Gone are the days of bussing the team down to the local recreation ground, sports field or university pitch for training. Football is now full-on seven days a week with Academy players, youth squads, reserves and, of course, the first team all putting heavy demand on the facilities.
The club employ seven groundstaff to look after their playing and training facilities. Eddie Rutherford, the stadium manager, is in overall charge of operations. Michael Curran is the Head Groundsman and is responsible for all three of Newcastle's playing facilities - St James' Park Stadium, The Academy and the Civil Service Training Ground.
Andrew Tulley is Deputy Head Groundsman and spends the majority of his time at St James' Park. His responsibilities are to oversee all operations within the stadium and, in particular, the new lighting rigs that have been successful in keeping the turf in good condition throughout the winter months.
The remaining staff are George Green, Darren Atkinson, Anthony Jackson and Andrew Bowes who split their time between Newcastle's three facilities.
With stadium pitches now constructed using reinforced sand/soil systems such as Desso, Xtragrass and Fibersand for a firm, fast and free draining playing surface, not surprisingly, club managers want their training pitches to be constructed to the same standard.
Up until 2002, Newcastle United had hired training pitches from the Local Council but, that year, they acquired the old Civil Service Sports Club situated six miles east of the City. The ten hectare site offered plenty of scope for development.
The existing pitches were soil based. Some were upgraded by improving the rootzone, and the club also developed three Fibersand pitches and installed a full size indoor FieldTurf rubber crumb synthetic pitch.
The club also purchased a further eleven hectares of farmland adjacent to the first team headquarters. Here they built the Academy facility with three full size, two junior and three mini soccer pitches, plus a full size outdoor FieldTurf synthetic pitch.
Civil Service Site
In April 2002 work began on the Civil Service site. The topsoil was removed and the clay was cut and filled to level and create two plateaus.
Plateau 1 was the site for three Fibersand pitches. These were constructed with a 250mm layer of 10mm drainage grit. Then a 250mm layer of topsoil was added to retain nutrient content. This was then overlaid with a further 250 mm of 70/30 rootzone.
A primary and secondary drainage scheme was installed at 5 metre centres with secondary gravel banding at 1 metre centres. In May, a 50mm depth of Fibersand was laid and overseeded with a Barenbrug pure ryegrass mixture allowing four months to mature before training commenced in September.
Plateau 2, the site for three and a half full sized soil based pitches, was restored to a depth of 600 mm, levelled and seeded. A secondary gravel band system was later installed in 2004.
A fully automated Rainbird irrigation system was installed on both plateaus during the reconstruction with a total of 550 sprinkler heads able to deliver 10,000 gallons of water.
A major cutting and filling operation was needed to form the academy pitches. Apart from the FieldTurf construction all the pitches were soil based with a similar specification to those on the Plateau 2 site.
Maintenance of Fibersand pitches
The Fibersand pitches at the training grounds have been Koroed twice since their construction, first in 2004 when all three pitches were re-levelled and overseeded with Rigby Taylor's R14, and again in 2006, which involved the same process but incorporating a further 700 tons of sand that was cultivated into the top 100 mm to dilute the original fibre content that had become firm.
Levels were restored and oversown with Advanta MM60, a pure Ryegrass seed mix that included four top varieties (Doremi, Master, Sanremo and Verdi). The pitches were then fertilised with a pre seeding 20.10.10 applied at a rate of 350 Kg / hectare. Further applications were carried out every 18-21 days with Scotts 12.0.9 + fe and mg fertiliser.
All fertiliser products are applied using pedestrian machines, keeping tractor mounted equipment off the surfaces as much as possible.
The pitches were also treated, on three occasions through June, July and August, with an application of Mascots Fusonil Turf (active ingredient chlorothalonil) a fungicide to control outbreaks of leaf spot. The sward was cut and boxed off with Ransomes Mastiffs until established. Once established, the staff were able to use their Ransomes LF 300 fairway cylinder mower.
During the winter months the pitches are Verti-drained once a month with very little heave at 100 mm centres, the pitches are also slit tined in between the Verti-drain operations. A fertiliser regime is still maintained applying a granular 6.0.12 + fe, mg every 18 to 21 days.
