Outside Preston North End's Deepdale stadium is a statue called The Splash, erected in honour of their most famous son, Sir Tom Finney. Making something of a splash himself inside the stadium is Head Groundsman, Peter Ashworth, as his award winning pitch aims to help the famous old club climb back up the leagues
Currently plying their trade in the upper reaches of League One, Preston North End are one of the Football League's founding members. They are the fourth most successful team of all time and only Notts County have played more league matches.
The 'North End' addition to their name comes from the site of their Deepdale stadium, which is situated in the 'north end' of the Lancashire town.
Deepdale has been the club's home since 1875 and the record attendance is 42,684 for a Division One clash with Arsenal in April 1938.
Today's capacity is 23,404. Some famous players have graced the turf, amongst them Bill Shankly, Tommy Docherty and Tom Finney, whose legendary status is remembered by images of him on the seating and a statue outside the ground known as The Splash.
In more recent times, and despite a strong desire to return to the top flight - Preston lost a play-off semi-final as recently as 2009 - the club's current status rankles with a strong supporter base, yet the team's performance has nothing to do with the quality of the surface they play on week in, week out. Indeed, Head Groundsman, Peter Ashworth won the Football League Groundsman of the Year (League One) award last season and was highly commended in 2008/09 when the club were in the Championship.
Peter has been Head Groundsman at the club for nine years. He is assisted by three full time members of staff and a part time member. Dean Ash (11 years service, age 28), Sam Newton (5 years, age 21) and Aaron Lewis (3 years, age 18) make up the full time team, whilst Peter McCalion has been at the club over thirty years, the last nine part time. He also has the help of two additional part timers for match days, whilst the services of PSD Consultants are called upon as and when required.
The Deepdale stadium pitch is a Fibresand construction, whilst the training ground is made up of four soil based pitches. Both sites have fully automated irrigation systems, and Deepdale also has a mini lighting rig for use on the goalmouths. Additionally, both sites have frost sheets available; two sets at Deepdale and one set at the training ground.
The training ground can suffer from flooding throughout any high amounts of rainfall, explains Peter. "Extra drainage has been an ongoing project since my first renovation and continues to be improved every year, depending on budget."
"Deepdale suffers from the usual shade issues ," he continues, "and we find January and February are the most testing months due to lack of daylight, low temperatures and a lack of recovery."
"We try to counteract these problems by using good maintenance regimes, such as brushing and aeration, and a good fertiliser programme to try and encourage the grass to recover and be as healthy as possible. Also, by trying to keep training sessions to a minimum. We find that fixtures can be planned and prepared for correctly, whereas an unforeseen training session or bounced game thrown in last minute can lead to problems. Educating coaches and managers is a daily task and, at this moment in time, we are very lucky that we have a someone, in Simon Grayson, who respects what we do and also wants a good playing surface for his team to play on."
"The pitches are cut daily throughout the summer months. A Dennis Premier and a Jacobson Tri-king are used at the training ground, whilst we have two Dennis G860s at Deepdale. We also look after Chorley FC's stadium pitch, and this is cut with a Ransomes Mastiff."
"Aeration is carried out monthly using a Verti-Drain 7215 and a Toro ProCore. We have four rotary mowers which are used to remove debris after games. We also have verticutting and scarifying cassettes for the G860s, which are used as and when needed on the Deepdale pitch, and elsewhere, if required."
Peter goes on to explain that fungicides are used 'few and far between'. "Deepdale is the only place that is sprayed for disease, and this is only as a last resort; usually if it isn't possible for the pitch to recover because of low temperatures or if it is in the early stages of growth after renovation. Weeds are spot treated, if required, and overseeding is carried out, after games, on high wear areas such as goalmouths and linesmans runs."
"All staff are trained to use all machinery and are encouraged to do different jobs every day. Presentation is high on my list of priorities, with the stadium pitch obviously coming top of that. Everyone, at some point, will cut Deepdale during the season, so we try to keep high standards on all sites so that the lads are ready, if required, to work at the stadium. The pitches at all sites are seen by high numbers of people and there is nothing better than hearing positive comments."
"End of season renovations are carried out by a local contractor, as time is tight and we don't have the staff or machinery to be able to fulfil this task in such a short space of time. Deepdale is generally koroed off to a depth of around 10-15mm; fresh Fibresand is added and mixed in, levelled and consolidated," Peter explains. "We generally have around six or seven weeks to grow the pitch back before the first friendly (usually around mid July). Corporate games, and also play-off campaigns, add to the lack of time available at the back end of a season.
Fingers crossed, no concerts have been organised yet, however, it is always an option put forward to the club."
"The training ground pitches are generally fraise mown. Clean and fresh sand is added (around 40/60 tonnes per pitch), verti-drained and seeded. Extra sand banding drainage is added - usually one pitch a year."
