Greater Manchester, like many other parts of the country, has suffered the wettest June for decades, with areas that had never previously flooded before finding themselves underwater.
Whilst Manchester and rain almost go hand in hand, as any cricket fan will tell you, the team at Leigh Sports Village have had to keep a close eye on the weather charts in order to meet the demands of a busy fixture list.
Leigh Sports Village is run and managed by Wigan Borough Council. The venue consists of a main stadium arena, a sports pavilion, an athletic stadium, a full size floodlit 3G synthetic pitch, five natural grass pitches, three synthetic pitches, indoor sports centre and a six lane swimming pool, along with residential housing, a retail park, conference facilities and the 135 room Radisson Park Inn.
The stadium has an 11,000 capacity, with a state of the art Desso Grassmaster pitch, conference and banqueting facilities and high tech offices. The stadium hosts many events, from community fixtures to internationals, as well as being home to both Leigh Centurions Rugby League Club, Swinton Lions Rugby League Club and Blackburn Rovers Reserves.
Keith Porter, who previously worked at Wigan Athletic and Manchester United, has been head groundsman for four years and, in that time, has built up an experienced team of staff. It is quite a family affair, with his sons Martin and Matthew, along with Alan Todd and Malcolm Sargent, making up the team.
Both of his sons have qualifications in sportsturf, and have spent several years working in the industry - Martin in the roles of head, deputy and assistant greenkeeper, plus a spell at Field GB, and Matthew as an assistant greenkeeper.
The stadium pitch alone had already held over sixty fixtures and training matches by the end of June.
The team's remedial work was featured in issue 39, so I won't go over old ground here, suffice to say that they continue to improve the quality of the playing surfaces, in part due to a Desso Grassmaster pitch being installed at the stadium three years ago; a request made by Keith due to the number of fixtures.
Keith had asked me to visit again to experience the 'delights' of preparing for a home game. After consulting the busy fixture list, we settled for June 7th, a live game on Premier Sports featuring an evening Championship match between Leigh Centurions and Sheffield Eagles.
Kick off was at 7.30pm, so I arrived early to sample the pre-match activities and see what goes on behind the scenes. As always, the weather dictates what Keith and his staff can do prior to a match. I arrived just after lunch with the intention of observing Keith mowing and marking out the pitch. However, our wonderful summer monsoon weather put paid to that. Weather warnings had persuaded Keith to mow the pitch the previous day, and the following morning, before the forecasted rain arrived.
He also decided to mark out the pitch on the morning of the match; it was a good call as, for the remainder of the afternoon, it rained cats and dogs until just before the match started.
However, there was still plenty to witness. Keith took me out in the rain to see Salford City Reds Rugby League Club training on one of the outer grass pitches. Both Leigh Centurions and Salford City Reds use these pitches two or three times a week, with other teams playing matches on them at weekends.
Keith showed me some new equipment they had just invested in - a Wiedenmann Super 500 Scarifier, which they intend to use on the grass pitches to clean out the sward on a regular basis, and a Wiedenmann Terra Seeder. Keith is currently building up his equipment to enable him to carry out more of the renovation work in-house rather than rely on contractors.
During a much needed and refreshing tea break (as a particularly heavy shower passed over), I met up with Chris Tiplady, from Myerscough College, who was meeting with Matthew about his college work. Matthew has just completed his Level 3 Diploma course online, and Chris was compiling some final evidence for his portfolio.
Matthew enrolled onto the Advanced Apprenticeship scheme last year, which comprises the following components; Level 3 Diploma, Emergency First Aid and Key Skills/Functional Skills. There are approximately seventeen units (some mandatory and some he chose himself) that make up the diploma.
Each unit is made up of practical performance criteria and knowledge evidence. Matthew was keen to explain how Chris had shown him how to use the electronic e-portfolio system and how effectively it all worked. His presentations were set up on Photostory, an easy to use software programme that allows the candidate to show video and photographic evidence of his specific daily work routines. Narrating the photographs and using video assessment was a quick and easy way for Matthew to prove his skills.
But, back to the main purpose of my visit. That Keith had completed the marking out and mowing in the morning proved a good decision. The weather in the afternoon was simply appalling. Persistent rain swept across Lancashire, and it was impressive to see just how well the pitch coped.