Light scarifying is undertaken on a monthly basis with a tractor mounted Charterhouse Turf Tidy. Box mowing is undertaken on a weekly basis, normally on Thursday or Friday, using the Mastiffs set at 30mm.
Divoting is carried out on a daily basis; Pedestrian rotary cutters with boxes are used once a month to help keep the surface clean.
During the summer the pitches are cut daily using an LF300 fairway mower, leaving the clippings. Regular scarifying is carried out to reduce Annual Meadow grass and debris build up, and fertilised every 18 to 21 days with 12.0.9 + fe, mg at a rate of 350 / 400 kg/h. The irrigation system is used on a regular basis during dry weather with a drench and leave policy in place. Regular examination of the sward is undertaken for signs of any fungal activity and Verti-drained at four inch centres as and when required.
Maintenance regime for Soil Based Pitches.
In February 2004 the staff gravel banded the entire area at one-metre centres to a depth of 200 mm using 3-5 mm gravel. In 2005 the whole plateau was Koroed off to remove surface vegetation allowing a clean surface to add further gravel bands and topdressings of sand with 1000 tons of sand material being ameliorated into the top 100 mm. This was then oversown with MM40 pure ryegrass seed. In May 2006 the entire soil based plateau was sand mastered across the existing gravel bands.
Cutting with the LF300 is carried out six days a week and scarified on a regular basis. Verti-drained every six weeks with a lot of heave, and slit spiking in between Verti-draining. Pitches are fertilised every six to eight weeks using a tractor-mounted spreader applying a 12.0.9.fe mg minigran fertiliser. Irrigation is applied on an as required basis, taking care not over water and encourage Annual Meadow Grass.
Cutting with Mastiff and boxes, as and when weather conditions allow, taking care not to destroy the structure of the soil. Verti-draining every month with maximum heave. Slit spiking when conditions allow. Light scarifying is carried out with the Turf Tidy to sweep any debris off the surface. Fertilised every 6 to 8 weeks with 6.0.12.fe mg. Divoting on a daily basis
FieldTurf indoor/outdoor areas
These artificial areas are extensively used with over 60 hours use a week, mainly during evenings and weekends. Being fairly long pile systems it is important to keep them brushed to stand the pile up and, more importantly, keep them free of debris and contamination.
They are brushed with tractor mounted oscillating brush on a monthly basis and a light brushing with 440mm pedestrian Sisis scarifier as and when required to clean surface of any debris. Pitch markings are re-lined 2-3 times per season.
St James' Park Stadium Pitch
The pitch is a Fibersand construction and maintained in much the same way as the training pitches, however, the pitch receives additional treatments in response to the way they use the new SGL lighting rigs. The club have been using these rigs for over two years now. In that time the groundstaff have learned many new techniques in managing a pitch under lights.
On match days all seven staff are on duty. Once the match has been completed they begin the task of repairing and preparing the pitch for the next match. The first job is to divot the pitch. They set off from one touchline, working down the length of the pitch.
As soon as they get to the 18-yard line two members of staff then start mowing the pitch using pedestrian rotary mowers; this helps clean up the sward. At this stage the lights can be brought out. It takes 35 minutes to set up the lighting rigs; four, 2m high rigs being laid out the full length of the pitch. The staff will continue divoting and mowing until they complete the whole pitch. By this time it is well into the wee small hours.
It takes five moves, over ten days, to complete the lighting cycle, It is important that the sward receives enough light, usually 400 hours, to begin seeing a response. The club have also bought two smaller rigs that are used extensively in the goalmouth areas.
The cost of these lighting rigs is not cheap - at £60,000 per rig plus the running cost of £20,000 a year. However, the benefits outweigh these costs. Since having these lights the club have not had to re-turf at all. Usually 1-2 re-turfs were required each season.
Watering and feeding are key activities at the stadium pitch now the turf has the ability to grow all year round and with the lights generating a lot of heat. The stadium pitch is boxed mowed with Ransomes nine bladed cylinder Matador at least once a week throughout the winter period and always before a game. Grass height is kept at 23 mm all year round.
Hewitts Sportsturf Contractors carry out the end of season renovation at both the stadium and training grounds. This work usually involves Koroing off, topdressing and overseeding.