Shrewsbury Town FC's 2007-08 season kicked off at the aptly named New Meadow Stadium with high hopes of gaining promotion. However, a disappointing campaign saw them finish 18th in Division 2.
Laurence Gale MSc meets Head Groundsman Richard Barnett
Shrewsbury Town Football Club have had an eventful few years. A drop to the Conference saw an immediate return to League status via the play-offs. This was followed by a flirtation with promotion in the 2006-2007 season, their last at Gay Meadow, the club's home for almost 100 years.
In the summer of 2007 the club moved to a brand new 9,875 seater stadium. In these days when many professional clubs are struggling with finances it is perhaps surprising to note that they are the twenty-sixth club from the top four divisions to move to a new stadium facility in the past twenty years!
Of course, the benefits of moving into a new facility are many, both on and off the pitch. In Shrewsbury Town's case those benefits include a move to higher ground away from the River Severn, which had a habit of flooding the Gay Meadow pitch on a regular basis during the winter months.
The installation of the new pitch was undertaken by the contractors, Kestrel, working closely with the main contractors, Hall Construction, who were building the stadium and its infrastructure.
The client's brief was to produce a surface which could not only handle football but also a number of rugby union games. Based on this criteria, the decision was taken to build a perched water table pitch with a rootzone than had been stabilised with Loksand fibres.
The sub base in the stadium was graded, levelled, compacted and rolled. A primary drainage system was installed along with a fully automated pop up irrigation system. A 120mm deep (2-6mm) gravel raft was installed followed by 150mm of lower rootzone and 100mm of upper rootzone. Loksand was ameliorated in to the top 25mm of the upper rootzone materials. A pre-seeding fertiliser was applied and the pitch was then seeded with Barenbrug Bar 8.
Kestrel also constructed a new training pitch with primary drainage installed at 5 metre centres. Sand and topsoil was ameliorated to a depth of 100 mm. Secondary drainage sand slits at 2m spacing and two watering points were installed. Finally, a pre-seeding fertiliser was applied prior to seeding.
Topsport's Loksand System comprises a suite of traditional sand-based products that have been reinforced with the addition of high strength polypropylene fibres. The resultant mixes are very stable, offering resistance to deformation in high stress areas. Used in its concentrate form, Loksand can be ameliorated on site with the indigenous soil to produce a reinforced rootzone capable of resisting compaction and promoting air passage and water passage to the grass roots. Fibre-reinforced silica sand can also be used to produce a stabilised free-draining surface to produce a firm yet forgiving surface.
The stadium was handed to the club in May 2007. The first match at the new ground was an 'All-Stars' friendly which included the likes of ex Chelsea star Gianfranco Zola. Inspired by their new pitch, Shrewsbury Town ran out 4-0 winners.
The club employ two full time groundsmen who look after both the stadium and training ground pitches.
Head Groundsman, Richard Barnett, was appointed in July 2007. He is responsible for overseeing all the work at the stadium, the training pitch and all landscaping features on site. He had previously worked as an assistant at Gay Meadow.
His assistant is Andrew Muir who spends most of his time looking after the training ground at nearby Sundorne but helps Richard out as and when required.
Also involved, on a volunteer basis, is Ken Spiby, the former Head Groundsman at Shrewsbury School, who brings his forty plus years of experience with him most mornings.
When Richard joined Shrewsbury Town the equipment was pretty basic - a diesel powered Dennis 36" cylinder mower and a battered Kombi line marker. Since then he has added an Allett 36" mower that has been modified to run on diesel, and Campey Turfcare supplied a Cushman belt driven topdresser/spreader and a Charterhouse Verti-Drain machine.
During the summer months the pitch is generally mown three times a week but, during periods of strong growth, it gets a daily trim. Using the Dennis set at 25mm the cutting usually takes about three and half hours to complete.
Richard also dragmats or brushes the pitch regularly to help stand the grass up and help disperse any early morning dew.
Fertiliser is applied every 18-21 days starting with a 20:10:10 NPK to flush up the grass after the winter period and then a regular dressing of 9:7:7 NPK during the growing season. The feeding programme changes to a 6:0:12 NPK in the winter.
During the winter months the pitch is verti-drained twice a month. Using 12mm tines this operation takes between 8-10 hours to complete and is carried out as soon after a game as possible, allowing plenty of time for the resettlement of the pitch prior to the next game.
Watering is a key factor in ensuring the pitch remains stable. It generally takes three hours to water the pitch using the pop up system.
The only disease problem they have had at the ground has been a spate of Red Thread and that was easily overcome with a dose of feed. Rabbits have also been causing damage in the goalmouths.
Wear in the goalmouths has been significantly different, with one retaining more grass cover than the other. Richard accepts that the poorer goalmouth remains in shade longer which, therefore, affects soil and air temperatures within the stadium and subsequent recovery. He also understands that it will take a few years to get to know more about the ground and how it performs.
Richard marks out for every game with a Kombi spray jet marker using Pitchmarker C. Post match activity sees the divots and scars put back as quickly as possible and then it's back to the routine maintenance regime of cutting, feeding and watering, planning ahead for the next series of fixtures.
With three teams, and many more local sides queuing up to use the new stadium, the new pitch had to cope with over fifty games in its first season. This continued well past the end of their normal league season with the ground hosting school finals and Shropshire FA games.
The club run a pay to play scheme (20 games) that earns them £1000 per game. A nice earner for the club, and Richard is hoping that much of this income will be invested back into the pitch.
End of season renovations is restricted by budget and there is just too little in the coffers to allow for fraise mowing. So, Richard and his team had to undertake most of the work themselves - cleaning out the sward, verti-draining, topdressing and overseeding.
All in all it has been a very successful first season for Shrewsbury Town's new stadium with increased crowds and a significantly better playing surface for the team to play on. And, to top it all, Richard won League Division 2 Groundsman of the Year.