Southampton Groundsman Dave Roberts on the Clubs move from The Dell to St Mary's.
We took over the pitch officially from the 2nd week in August, although we had been maintaining the ground since June. The contractors who have built the stadium and the pitch had continued with the fertiliser applications while we were doing the mowing.
We were cutting at a height of 40ml using Mountfield pedestrian rotary mowers with the rollers on the back.
We were unable to get regular access so it was nearly one week before we could get to do a second cut, and then about half a week before the third. After that, we were cutting daily.
Once we felt that the ground was firm enough we used our Ransomes Mastiff over the surface, cutting at 35ml. After a couple of weeks we put the triple mower on because we were cutting daily, it just makes things a bit quicker and easier. The cut was set to 30ml and it was maintained at 30ml right the way up to and including the first game, which was a pre-season friendly in August.
All the work was done with the Toro 216 triple cylinder mower. Occasionally we brought the Ransomes Mastiff over as well to help firm the ground up. But the triple wasn't leaving wheel marks so we just decided to keep going with it.
Again, the constructors, Barr Facilities Management, did the watering a subsidiary company of Barr Construction who built the stadium. They did the watering as well as the fertilising. The fertiliser programme was basically straight urea, on a fortnightly basis, at the rate of about four 25kg bags of urea to the whole pitch.
I sprayed for disease. We had a case of leaf spot fairly early on, which is not unusual. We used Daconil. We also had a case of what we think was brown spot. We're still waiting for the lab results to come back because they lost the first lot of samples we sent.
We had brown patch as well, which produced some rather pretty circles in the pitch. It appears to be quite common. Some of the golf courses have had it and I believe West Ham, Spurs and Fulham. It just seems to be something that is hitting the pitches this year. It looks a bit like a fairy ring, it doesn't actually kill the grass, it just knocks it back. We used Rovral Green at the recommended rate but it has only checked the disease, not killed it off. We have to live with it at the moment. I spoke with a green keeper who used lawn sand for a similar problem; he had to do it twice on half rate but he said that it worked.
What we're doing at the moment is a similar sort of approach, but not just rock ferrous-sulphate. We are using a trace element package which is applied in a fairly low water volume but has very high concentrates of copper sulphate, iron sulphate and zinc sulphate. It has been knocking most of the diseases out. Since we've been using it we have had hardly any diseases. A local agronomist makes up the product to us, Philip Harborne. It is used a lot in places such as Germany, Luxembourg and Denmark. If it is applied right it seems to work quite well on fungicidal diseases.
As I said, I've got a problem with brown patch and we were recommended to use urea by Ken Soames, the course manager from Loch Lomond Golf Club. He advised urea, but you do have to be careful because we were having burn marks and misses. We had tartan grass, which is quite ironic with a Scottish construction company. We now have those problems sorted okay. Since the summer we have used a fully organic fertiliser because we have a problem with the stability of the pitch. The top is quite firm but when the players go in hard for tackles, they are leaving big heel impressions, and the surface is 'mushrooming up' a little bit.
The root growth though is very good. The root zone is only 8" deep and we've got roots right down to its full depth, but density isn't brilliant yet. The top half-inch has very good density and is fibrous but below that it is long straggly root. We are finding some root break during the games and training. Having said that, each match we are currently finding only two or three bad divots, which isn't too bad. But those divots are coming out as large lumps, perhaps 2-3 inches deep and about a foot square.
Water is not a huge problem on this new pitch. Bizarre as it sounds we're having to water less than we would if we had a greater root zone, because of the capillary action. You apply water and the water is held, so the top isn't drying out as quickly as the Dell pitch.
We have brought the cutting height down to 25mm, because of management requirements. To date we have played three games and had about five training sessions. The training sessions have been quite heavy, involving all the club players down to the third year apprentices. This isn't normal but it is important for the players to familiarise themselves with the new stadium, so it feels like their home ground.
This is a huge learning curve for me since moving from the Dell. The whole move to the new stadium has been a big change. My work patterns have changed, they have become more intense and I am doing things I never did before. I now roll the pitch and there is less shade to deal with, even though the stands are higher than the Dell. They are further away and, at the South end, we have had translucent sheets put in the roof. We now get sunlight on the goalmouth at that end.
The move has given my team and me a whole host of new challenges and, no doubt, some new problems to come. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to develop and maintain a Premier League class pitch from day one. Here at St Mary's we are all looking forward to it.
We are also looking forward to sharing these experiences, and problems, with Pitchcare members.