My name is Antonio Blanco Garcia Del Pino, and I have been circling the Iberian peninsula and Europe for twenty years, originally coming from Avila in Spain.
Despite the absence of any natural grass sports facility in the area I grew up in, I always had a particular interest in growing turf, probably due to multiple attempts to produce a decent lawn in the family home's garden, with no success. That is how I started reading books on the subject.
I studied Agricultural Technical Engineering at the University of Salamanca and had my first contact with the world of greenkeeping at the Palomarejos Golf Course in Talavera de la Reina. Subsequently, I studied for my postgraduate degree in golf and football course maintenance management at the EADE University, in Malaga (2011-2012). During this time, I had the privilege of working, for about a year, at the Real Club Valderrama located in the resort of Sotogrande, San Roque, hosts of the 1997 Ryder Cup and regarded as being one of the best courses in continental Europe, if not the world. The golf course stands out for its attention to detail and high levels of maintenance. It also boasts its own large greenkeeping laboratory and is a significant promoter of the profession and greenkeeper training in Spain. There I laid the foundations for my learning, mainly in terms of professionalism and perception of quality.
I then worked as a seasonal greenkeeper in Las Colinas Golf & Country Club in Alicante, followed by Koksijde Golf ter Hille in Flanders, Belgium and, after that, Kolner Golf Club in Cologne, Germany. In 2016, for an initial three weeks, I took up the maintenance technician's position for a sportsturf contractor in Portugal. Three weeks became a year, and I ended up taking on the head groundsman's role and managing the playing surface for three Primeira Liga teams of Portugal - Clube Desportivo de Tondela, Grupo Desportivo de Chaves and Sporting de Braga. I was also involved in the construction and renovations of football pitches. I was responsible for maintaining the Estádio Municipal de Aveiro for the Portuguese Super Cup and hosting a Portugal international match who, at that time, were champions of Europe.
It was, for me, an intensive and informative experience in the maintenance, renovation and construction of football pitches. I enjoyed the tremendous challenges and the high level of technical skills involved in maintaining a high-quality playing surface.
In 2017, I went back to Spain and joined Real Valladolid C.F., then in the Second Division, with an exciting promotion project. In 2017-2018 the club gained promotion back to La Liga, and that wonderful season was topped off with the club's purchase by football legend Ronaldo Nazário. This is my fourth season at Real Valladolid C.F., in this time the club has undergone an extensive remodelling process which has seen growth at all level including, most importantly for me, in the facilities.
The Estadio Nuevo José Zorrilla was opened in February 1982 and is named after poet José Zorrilla y Moral. During the 1982 FIFA World Cup, three Group D matches were played here, and Pop Superstar Michael Jackson performed a sold-out show on 6th September 1997, during his HIStory World Tour.
We have cold winters; historically, we average around fifty-six days of frost and thirty-nine days of fog in the winter season; this has given the ground the nickname "The Stage of Pneumonia". But we are also experiencing very hot summers with dozens of days hovering around 40OC. In the last few years, the winters have not been so cruel to us, especially to the turf, but temperatures, humidity and the lack of sun can be a real problem in the winter months.
When was the last pitch reconstruction?
The last reconstruction was carried out July-August 2019 to allow the stadium capacity to increase with the installation of 1594 new seats. For this to happen, the old perimeter moat protecting the pitch from crowd invasions was demolished. The pitch subsoil was removed at a depth of 1.8 metres to make way for five new rows of seating. This is the first phase of the integral reform project of José Zorrilla, which the club plans to carry out in four phases.
The work had to be carried out in record time, with construction company Sport Relva taking on the project. After excavating the old pitch, they started to install a new drainage system, laying pipes at 2.5-metre intervals; this was separated from the sub-base by a geotextile. Upwards of the drains is a 20cm gravel mattress, 4cm sealing layer of extra thick sand and 25cm of two types of sands of a specific composition. We added zeolite and amendments; we did not add any organic matter to the profile. After levelling, we placed a mesh between the top layer of the profile and the top. This type of construction gives the field tremendous strength and stability. We are delighted with the performance.
What are the dimensions of the pitch?
The pitch measures 105m x 68m.
Does the pitch have any shaded areas throughout the day?
Fortunately, the stadium is well orientated, with the longitudinal axis from north to south. The stadium's structure in the south stand is quite open, so it lets enough direct sunlight pass through for most of the year.
However, in the winter months, when the sun goes down, we do have shade problems in the south and, to a lesser extent, in the west of the stadium. The south receives virtually no sun from the end of November to March and the west, during the same period, does not receive enough sun.
To help improve these areas, we tested LED technology two years ago and, last winter, we tested SGL's High-Pressure Sodium lights. After realising their effectiveness in enhancing the turf's quality in the most needed areas, we have just invested in seven of SGL's latest model lighting rigs in varied sizes. We received these in autumn; they will give us the versatility we require for our and future needs, especially if the south stand is expanded.
