No time off for goodbehaviour
Christmas was an extremely busy time for us. We finished at lunchtime on Christmas Eve and went for a beer, and handed out Secret Santa gifts to each other like thesillyidiots that we are.
All the Groundstaff team were back in at the training ground on Christmas Day at 8.00am, removing the frost covers and then putting them back on after training, which finished about 12.30pm.
Originally, the manager, Mark Hughes, wanted to train at Ewood on Christmas Day from 5.00pm to 6.30pm, but because of the snow forecast, we had had a chat and I told him we were going to struggle. I told him anything between 2mm and 10mm of snow was forecast. If we got the snow and he trained, the chances were that the game could be postponed on Boxing Day. That's why they went to the training ground instead.
After training we rolled and replaced divots before pulling on the frost covers. It started snowing as forecast so we all left soon after.
The snow came and we had about 100 mm on the top of the cover. We couldn't move it for 3 days because of the weight.
At Ewood Park the under soil heating was on, so the 50-75 mm of snow that had fallen on Christmas Day had been melting nicely but, as the day progressed, it started to freeze again and turned into a layer of ice sitting on top of the leaf. We had a sell out home game on Boxing Day against Newcastle.
I turned up just after 7.00am on Boxing Day morning, I went through into the stadium and I knew exactly what had happened. There was still that layer of ice on the pitch.
I called the club secretary to let him know. At 8.00am all the staff were in and we started to sweep and rubber rake the whole pitch, 9 of us. We didn't have to sweep it off the pitch because, as it was broken up into small pieces, they fell into the sward and melted on the near plus 10-degree surface.
When the referee turned up at 11.00 am, he was slightly dubious as to whether we could clear all 8,500 square metresin time. It was touch and go as to whether the match would be on. I asked him to give us a bit more time, and we all worked extremely hard to clear the remaining ice sheet. When you do this kind of operation you soon realize that it is an extremely big area to work on!
Tony at Manchester United was in exactly the same situation. I was talking to him throughout the day, and their Groundstaff did exactly the same as us.
After rubber raking, we rolled the pitch with the mastiff mower and whatever pieces of ice were left we compressed into the pitch surface to melt. The game went ahead and the surface was fine. The pitch is draining very well at the moment. Agitating the ice was enough to get it to melt and drain, but the problem was the area. Apart from 10 minutes, when I got the stadium caterers to bring out some hot pies, the lads worked hard right through until 2.00pm to get it ready for kick off at 3.00pm.
The referee was pleased, but after all that he got himself injured during the game and had to be replaced. The secretary Tom Finn had been panicking, because it was a sell out crowd of 31,000 at Ewood Park. After the game we did about an hour's work like we normally do. There wasn't a lot to do because the pitch played very well. A few scars and scrapes, but no divots. The pitch is in very good condition at the moment with good grass cover.
Five of the staff as well as myself were in again on Bank Holiday Monday and Tuesday working on the stadium pitch and also at the training ground because, obviously, all the players were in for training. The rest of the week we were all in working as normal. On New Year's Eve we finished at lunchtime and we had New Year's Day off because the first team were away at Aston Villa. On the 2nd we were in cutting and marking out the pitch ready for a home game the following day against Charlton.
The team had a good spell over the Christmas holiday period; we got a few much needed points.
The day when we might have been in the mire was New Year's Day. The heavens had opened and it did nothing but pour all day. Burnley played Leicester at Turf Moor, which is only 10 miles away, and that game was abandoned after 18 minutes. If Blackburn had had a home game they would have been splashing about. I was so delighted we weren't playing. Around this neck of the woods, Rochdale, Burnley and Northwich were all called off.
One of my staff is a referee and he was officiating the game at Altrincham and he had to abandon it, he said it was just a farce. Apparently the game at the City of Manchester that was on the TV looked very heavy. I saw some of the coverage of the game at Anfield and it was absolutely pouring down there as well. Luckily, as I said, we were away in Birmingham, there they only had light drizzle. But that's the way it happens sometimes, it's the luck of the draw.