Manic two weeks at the Millennium
It's Saturday 15th May, one week before the Rugby League Cup Final between St Helens and Wigan. The Konica Minolta Final (the Welsh Rugby Union Cup Final) is being played between Caerphilly and Neath. The Final finishes about 7.00pm and we have less than 7 days to resurface the whole of the Millennium Stadium and have it ready for rugby league's showpiece event. My part in all this is as acting Head Groundsman, sub contracted by Inturf, the company in charge of the Millennium contract.
- Immediately after the game, Kestrel moved in with 2 Koro machines and 3 tractors and trailers to strip off the pitch. They removed between 15 and 20mm of the existing vegetation,totalling about 300 tonnes, which was stockpiled underneath the stand. They finished that element of the work at about 1.00am Sunday morning,
Sunday- Very early, two of the Kestrel lads arrived with lorries to move the rubbish away from underneath the stand.
Levels overall on the pitch were not too bad. The use of the spring tine harrow was basically to providing a tilth for the new turf. The turf had started arriving Saturday night, 15m x lm rolls supplied by Lindum's from the Vale of York area.
It wasn't the best of starts because the whole re-laying process, even with the new machine, was scheduled to take until the Tuesday teatime. On the Sundayafternoon, they were still trying to get the machine functioning. A local engineer was called in to try and sort the problem while, in the meantime they lads had reverted to the more traditional way of laying the big roll turf, on a spindle on the back of a tractor which was then rolled out. It wasn't ideal, but better than nothing.
By 4.30 pm they managed to get the joystick partly operational so, with a couple of lads assisting, they started laying turf with the machine. The turf was laid inruns the length of the pitch. They were laying 120 linear meters of turf in about 30 minutes. By this time, some of the turf had got heat stressed and was black in the middle. Probably caused by the warm weather and damp on the turf. When it is rolled up the middle of the roll starts to cook caused by the bacteria multiplying and the grass dies back. There were a number of rolls on the first day, which were not acceptable and had to be re-laid. On that first day we worked until 3.00am on the Monday morning.
- Back in at 9.00am and we had a good day. The lads broke the back of laying the turf. They got to about 10 metresover half way. The quality of the turf was excellent and was going down straight away. I was watering some of the turf that had already gone down, but I was mainly making sure everyone had everything they wanted and ensuring the turf was going down ok. We worked until after midnight.
Tuesday- Back in first thing and it was clear that we were not going to finish by teatime as originally planned. During the morning a couple of loads of badly heat stressed turf arrived, but they were impossible to spot until they were laid out. Instead of stopping and relaying, the lads decided to continue the operation and sort the problem out afterwards. They finished laying the whole pitch at midnight, but there was a lot of snagging to do. In somequarters I was described as being pedantic but with major finals coming up, I had to make sure it was right. I couldn't afford to take any chances. With more time for over seeding and top dressing at our leisure, I may have accepted moreturf, but we didn't have the luxury of that time. As the turf was going down a couple of Kestrel lads were starting to deal with the snagging. These included joints that overlapped, open joints where theturf had not butted together tightly, holes in the turf caused by stones, or gaps underneath where the turf had been stretched. I used yellow mushroom pegs across the pitch identifying areas that needed to be addressed.
- We continued with the snagging, which included replacing some rolls that were heat stressed, entirely or in part. This work carried on until after midnight. I was putting water on parts of the pitch where I could and making sure the machinery was ready for use on the pitch as soon as the lads were off. I was also involved in a number of briefing meetings relating to the forthcoming final. We had not cut the pitch at all and there were less than 3 days to the final. There was some concern expressed, understandably, at the lateness of the work, but I did my best to pacify everyone. All the lads involved knew how important it was to get everything ready on time and were working as hard as they possibly could.
Thursday- First thing I did was call in Alan Abel from Complete Weed Control. He had been on standby since the Tuesday and he arrived about 5.30am. He sprayed the pitch with a foliar feed liquid fertilizer, also some Maxicrop 6 that is an iron and nitrogen supplement. Some straight calcium and amino acids also went down to help strengthen the plant.
Considering the turf was newly laid the overall pitch levels were quite good. I was more concerned about getting the pitch presentation ready for the Rugby League Final; Levels were not the highest priority for a game played with the ball off the floor.
I had spoken with Wayne Nash at Cardiff City FC and explained the situation we were in. He kindly agreed to send 2 of his staff, Phil (Head Groundsman) and Simon, with their Allett mowers to help us out. We had 4 mowers working on the pitch. We weren't actually cutting, just rolling with the cylinder mowers. We rolled in both directions twice. We didn't cut the pitch at all because I was concerned about the spraying, and wanted to make sure it had time to take effect. The ground was also still a bit wet and I didn't want to risk blackening off the grass. Slightly fortuitously l had a group of students from Hartbury College who were visiting the Millennium Stadium as part of their course and although I was supposed to be giving them a seminar of maintaining stadia surfaces, I explained that we were behind schedule, so they rolled up their sleeves and joined in to help, moving string lines, moving the turning boards and generally tidying up. They did a great job. By later that afternoon, with the help of the lads from Cardiff it was beginning to look more like a sports turf area.
Friday- Now it was just the two of us, Lee Evans and I cut the pitch twice lengthways. We didn't cut across the turf because of the way the turf had been laid, lengthways. It was quite bumpy when we rolled the previous day. The pitch had had a thorough soaking overnight; it was watered for about 5 hours in total. On Friday it was softer which allowed us to iron it out as we did the cutting. We did our final cut across the pitch on the afternoon after both teams had had their familiarization visit to the stadium. To be fair to both coaches, they didn't
The levels had improved dramatically and the pitch presentation was beginning to look good. We then had the people from Quintus and Linemark to put down the logos, so we were under pressure to do our final mow by late afternoon. After cutting, it was a case of setting out and marking all the lines for the rugby league. We all finished about 11.00 pm.