"Chorley FC's renovations are minimal. All high wear areas are levelled, and overseeding and verti-draining is carried out by ourselves. All renovations are dependent on budget," confirms Peter, "and, depending on how desperate an area needs improving, will help us decide where the money is spent."
"The weather is checked daily and certain jobs will either be brought forward or put back depending on the forecast. However, with this being north west England, we are generally prepared for all weathers and react when we need to, as well as being as proactive as possible!"
"We have regular soil samples taken to try and help us see where the pitch is at, in terms of pH etc., so we can tweak our fertiliser programme, if required. We also send samples for nematode counts, so these can be treated, if needed, before any damage is caused. I must say though, fingers crossed, this is few and far between."
"All the staff at Preston are qualified to at least nvq Level 2. My two training ground staff, Sam and Aaron, were both taken on as school leavers and have been trained up by myself, and also put on a work based training scheme through Myerscough College. I find it very rewarding to see young people grow and develop and, hopefully, love the industry as much as I do," enthuses Peter.
"It can be hard, at times, when things go wrong and they don't have the experience to know what to do. But, it is also very rewarding to see them improving daily and become confident in other areas as they gain experience. I find nothing better than when someone puts forward their own ideas that can be used to help improve a job or make it easier."
"I take in a high number of work experience students here on placements. They can be a big help to us and, hopefully, find the experience rewarding enough to consider a future in groundsmanship. It is something I believe in strongly because, if it wasn't for my successful placement a Blackburn Rovers and the support I was given at the time, I may not be in the industry today."
"We struggle with moles in certain areas of the training ground, but these are left to their own devices, until they encroach onto the playing surfaces, at which point traps will be set!"
"Health and safety is of high concern for the club, with monthly meetings taking place with an outside health and safety executive coming to help us keep up to date with all relevant legislation."
Peter confirms that first aid courses are run regularly and every department has at least one qualified first aider.
"In terms of the environment, we have recently added bird and bat boxes in various areas around the training ground in conjunction with the Canal & Rivers Trust. With a canal running down the side of the training ground, they are regularly doing work and, when approached by the Trust to place these bat and bird boxes, it was something I was keen to help with! Also, wildflower planting is something I have put to the club to help improve various areas of both Deepdale and our training ground and, hopefully, this is something that will be carried out in the near future."
"I consider our industry to be very rewarding and also very frustrating at times. I feel more work needs to be done to improve salaries and also working conditions. I also feel that the pitch is up there with the players in terms of importance and that a minimum requirement should be brought in for each level of the football pyramid you play at, especially lower down the leagues you go."
"Some groundsmen are fighting a daily battle to just start a mower or get some linemarking paint. As an industry, I feel strict rules should be brought in to set standards that give every groundsman a chance in his daily tasks."
"I have never met a groundsman who wants a poor pitch and just a little could make a massive improvement to their daily tasks. A minimum budget could be set so as to ensure even the smallest and poorest clubs have machinery and facilities available to them to help produce the best possible surfaces. Even in the lower leagues, players wages are high and I feel it should and could be stretched to include a minimum requirement. This should improve at every level you climb, as and when the club advances - similar to how a stadium has to improve the higher you climb up the leagues."
"I feel passionate about my industry and it frustrates me when someone comments on the state of a pitch without knowing the truth about what goes on behind the scenes. This includes players, the public, commentators and some groundstaff. Given the right backing, I feel every Football League pitch could have a surface to be proud of."
"I was lucky to receive the Groundsman of the Year award for League One last season and I put this down to having hardworking, dedicated staff, plus a club that helped support me after one of the hardest seasons I had ever had the season before. It was an experience I will never forget and one which is a good example of people commenting without knowing the facts."
"Luckily, last season was the complete opposite, and I put this down to every component of a club working together; the manager respecting the pitch, the club providing the resources for me to carry out our daily tasks and, finally, a team of groundstaff who work hard and who are proud to produce pitches to the highest possible standards. Add these ingredients together and the results are the best pitches we have ever had in my time as head groundsman."
What's in the shed?
Dennis G860s x 4
Rotary mowers x 4
Charterhouse Verti-Drain 7215
Trimax tractor mounted rotary mower
Iseki compact tractor
New Holland TC27 tractor
Landquip boom sprayer
Tractor mounted fertiliser spreader
Everris pedestrian fertiliser spreader
"Machinery has been mainly purchased through Campey Turf Care and is generally purchased over 3/5 years repayments.
We like to try out various machines to get an idea on what is available and visit trade shows and demo days to try and stay on top of what is out there.
Machinery, such as the new Air 2G2 machine, has been hired in to use on the pitches. A local company is used to service machinery and any other maintenance that can't be be carried out in house.
Top of the wish list would be more lighting rigs and also underground heating at Deepdale, closely followed by similar at the training ground."