Now into its second year of play, Bristol City's Fibrelastic pitch is still wooing the players who enjoy the benefits of better traction and a softer, more resilient surface to play on.
The club first considered using Fibrelastic in September 2006 after seeing results from the initial trials carried out on the new product by the STRI. Head Groundsman, Craig Richardson, then visited the trial grounds at Bingley in West Yorkshire with his Managing Director, Doug Harman, and Group Chief Executive, Colin Sexstone in February 2007. There they met met Steve Baker, the STRI's Head of Soils and Sports Surface Science. Needless to say, they were impressed with what they saw.
The fact that they would get extra resilience, increased traction and a softer playing surface was of great interest.
After a number of meetings the club chose to go ahead and install Fibrelastic for the 2007/08 season.
A typical Fibrelastic Rootzone (FERTZ) comprises 80% by volume sand and 20% by volume organic matter (soil and/or compost), reinforced with both polypropylene and elastane fibres.
The four components of FERTZ are:
Sand: The sand gives the pitch its free draining characteristics, enabling any surface water after heavy rain to disappear rapidly.
Organic matter (OM): OM provides the nutrient source vital for healthy grass growth.
Polypropylene fibres: Rigid staple fibres (35mm in length) randomly spread throughout the profile impart three dimensional strength and provide stability.
Elastane Fibres: Soft flexible fibres of varying length, and present in significantly greater numbers than the polypropylene fibres, act principally to absorb the impact energy at the surface of the pitch.
Craig was already managing a fibresand pitch at Bristol City, and was keen to learn more about the elastic properties of the new fibre and what it offered in terms of pitch performance. Also, at that time, the club where considering sharing the ground with Bristol Rugby Club, so the idea of having a more resilient, softer pitch seemed a logical step.
The three main advantages over other fibre reinforced sand dominant pitches are:
1) A reduction in surface hardness - less jarring of limbs and lower risk of player injury.
2) An increase in surface resilience - more energy feedback to players feet, therefore a less tiring surface.
3) A further increase in rootzone cohesion - increased traction, therefore less surface disturbance.
Work began in May 2007, with Premier Pitches installing the new fibre and rootzone materials and Pugh Lewis putting in additional sand slits to improve drainage performance.
The top 100mm was koroed off, replacing it with 1400 tonnes of new rootzone material, of which 3.3% was made up of the new fibrelastic material. The pitch was then laser levelled and overseeded with MM60 seed.
Some zeolite was put into the pitch to improve the CEC (cation exchange capacity) of the rootzone along with a programme of PrimoMaxx to increase shoot and root density whilst, at the same time, controlling excessive top growth.
It was then a case of promoting a dense grass cover and deep rooting to tie everything together. It was then business as usual, with an intense programme of feeding, watering and mowing to get the pitch ready for the new season.
Mowing is undertaken with two Dennis G860's making good use of the brush, verticut and sarrel roller cassettes. Craig maintains a height of between 18-23mm during the closed season, raising to 25mm for the playing season. Blades are sharpened every six weeks.
The only major difference to the maintenance regime in that first year was a change in the frequency and timing of his aeration works. On the old fibresand pitch a programme of weekly solid tine spiking, backed up with a monthly deep vertidraining, was the norm. However, with the new, softer fibrelastic, Craig changed the frequency of aeration to monthly, ensuring that none was done too close to a game to avoid destabilising the pitch.
Craig was pleased with how the new pitch performed in the first year. The players from Bristol City and visiting teams praised the quality of the surface, and there were certainly fewer divots to repair.
The renovations for 2008/9 were restricted to fraise mowing the vegetation off, topdressing with 60 tonnes of sand and overseeding with MM60.
With the purchase of a pedestrian Toro Procore aerator, Craig reverted to a weekly programme of aeration with the aim of encouraging deeper rooting whilst, at the same time, maintaining porosity and free draining properties of the top 100mm of the pitch profile.
With over thirty games played at the ground, along with a number of corporate matches, the pitch continued to perform well throughout the season. To help Craig monitor the performance of pitch, the club employed the services of the STRI who undertook a number of tests throughout the playing season measuring:
• Pitch hardness with a 2.25 Kg Clegg Hammer dropped from 0.45m
• Grass cover (BS EN 12231: 2003)
• Surface Traction
• Volumetric water content of the top 60mm
It would appear, from the results of these tests, that the new pitch exceeds the standards of performance for league football pitches.
After two years of testing, and seeing the benefits the players get from improved comfort and traction, this concept appears to be a way forward in the development of better pitches. So much so that the players are now complaining about the hardness of the training pitches!
And, that appears to be the next investment at Bristol City, so that the playing conditions at both the stadium and training grounds are pretty much the same.