At 4.00pm, Keith attended a pre-match staff briefing, which I was allowed to attend. The meeting was chaired by Simon Toon, the stadium's chief executive, and his assistant James Ditchfield. Around the table were representatives from the various departments that are involved on match days - catering, Health & Safety, stewards, PR, finance, technicians, electricians and coaches. The discussion centred on the running order of the evening's event, clarifying times and requirements in terms of pre-match entertainment, catering, signage, photo opportunities etc. Keith gave an update on the condition of the pitch. A detailed running programme was given out showing times of the activities, opening and closing of turnstiles and bars.
Supervisors and stewards final briefing was held at 5.15pm with the ground being opened at 6.00pm.
Keith and his staff put out post protectors and corner flags for the curtain raiser game, an under15 match that kicked off at 6.15pm. The game finished at 7.00pm, allowing Keith and his staff time to change the post protectors and corner flags to the main event sponsors, and check over the pitch.
Both teams spent twenty minutes warming up, practising handling drills and contact work. Considering all the rain and previous activity, the Desso pitch was holding up well, with very few divots or water lying on the surface.
At 7.30pm, the match kicks off. Keith and his staff make their way to their seats in the south stand to watch proceedings. At halftime, they are back out on to the pitch to replace divots and to check everything is okay.
There wasn't a particularly large crowd on the night, probably due to the heavy rain and the fact that the game was being televised. However, the ones who did turn up were treated to great game of rugby, with the home side beating Sheffield Eagles 40 points to 12, rattling up 28 points in the second half, with the win taking them to the top of the table.
After the game, Keith commented how well the pitch had held up considering the conditions, with very little damage to the surface. Now, it was simply a case of taking down the post protectors and corner flags, and going home after a very long day.
With more heavy rain forecast, Keith said that he had little option but to allow the pitch to recover overnight and the following day and, once the weather improved, they would then repair any scarring whilst giving it a brush to stand the grass back up.
Keith has been very pleased with the performance of the pitch at the LSV Stadium, his tailored maintenance regime of the new Desso pitch is centred around good cultural practices; regular mowing, brushing, scarifying, aeration and feeding. Pedestrian rotary mowers are used to clean up the pitch and keep the sward standing upright.
As with most free draining pitches, the application of fertilisers is essential to maintain turf vigour and colour. Concoctions of liquid products from Paul Benson Growing Solutions, and granular products from Everris (Scotts) are used, along with some biomass sugars and seaweed solutions. A monthly liquid fertiliser programme is carried out to keep the sward in good health.
Keith did not have long before the next scheduled group of matches, which included a four day training session on the pitch by the England Women's football team, followed by the next rugby league match against Batley Bulldogs.
Renovation of the stadium pitch took place on July 12th, being scarified using their own spiral rakes and a Wiedenmann Terra Rake. All debris was cleaned up using Trilo vacs. The pitch was then vertidrained, topdressed with a light dressing (40 tonnes) of 70/30 rootzone, and oversown with Johnsons Premier pitch grass seed.
It goes without saying that Keith and his team have done a fantastic job of improving the quality of the playing surfaces at the Leigh Sports Village. The combination of hard work, innovation and investing in essential equipment has enabled Keith to achieve his aims and objectives of hosting top flight fixtures.
What's in the shed?
Hayter Harrier 56 pedestrian petrol rotary mowers x 2
Charterhouse Verti-Core 2100 Corer/Spiker
Charterhouse Verti-Drain 7521
Dakota 525 trailer
Landquip demounted boom sprayer
Trillo SG200 vac/sweeper
New Holland 10LA compact tractor deck
John Deere Pro-Gator 2030A
John Deere 2653B ride on triple cylinder mowers x 2
Stihl BR500 leaf blowers x 2
Stihl FS100 strimmers x 2
Sthil FS50 strimmers x 2
Dennis G860 pedestrian cylinder mowers x 2, complete with brush and verticutter cassettes
Makita leaf blowers x 2
Sthil SH86 leaf vac/blower
Honda Pro HRH-536 pedestrian petrol rotary mowers x 4
Weidenmann Terra Rake
Weidenmann Super 500 scarifier/brush
Allen rotary hover mower
Fleet Beam Rider laser linemarker
RCM Go Floor scrubber/dryer
Trimax rotary roller mower
Murator 300 fertiliser spreader
Lewis snow plough
Foster slurry scraperk
Fleming linkage box
New Holland 10LA compact tractor c/w loader bucket
Snow EX Vee Pro 3000 grit salt spreader
Hardi shrouded pedestrian sprayer
Fleming heavy duty roller
Raycam 3m rubber drag matt
Schmidt Swingo road sweeper
Karcher power washer (petrol driven)
Sweep EX Brush
Matabi 20lt knapsack sprayer
Scotts Acu Pro 2000 pedestrian spreader