"You could tell the money-men were pleased with themselves, having thwarted the groundstaff's attempt to spend some money"
It is that time of year when those of us within the football side of things will be well into our end of season renovations.
Without doubt, this is the most important operation of the year and needs to be done right.
At our club, we use outside contractors. We cannot justify the outlay for the items of machinery required to do the job. Having a fibresand surface we like to go for a koro/fraise every year, but this does not always happen due to various reasons.
The way it works is the groundstaff find several contractors willing to do the work to our specification. This is usually done around six months prior to the end of the season. The contractors send their quotes in and it is then left to the money-men at the club to decide which company to use for the job.
On seeing the specification for the renovation, the aforementioned money-men tend to come for a chat and ask questions. "Is 100 tonnes of sand really needed?" and "can we get away with less seed?" are the two favourite ones.
It never ceases to amaze me that an operation that transforms the playing surface, and costs less than £10,000, is picked over by those at the club in charge of finance. They have seen the before and after so many times, and heard a succession of managers proclaim what a great job has been done with the pitch during the close season, but still they try to cut down on the amount of sand to save £1,000.
What frustrates me is that they think we are spending money for the hell of it, not that we want a superb surface for the team to play on. Surely, the pitch is the most important factor at any club? Or is that just my bigoted groundsman's view?
Usually, around March/April time, the decision is made on which company to use for the renovation, but not before the money-men have questioned if we need a renovation at all. They have seen the grass start to grow and get some colour back at the start of spring, and think that all is well pitch-wise. We then have to explain about thatch, black layer and infestation of poa annua, all of which needs sorting out, along with the general wear and tear to the surface.
We were totally thrown one year, in December, when we were just about to start sounding out a few companies over renovation, when the club announced a concert for the stadium in mid June. There had been no consultation with the groundstaff over the date, which made renovation of the surface impossible. There was not enough time, from the end of the season to before the concert, to get the grass established; and not enough time after the concert, until the first pre-season friendly, to do it then. We made our feelings felt but you could tell the money-men were pleased with themselves, having thwarted the groundstaff's attempt to spend some money.
The surface suffered the following season and, despite our best efforts, did not look good from Christmas to March. It did, though, highlight what a vital job end of season renovation is.
Once the club has chosen a contractor to do the renovation, he likes to have a date when he can come in and do the job. This is not as easy as would appear. The contractor tends to have several renovations during this period of time and wants to maximise his output. He does not want to be criss-crossing the country to various jobs, but have a route planned from one job to another.
Although you have a definite date when your last home game is, you always have to allow for the team having play-off involvement. When liaising with the contractor in March for a suitable date, and with the team languishing in mid table, it is very tempting to say as soon as the last regular league game is played, "get in here and complete the work". But, a seven game unbeaten run through March and April can put the team on the fringes of the playoffs, so you must always err on the side of caution.
We usually go for the week after the end of May Bank Holiday week. We did have a manager who, having secured a Wembley play-off final appearance, decided to use the pitch to train on in the week leading up to the final. To us it was not a problem; we just wanted the team to have the best possible chance of winning that one-off game. As the play-off finals tend to be towards the end of May Bank holiday period, the week after is usually a safe bet.
Keep the faith; and keep cutting the grass, after all that's all you do.