Besides the grow lights, we use Domen-Green thermal blankets, which are a breathable, 80g/m2 micro-drilled polypropylene, to counteract low temperatures and frosts, on all our natural grass pitches during December to March, giving spectacular results. They have proved to be an essential element in our maintenance practices.
The club had planned to install an underground heating system for the stadium pitch this summer, but the circumstances due to the pandemic have not allowed it. Hopefully, we can resume this project when possible. It would help raise the temperature of the soil profile in winter. Undersoil heating, combined with the blankets and the lights, would be the final step in providing a quality surface all year round.
What is the usual weekly pitch activity?
The players will train on the stadium pitch every week for approximately two hours. On the week of a match, this will raise to three hours of training plus the game itself. Lately, it has been shrinking to two hours every week; a good trend which dramatically favours the pitch's playing condition on match days.
Our medium-term objective would be to reduce training on the stadium pitch even further. Still, the decision is exclusively with the sports technicians, whose needs take priority over all of us working at the club.
in June last summer, we were scheduled to host Alejandro Sanz in concert, but this was suspended like all mass events, due to the pandemic situation.
Pre-match maintenance planning
Our fertiliser programme consists of the regular monthly application of a granular feed. To help reach maximum performance to coincide with at least one or two matches, we will apply a mix of liquid fertiliser, biostimulants and colour promoters three to five days before a game.
The day before the match we will give a first cut using strings, with heavy Ransomes Mastiff, Allett and Dennis mowers. This is followed up with two further passes with the Dennis Pro34 to clean up the clippings, if there has been any training, and helps sharpen up the line between stripes.
On the day of the match, we will cut shorter using the same machines. On the first pass we will engage the cylinders and cut the pitch and the second pass is purely for aesthetics. This will give us the correct requirements determined by the La Liga Television Broadcasting Regulations.
Next, we mark the pitch once or twice depending on the need or type of paint we use. At the end of the match, our objective, depending on the weather conditions, is to leave the field repaired and fully prepared for recovery that same day. This helps optimise the recovery time to the maximum ready for the next use.
Post-match tasks include one pass with the Pro34 rotary mowers to pick up any debris, divoting and overseeding any areas that need it, also placement of the thermal blanket in the winter months. Finally, the next two days after the match, we spray products that help de-stress and repair the plant.
How many staff do you employ and do you rely on subcontractors for some of your work?
Real Valladolid C.F traditionally has its own maintenance team and we are seen to be an essential asset which we are proud of. The professional staff consists of seven groundsmen plus a server that performs the department's management and coordination work. We maintain the stadium and the Sports City of the Annexes, reporting to the Corporate Area Directorate.
In addition to our full-time staff, in the three primary winter months we hire in four additional operators exclusively for the placement and removal of thermal blankets.
The machinery is one hundred percent owned by the club and we continually renew and look at the best and most modern options on the market.
There are some tasks that we outsource to local specialised contracting companies, as and when needed, for large works or renovations.
Tell us more abouth the pitch's surface?
In the climatic zone where Valladolid is located, the most suitable type of grasses for quality sports pitches are cool-season grasses. We use a mix of Smooth stalked Meadow Grass (Poa pratensis) and English ryegrass. We have recently started a project to test the suitability of fine fescues.
Our stadium pitch and the two training camps right now consist of a mix of Fiesta4, Rinovo, GreenLand, Nuglade, Prafin and Jump Star. This is a mix of perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass and smooth stalked meadow grass.
The pitch is a 100% sand construction system with reinforcing mesh, which is something we took a gamble on and we are pioneers of what, at this current time, is a novel idea in the industry. I am happy to share this information with Pitchcare readers as I think they will find it interesting.
It is not a hybrid; it's a natural, but not a conventional natural pitch. We could call it a reinforced, but being new, different, and a little unknown it escapes the current classifications. From my point of view, it possesses all the good attributes of a hybrid and a natural pitch, but is devoid of the handicaps of both.
The system was developed by Sport Relva, a construction company who specialise in Portuguese football pitches. They have renovated the pitch for the last two years and we have developed a good relationship with them; they understood our need for a healthy/robust grass system.
The rooting profile is pure sand, which is immediately stabilised by a specific mesh, 3-4cm below the surface. The roots grow through and around the mesh providing a stable playing surface. We have achieved root depths of between 10-25cm.
Personally, I find the system to be extraordinary; it provides a great talking point and, most of all, is performing at a high level with intensive use and maintenance.
The construction allows the grass to be grown in a similar way to hydroponics; with a very high amount of oxygen in the rootzone, minimal compaction and rapid response to fertilisation and treatments.
We are experiencing very low incidences of fungal disease and a high drainage capacity because of the construction's 0% organic matter content. Organic matter will be generated by the turf itself little by little, and we will manage it to keep it at the lowest possible levels.
The idea behind building a profile without organic matter is that, despite its virtues as a colloidal complex, in my experience, and I think most of my peers will agree, it is the cause of most of the problems we suffer on sports turf. Here, we are developing and checking that, on a high maintenance pitch, the organic matter is expendable and replaceable under construction if certain aspects are taken care of.
