Hello fellow sports turf professionals! My name is Steven James and I am a British born football groundsman who relocated to Scandinavia nearly a decade ago.
I'm just starting my second season at the Sør Arena in Kristiansand on Norway's South coast, the home of top flight Norwegian football club, IK Start.
The stadium was built in 2007 and replaced the nearby Kristiansand Stadion where the club had been in residence for the previous 100 years or so. The Sør Arena has an all seated capacity of 14,500.
Prior to starting at the Sør Arena I worked for a local golf club (Bjaavann GK). I started there in 2002 but moved on when the position became available at the stadium, mainly because football is a big interest of mine, and I always wanted to work in that environment.
I came late into the world of sports turf (in my mid 30's) having worked in many different areas previously. I decided to combine some previous experience with landscape gardening and my love of sport, particularly football.
I went on to take a National Certificate in Sports turf, followed by a HND in Golf Course Management. I also have a Bachelor degree in Leisure Management.
At the stadium, we are a two man team that consists of myself and Geir Lie, the head groundsman. Geir has been working in the turf industry for nearly fifteen years and was formally the head greenkeeper at Bjaavann GK.
One important thing to mention here is that we don't work directly for the football club. We are outside contractors who work, and are based, at the stadium.
We actually work for a company from nearby Grimstad, whose main business is producing organic soil improvers utilising recycled materials such as household waste. The name of the parent company has recently been changed to Høst, though we work for a subsidiary called Agder vekst.
The company supplies material to the turf industry, but our stadium work is the first time they have ventured into the world of turf maintenance.
I usually take care of day-to-day maintenance and match day preparations. Geir takes care of the office work, most of the machinery maintenance (not my strong point!), special operations at the stadium, a growing number of outside contracts and the many media enquiries we have.
IK Start play a total of fifteen home league games a season. The season starts in mid March and continues through to early November. Gaps between home games can vary between a week and three, even four, weeks, but the usual gap is the standard two weeks.
On top of the league fixtures we can expect to host between one and four cup games plus one or two representative games - anything from local junior football to national under 21 fixtures.
The arena has also played host to a number of outdoor summer concerts. We have been visited by Sir Elton John, Dolly Parton and, this year, it's Aha.
As with a lot of other clubs in Scandinavia, the team use the main stadium pitch for the majority of training sessions. This can add up to five sessions a week in the middle part of the season, and has a big influence on how and when we perform maintenance tasks.
Cutting heights start off at 21mm in early season down to 15mm in mid season, remembering it's a summer football season here. We have, so far, only used cylinder mowers on our pitch.
We have a number of options when it comes to aeration (we have a Verti-drain and an Aercore), but we use the Eurogreen Perforator more than the other forms of aeration. For those not familiar with this piece of kit, it aerates by piercing the surface with hollow tines, reaching a depth of up to 6 cm. It operates at high speed and also allows you to overseed as you aerate.
Talking of seed, the pitch was originally laid with turf incorporating a ryegrass/smooth stalk mix, but we have now gone over to overseeding with a three cultivar ryegrass only mix. We are, however, still experimenting with different grass types/mixes, especially in the shaded areas.
We feed with a variety of products, some of which will have trade names you will be familiar with, some not; Anderson (8:0:16), Eurogreen starter (17:24:8), Calcinit, Superba Gul, Farmura Ferrosol, to name a few. In 2009 we fertilised a total of twenty-seven times, both by hand and tractor mounted sprayer.
Verticutting is performed a number of times during the season, and we use an Amazone borrowed from the local golf course for this purpose.
The pitch was constructed on the USGA model, but with some differences. For instance, the drainage features 5cm pipes that have 15 metre spacings.
Rootzone depth is 30cm and incorporates 20% volume (2.1% weight) of organic material - recycled organic material supplied by our company of course!
The pitch size is the International Football Association Board (IFAB) standardised measurement of 105m long and 68m wide, which, in case you were wondering, gives a total area of 7140 square metres. We have two metre wide run off areas down the sides and three metres at each end.
Irrigation is taken care of by a 12 head Rainbird pop-up system with two fully rotational on-pitch sprinklers. We irrigate prior to every match, and during the half time break if the away side agrees to it.
As you would expect, we have an undersoil heating system. This heat transfer system makes use of recycled waste water that enters the stadium after it has been piped away from nearby industries. Local residents also take some of their heating this way.
The only weed control we have had to do has been by hand. We have removed some broadleaf plantain in localised areas, but that's been about it. Oh, and I should mention some Poa intrusion to the playing surface. But, then, who can't?!
Pest control has also not been a problem so far. We have occasional worm activity, but very little, as you would expect on a sand based construction.
We are lucky enough to have equipment that is no more than three years old. Here is a run down of what we have at our disposal:
John Deere 2653 mower
John Deere 3520 compact tractor (with front hydraulics)
John Deere Aercore 1500
John Deere TC125 Turf Collection System
Eurogreen Portax (Sander)
Eurogreen Allround brush
SR72 Tru-Turf roller
Scotts AccuPro fertiliser spreader
Tractor mounted sprayer
Small rotary mower for run off areas
Home made snow clearing brush that affixes to the three point linkage of the tractor
The Tru-Turf roller has been of particular use for us by helping to produce a smooth, fast surface that is of prime importance to the football club. We also try to use the spiker of the Tru-Turf at least once a week.
Another way we maintain a level and true playing surface is by performing hand repairs after each game and training session. We have some home made repair tools for this job.
As with many modern stadia, we have problems with shaded areas. This is of particular concern during the early spring months of the season (see main image), when sunlight is only falling on half, or less, of the surface.
We are, however, lucky enough to have the use of two full size light rigs supplied to us by the Mobile Lighting Rig company in Stavanger. Actually, we only need to use one of the rigs these days. So, if anyone is interested in a second hand rig, get in touch!
Even though the stadium is fully enclosed (bar one corner tunnel area) air flow is not a problem, as this aspect was thought of in the design phase. There are openings at both ends of the stadium and, as it is also situated next to a fjord, there is, more often than not, a decent breeze blowing. This helps keep disease down to a minimum, although we do have the problem of snow mould after the snow is removed for the start of the season. This we try to keep to a minimum with an Amistar application at the end of the season.
One area I really should cover (and I thought I would leave it until last) is how we manage to prepare a decent enough playing surface for a football season that starts just as the Norwegian winter is letting go of its icy grip.
The season in Norway has been starting earlier and earlier, and this has led to a growing headache for groundsmen over here.
To cut a long story short, Geir has, for the last three years, made use of the four piece pitch cover we have. Basically, the four pieces are laid out and then sown together creating one large sheet. This is then tied off and hot air is pumped under the sheet using industrial air blowers. I realise this system is nothing new to UK groundsmen (Filbert Street in the 70s!), but we have pioneered its use here in Norway and, this year, a number of clubs have followed suit.
I should also mention the ten thousand or so cubic metres of snow we had to remove from the pitch this year before this work could commence! Or the continued brushing away of the snow after the tent was erected (sometimes working at night). But I really don't want to think about that!
Thanks for listening. Steven.