Saturday - Powergen Rugby League Cup Final day.A mad rush to finish tidying up, finding sockets and putting up the posts, post protectors installed, putting flags and advertising wedges out, benches, barriers and so on. There were rehearsals on the morning. Afterwards we had to remark some of the lines to make them brighter for television. We did some last minute checking for holes and depressions in the pitch and basically continued to do everything we could to make sure it was as good as possible for the teams to play on.
After the celebrations were over we were back out watering the pitch until 11.00pm. Got a little bit more preparation to do for something called the FA Cup Final!
Sunday- Lee and I were both in divotting the pitch, Due to the longer grass that we'd left there was very little damage to the pitch, just a few scuffs here and there. Of all the winter sports, Rugby League definitely causes the least damage. It was hot as well, so I irrigated the pitch, following the sun's shadow around the perimeter, finally watering the middle of the park once the sun was off the pitch.
Monday-We started to reduce the height of cut, the grass had grown to around 45mm, in just a few days, so we did our first cut at 35mm. The levels had been excellent for the Powergen Cup Final but now they needed to be improved. The problem being that reducing the height of cut too far would result in scalping high spots. The spreader available in the stadium was not spreading dressing correctly, leaving a pile of material down the middle of the track. The two spinners on the back of the machine didn't seem to spread the material very well at all. As the clock was ticking, I made some enquiries and Inturf managed to source a Cushman Top dresser, lent kindly by The Vale of Glamorgan GC.
This machine did a splendid job, and by the evening we had spread about 4-5tonnes of 70:30 root zone material lightly on the pitch. I brushed the dressing in afterwards using a Sisis drag brush.
Tuesday- I continued to top dress, using another 10 tonnes of material; brushing it in afterwards. Then 1 turned on the irrigation, to find that no water was coming out of the rain guns. I checked the pump room filters, which seemed fine, and was at a loss to why we had no pressure. I spoke to Mike the maintenance man, and he told me that there was a holding tank underneath the paving on the River Walk outside the stadium. We tried, unsuccessfully to remove the manhole cover, and Mike said that it had never been opened in the five years since the stadium was opened. Eventually, after trying manhole keys, iron bars, bottle and trolley jacks, I borrowed a forklift and lifted the cover.
There was barely 6 inches of water left in the bottom of this huge tank; clearly the float switches were not working, as they should have allowed the tank to defile with mains water, once the water dropped to a level in the tank.
Mike and his team, very kindly rigged up a series of 2" hoses from a mains outlet on the far side of the stadium, around the pitch, up through the stands and out onto the River Walk to the tank opening. We left the tank filling all night.
Wednesday- I finished putting down the last 7-8tonnes of root zone and brushed it in. The levels were improving and Lee and I cut the pitch at 30 mm both ways. I then started to water the pitch, again turning on the pipes that filled the tank outside. Water pressure was excellent, and I finished the watering about (11pm after five solid hours).
Thursday-Alan Abel arrived at 8am to spray the pitch (again-l hear you say!) with Maxicrop 6. This product enables a rapid green up, and with an estimated viewing audience of 2.7 billion people for the FA Cup final it was well worth doing.
By lunchtime the chemical had dried on the leaf, and in the meantime Lee and I had measured out the area for football and installed markings around the perimeter for our new mowing blocks. The FA had asked for quite thin bands in both directions, although they hadn't specified width. The only prerequisite was that the bands were parallel to the lines of play.
In the afternoon, Lee and I double cut the pitch to the new mowing bands, reducing the height of cut to 24mm. We felt that we could not cut any lower, without scalping a few high spots. The pitch had a light 2-hour watering in the evening.
- Lee and I started early, mowing the pitch in both directions by lunchtime. We then had to stop for five hours as we first had visits from both Millwall and Manchester United and then a four-hour dress rehearsal of nearly a hundred children and Para's involved in the main day celebrations. These rehearsals involved children unfurling giant shirts, and the Para's building and then striking down the centre staging and winners podium quite a few times.
With further delays from various TV companies doing Friday evening sports broadcasts from the stadium, Lee and I finally got back to our mowing about 7pm, we mowed the pitch again both ways. By about 10 pm, the water went on briefly, but conscious of the fact that we were going to start mowing again a few hours later-we didn't want it too wet.
Saturday-FA CUP Final day-We attempted to get some sleep In the first aid room, but by 1 am we were both up, checking the mowers, refilling fuel tanks and setting the blades. By the time string lines were in place, Lee and I started mowing at 2am, double cutting the pitch each way,
By 8am, we had cut the pitch 8 times in less than 24 hours, the presentation looked excellent. I moved the string lines to the markers on the side that defined the pitch boundary and started to mark the surface from scratch.
Lee continued with the mowing, striping up the surrounds, but only after he'd brushed them first to remove any previous nap.
We had some additionallabour in from Inturf and I got them to help erect goalposts and hang nets, pick up grass debris left from the mowers and any other rubbish/tools that were left lying about.
One of the lads helped move string lines for me as I completed the six and eighteen yard boxes.
The game itself for me was impossible to enjoy, I spent most of it watching to see if there would be any bobbles or miss kicks due to the pitch. There weren't, and in the end the whole event seemed to be over no sooner had it started.
After the game, long after the teams had left the pitch, the crowds had gone and the TV guys had de-rigged; Lee and I reviewed the pitch. Apart from the surface scrapes and scars-which were superficial, the pitch had played magnificently-it had been a great experience for both of us and we felt that our hard work had been handsomely paid.Now only a week before the Nationwide Play-off Finals-but tonight we're going to sleep soundly.