NATURAL GRASS PITCHES AT
Clubs are investing significant amounts of money into academies and it is therefore essential that the natural grass pitches constructed provide playing surfaces of the required quality with the ability to sustain the required usage level over the long term. During the last 10-15 years technological advances in the sportsturf industry have provided the means by which pitches can be constructed to achieve identified performance characteristics. The pitch construction type will be governed by the site parameters (climate, soil type, etc.) and the Club's specific requirements, especially in terms of pitch numbers and usage levels.
The key to successful development of the playing surfaces is to undertake a full site audit, including consideration of the Club's requirements and expectations, at the onset of the project so that the appropriate pitch construction type can be determined and budget costs assessed. Costs are mainly dictated by the site, although it is often feasible to provide a range of construction types to cater for the differing demands of, for example, the U19's compared to the lower age groups (U8's - U16's).
It is also critical to fully consider the future maintenance of the playing surfaces and for the Club to provide both the appropriate range of equipment and number of groundsmen for the pitches to realise their potential. Given the pitch numbers at typical academies (e.g. 6 to 10 plus the peripheral grass areas), a significant investment in machinery and labour is unavoidable.
Below I have picked out a number of issues which, in my experience at academies, are worth highlighting.
The nature of the site mainly influences the cost of pitch development. The number of sites available to a Club is usually quite restricted due to a combination of the size of the area required and various planning issues. The latter in terms of development in the green belt has recently reported to be very restrictive.
The type of site eventually selected by clubs therefore varies enormously around the country. Some are able to purchase and develop existing playing fields, whereas others take over either brown or green field sites. The result is that each site is quite different in terms of pitch development requirements and their associated costs.
Soil contains particles of different sizes (sand, silt and clay) and the majority of soil types rely on aggregation of these particles into units (i.e. soil structure) to provide the right balance between air and water filled pores. When structure is damaged by play the drainage capability of the soil decreases and waterlogging often results.
Research and development work has established that very few soil types can drain adequately when used for soccer during the winter period. As a result it is very rare for soil based pitches alone to be developed for academies. The techniques used to counteract this soil problem are summarised later.
EXISTING PLAYING FIELDS
Existing playing fields can be upgraded economically providing site layout and levels are suitable. However, a detailed study into their existing condition (drainage, soil type/condition, sward composition etc.) should be undertaken to accurately determine the works required. It must be remembered that playing field pitches constructed to cater for one or two games per week will soon deteriorate when used intensively. In our experience, some existing playing fields have been successfully developed into quality playing surfaces at minimal cost whereas others have required varying amounts of upgrading works ranging from drainage improvements to complete resurfacing.
The main factors influencing the works required are a combination of soil type and climate. For example, in the drier parts of eastern England an existing well maintained playing field on a sandy soil can be successfully developed by intensive renovation and maintenance techniques. These would essentially comprise of compaction relief (e.g. vertidraining, shattermaster, etc.), coring and topdressing, weed control, oversowing and implementation of a suitable mowing and fertilising regime. In the north west of England a similar site would require drainage works in the form of pipe and slit drains to ensure adequate rates of water removal prior to the surface renovation works. Even sandy soils do not always possess a suitable particle size distribution to allow adequate drainage rates when structure has been lost.
Typical costs for renovation works would be in the region of £10,000 per full sized pitch with an addition of £25,000-£30,000 required for pipe and slit drain installation.
On less suitable soil types, especially in the wetter parts of the country, it is more likely that the existing playing fields, or certainly parts of them, would require works over and above those indicated above.
The development of other sites would normally involve earthworks to produce suitable levels prior to construction of the playing surfaces. In the majority of situations the existing topsoil would be re-used in the construction profile, although not necessarily forming the finished surface. Occasionally there may be the situation where the topsoil is unsuitable or non-existent requiring the importation of materials.
The summarised options below have been used for pitch construction works at a number of academies and training grounds (budget costs per pitch exclude bulk earthworks):
a) Pitches established on indigenous/imported topsoil with pipe and slit drain systems. Budget Cost: £40,000.
b) As above but partial amendment of topsoil surface with sand. Budget Cost: £60,000.
c) Intensive pipe/slit drainage system, sand amendment of existing topsoil and importation of proprietary rootzone. Budget Cost: £120,000.
d) Sand profile pitch surfaced with rootzone. Budget Cost: £160,000.
e) Gravel carpet pitch surfaced with rootzone. Budget Cost: £250,000 plus.
There are also options available to further upgrade the pitches surfaced with imported rootzone by addition of reinforcement material.
Fibresand has been successfully used in a number of developments and with Locksand, a more recent addition to the market, has been specified for construction works during 2001. The extra over cost for supply/incorporation of fibre reinforcement is in the region of £20,000 per pitch.
The Desso Grassmaster reinforcement system has been extensively used in mainland Europe but, apart from a number of stadia pitches in the U.K., has not yet been used at an academy. However, a Grassmaster pitch was constructed as part of the Preston Sports Arena, a development undertaken by the University of Central Lancashire and supported by Sport England, and this and the other pitches are used by Preston North End's Centre of Excellence amongst others.
The reinforcement of high specification rootzone pitches is one way forward where intensive use is required, especially when the site is restricted in size and a limited number of pitches are constructed.
One important issue not mentioned earlier is irrigation. The provision of an adequate irrigation system must be an integral component of any academy development so that the pitches can be satisfactorily managed. Key issues to consider include:
a) Water Source - A full study should be undertaken to appraise availability/costs of mains versus bore hole water and the practicality of water recycling. Recent studies have indicated installation of bore holes pay for themselves within a short time period given the relative costs of the water.
b) Water Requirements - It is essential that the pitches can receive the required peak quantities of water within a certain time period. Quantities required will vary depending on construction type but typically will be in the range 20-35mm per week. Application time will be restricted and therefore the system must be carefully designed to be able to supply the volume required in the time available.
Overall, it is important that pitch developments at academies are given detailed consideration at the beginning of the project as there is more to it than simply levelling the soil and sowing grass.
Mike Harbidge, Managing Director of Professional Sportsturf Design, looks at the factors and key issues regarding pitch construction at soccer academies.
Professional Sportsturf Design (N.W.) Ltd., have been pitch consultants in a number of academy developments including Liverpool, Everton, Blackburn, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich Town Football Clubs.