.
With an emphasis on Health & Safety, Risk assessments should also be carried out when operating machinery or handling chemicals, fertilisers and other hazardous materials, and all personnel should be suitably qualified.
Before starting any remedial work it is vital to know how much you will need to spend on renovation, as cost can easily escalate if you fail to research prices against the standard of surface you wish to produce. From a commercial point, the cost of renovating a football pitch can range from £4k -£5k to as much as £50k to £100k the higher the standard of pitch.
The high costs are due to the supply and application of the topdressing as the material alone can cost anything from £35 per tonne, this work alone is the most costly part of pitch renovation and based on an application of 100 tonnes can easily run out at Three to Four thousand pounds for a 6,000m2 pitch.
With three types of budgets available to choose from you may decide on a high end budget if finances allow, but at grass roots level where every penny counts it is more likely that a low expenditure option is chosen with much of the work done in house with borrowed or hired equipment.
It is this cost that deters most clubs from spending money on top dressings for their pitches, which is why there are so many poor sports pitches across the country. Top dressing is an important and integral part of maintaining good football & rugby pitches by restoring levels and improving surface drainage.
• Low Expenditure ( Schools / Junior Clubs)
• Medium Expenditure ( Amateur / Non League Semi Professional)
• High Expenditure ( Professional )
So where is the best place to start!
Timing your programme of work
Football on most pitches finish at the end of April early May.
With all resources in place we can now commence with the removal of the goalposts and start the re-instatement of your pitch.
From now on your Month by Month calendar of work will be the corner stone of your renovation and re-instatement programme.
A planned programmeof work involves mostly renovation, which is the repair and restoration of the playing surface back to its original state, condition or, improved upon in order to be used again. Timing is the key to success as many operations will fail and cause more problems than benefits when carried out at the wrong time of the year. In order to achieve this all operations need to be carried out in the right methods, having the right soil & weather conditions, the ability to time the schedule of work and in the right sequence.
The main objectives of renovation which should be considered are:
1. To maintain the standard of the surface.
2. To improve the standard of the playing area.
The type of renovation required also depends on the site conditions and the surface involved. Assessments of the site should have been carried out or monitored as the most common components of football pitch renovation is:
• LOCALISED WORK ( GOAL MOUTHS/ TOUCH LINES RE- PROFILING)
• AERATION & DE- COMPACTING
• TOP DRESSING
• PEST & WEED CONTROL ( WORMS/ LEATHERJACKETS)
Once we have removed the goal posts we can proceed to reduce the amount of grass from the surface to about 10 -15mm, preferably boxing off all arising's at this stage.
Totally scarify the surface to remove all debris, thatch and organic matter. A number of passes may be required at different depths depending on the amount of organic material that is to be removed. All arising's should be removed from the surface before the next stage of work is started. By creating a seed bed through scarifying, overseed the playing area with a 100% Perennial rye grass (preferably with three or more cultivars) by use of machine ( auto Seeder) bury the seed in about 10-12mm deep to ensure good seed to soil contact.
Top-dress the whole pitch with a sandy / soil rootzone of 70/30 to address your levels. Aeration can then be performed to de- compact the surface allowing the top dressing to migrate down the tine holes to help with draining the surface and improve the soil profile. Drag matting or brushing will assist in this operation. An application of a pre-seed fertiliser to speed up germination or a spring/ summer 9-7-7 could be used. A soil test should determine you N.P.K if in doubt.
Ensure bare area's such as goalmouths, centre circles are well irrigated to establish early germination. Allow new grasses to grow to at least 2nd or third leaf stage before mowing with a sharp rotary, as a cylinder mower will most likely tear the grasses from their roots. Mow and aerate regularly throughout the summer and where possible Verti- cut to help thin and prune the sward through this period. Spray for control of pests, weed & disease and over the coming weeks your sward will thicken up and become denser providing a perfect carpet for the forthcoming season.
With Mother Nature in your favour you should be looking at completing your renovations in good time, this will be the key to your success.