Shade Problems at the Reebok
The design of the Reebok stadium is undoubtedly fascinating, but the problems that it creates for the ongoing management of the grass surface have been a learning curve for all of us.
The height of the television gantries in these new stadiums doesn't help the cause of the Groundsman either. The players and half of the stadium spectators will not notice the wear nearly as much on the match day. The high camera position highlights the wear on the surface of the pitch far greater when the pitch is then viewed on Match of the Day.
For the last eight months we have been running an environmental study in association with PSD (Northwest) Ltd. This study has highlighted the shade problems that are encountered at the Reebok, every month at the same time; we have checked light levels at a number of spots around the pitch. There is now a detailed report being finalised showing the results of how shade affects the grass growth in different areas at different times of the year. We suffer extremes of temperature in the stadium, particularly in the summer, the centre of the pitch can be at 100 degrees, under stress and susceptible to disease. Whereas the shaded wing is cooler and retains moisture, leading to healthy vibrant grass able to resist disease far better. In summary the pitch requires different management for different areas.
So far this season we have played 45 games and will end up with about 60-65 by the time our season ends. The club works on a 'throw away pitch' scenario, whereby at the end of the corporate and summer events held here, we strip off the surface and relay a new turf pitch in time for the start of the next season. Inturf grow a new pitch for us over at Grantham in a similar medium to the root zone profile that is under the turf. We will usually give ourselves about three weeks at the end of June to relay the pitch, which gives us about three weeks to get it prepared for the start of the next seasons football. However if the club get a concert booking, perhaps for the beginning of July, then the turfing is delayed. The lads at Inturf though will come in and get the pitch down when we are ready for them.
The club is a PLC and like most things these days, we need to try to return a profit. The pitch maintenance department has traditionally been a no return, running cost with no requirement to make money. Given that the grass is surrounded by this fantastic stadium, it makes sense to use it whenever possible.
The pitch is a fibresand construction; the new turf is grown in the fibre sand medium. So when we're ready to lift, we strip 30mm off the pitch with the Koro machine and relay with 30mm big roll turfs. It is so easy these days to come in during the season and relay a whole pitch in a matter of days.
The pitch now is looking a little threadbare and it would be nice to get some seed in to the ground to get it looking good, but it doesn't make commercial sense with the pitch being ripped up in a couple of months time. After the expense of the re-turfing each year, there isn't much left in my budget for the pitch.
What the club have done is make sure that we have enough of the right equipment to maintain the surface. At the main ground I have a couple of Dennis cylinder mowers with the interchangeable cassettes, a TC 27 tractor, a rapid core aerator and a vertidrain. We also have similar machinery at our training facility so the vertidrain is the only machine that we have to share.
If we feel that there is a new piece of machinery that will benefit us we buy it.
We have two more Premier league games at home, so since the last game two weeks ago, we have let the pitch take its natural course of recovery.
Apart from the last two League games we also look forward to some academy trial matches and a host of corporate entertainment on the pitch before the surface comes up. Once the new turf is laid, we will verticut and feed it to encourage the roots to take into the existing profile. We will do some top dressing to finalise levels, but with only 3-4 weeks to establish the root system, the surface is bound to deteriorate once we get in to October and grass growth and recovery slows down.