We are collaborating on our findings, and I think the general trend is to decrease its percentage in the construction of the football pitches' profile. I am sure it will be debated but, in my opinion, I am convinced that, in the future, it will no longer be completely added to the ground of most high-level sports pitches.
The main problems you would expect to find with this type of construction are a low cation exchange capacity, a lack of water retention and the leaching of nutrients. Still, using the right granule fertiliser technology, coupled with the addition of zeolite, for example, we have surprisingly had virtually equal water and nutrient requirements or only slightly higher than in other sports pitches of the same high performance based on conventional sand.
Once the roots criss-cross through the mesh, it gives you what I would describe as a solid block of grass-mesh-roots-sand, making the surface much more resistant to rotational torque values, surface breakage and divoting. In short, we have a system that allows it to behave no different from hybrid pitches in terms of strength and immediate stability. Our pitch also has lower hardness levels similar to that of the more natural based pitch.
Where does irrigation water come from?
Our water comes from the Pisuerga River in northern Spain, the Duero's second largest tributary. It is extracted using a pump by the city council to irrigate the local parks, gardens, and the needs of our stadium and Sports City. It is slightly alkaline, but the quality is acceptable. We perform water analysis every three to four months, as well as soil and leaf analyses.
Number of training surfaces?
The facilities we have at the club include two natural grass pitches and the stadium pitch for the first team, and two synthetic grass pitches for Team B and the lower categories. The first team, until October 2020, had only one training pitch plus the stadium. This training camp was built around 1982 and has had a lot of use, with 4-6 sessions per week. The drainage system was failing and would struggle to cope with continuous rainfall.
Since then, we have been able to rotate training between a new second natural grass pitch and the existing pitch.
The sports city project will provide more natural and synthetic grass fields, a mini stadium, buildings for the club's teams and offices, plus a renovated and well-designed facility for the surfaces maintenance crew.
Apart from the first team pitches, we support and advise on the maintenance of another municipal natural grass pitch in a neighbouring town, which is the current training headquarters of the second team, which also has a synthetic pitch. This B team - Real Valladolid Promesas - plays their matches on the old training ground of the first team. Finally, at the end of 2020, we finished building in another area of the present sports city a new artificial pitch for the schools and lower categories of Real Valladolid C.F., replacing the original natural pitch. More than 500 children had used this pitch.
What tasks are carried out at the end of the season?
It depends on several factors. We usually triple or quadruple scarify with the Amazone scarifier, taking out 80% of the existing plant. This is followed by some form of aeration and a substantial topdress. Recently, we have been overseeding with Poa pratensis alone at the beginning of summer, as it develops better than the ryegrass in the heat, and later we reseed with Perennial Ryegrass in early autumn and the rest of the year.
This has not yet been the case but, if possible and summer events leave sufficient time for regeneration, I would like to use the Koro Field Top Maker. The stadium mesh is disposable and the price is negligible. It can be maintained or removed with the Koro and placed back again before overseeding.
This season, the rapid renovation was carried out by scarification, hollow coring and overseeding. The pitch has responded in an exemplary way, maintaining excellent health, and it is not easy to find a Poa Annua plant in it. It's now two years since it was constructed and we could not be more satisfied.
On 20th June 1928, Real Valladolid Deportivo was born from the merger of two Vallisoletan clubs: Real Unión Deportiva and Club Deportivo Español.
The first match was held on 22nd September 1928 at the Campo de la Sociedad Taurina (next to the town's bullring) against Alavés, with a 2-1 victory. The club's first ever goal was scored by Sainz. The first president was Pedro Zuloaga Mañueco and the first coach, Hungarian Esteban Platko.
In the first official match (Regional Championship), Real Valladolid beat the U.D. Burgos 12-0.
In the first Spanish League system (28/29), the Federation placed Real Valladolid in Group B of the Second Division, where they finished in 5th place.
The club colours are violet and white stripes. The team plays in La Liga, holding home games at the Estadio José Zorrilla, which seats 27,846 spectators.
Valladolid's honours include a single trophy of great relevance, the defunct Copa de la Liga 1983-84. It has been runner-up in the Copa del Rey on two occasions (1949-50 and 1988-89), and has participated in two editions of the UEFA Cup (1984-85 and 1997-98) and also one edition of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1989-90).
The team subsidiary - Real Valladolid B - currently play in the Segunda División B.
Since its La Liga debut in the 1948-49 season - in which it became the first club from the region to play in La Liga (five others have since done so) - Valladolid is the most successful football club in Castile and León by honours and history, with a total of 44 seasons in the First Division, 35 in the Second and 10 in the Third. Historically, Valladolid is the 12th-best team in Spain by overall league points. Two of its players have won the Pichichi Trophy: Manuel Badenes and Jorge da Silva; and ten have been internationals with the national team.
On 3rd September 2018, it was announced that Brazilian former international footballer Ronaldo Nazario had become the majority shareholder after purchasing a 51% controlling stake in the club. As of April 2020, Ronaldo owned 82% of the club shares.