No time for rest with the ground share at Wakefield
By David Markham
Steve Dutton had been taking an anxious look at the weather as he prepared Wakefield Trinity Wildcats' pitch for their Rugby League Challenge Cup match against Castleford Tigers on Sat Feb 8.
Not only was it an important cup match between two local rivals, but also BBC TV chose it as one of their two live matches with the benefits of increased profile for the club and the much needed TV cash.
Steve's problems were made worse by the extremes of weather during the week. It began with frost and snow but, fortunately for everyone, the weather turned milder by Friday.
He said: "We put our Tildenet covers on the pitch to protect it from the frost even though the forecast said it was going to get milder for the weekend. The covers give protection up to minus three degrees centigrade, anything below that penetrates the covers, but they still give some protection."
With three senior clubs using Belle Vue, Steve's leads a hectic and demanding life as Groundsman with up to 80 football and rugby league matches per year. For, not only is Belle Vue the traditional home of Super League club Wakefield Trinity, but Leeds United play their Premiership Reserve matches there and Unibond League football club Wakefield Emley have also moved there.
This is because their ground at the hill top village Emley does not meet the standards required to match their ambitions of gaining a place in the Nationwide Conference.
An example of the hectic schedule Steve has to cope with comes later in February with three matches and a training session in a five day spell. Wakefield Emley play Runcorn on Tuesday, February 18, Leeds United Reserves play Newcastle United two days later on Thursday, February 20 and Wakefield Trinity play Hull on Sunday, February 23 with a Rugby League training session on the Saturday - February 22.
This schedule involves changing posts and marking lines for each match, giving Steve hardly time to put back the divots.
Steve has been Groundsman for eight years, but his involvement with Wakefield Trinity goes back much longer. He said: "Wakefield Council used to look after the pitch when they owned the ground, but I have been here for 15 years, cleaning the dressing rooms after the games and looking after the kit, which means travelling to all Trinity's matches. "
His workload will soon increase when he begins to look after four pitches at nearby Sandal RUFC in exchange for Sandal allowing the Trinity players to use their pitches for training. He said: "It means a lot of hard work, but we have been lucky with the weather this winter. When you have £6 million or £7 million players running around on it as we have with Premiership reserve matches the pitch has got to be as good you can make it.
With all the year round sport, re-seeding can be a problem. I have to re-seed in-between matches and hope there might be a fortnight's break to do my seeding. When grounds are solely devoted to football, there is up to a 12 week close season, but with Rugby League playing through the summer there are matches all the year round.
We had the pitch verti-drained before Christmas and generally it has played pretty well. It is an old pitch - mainly soil, certainly more soil than sand, but we apply about 50 to 60 tons of sand each year to try to redress the balance. Having said that the pitch dries out fairly well."
Steve used two lots of fertilizer last year. In the spring he used ten to 12 bags of Microgran fertilizer 12-6-6 NPK and then in the autumn a 5-5-10 NPK with a five per cent trace of Iron (Fe).
Having Leeds United playing their reserve matches at Belle Vue is a financial boost to Trinity and Steve said: "Leeds are happy with our pitch and facilities. Their match against Middlesbrough should have been called off because of the state of the pitch, but they wanted to play to get Robbie Fowler fit." Later in the season Wakefield are looking forward to a 10,000 capacity crowd for the visit of Manchester United Reserves.
Steve is indebted to Trinity's associate director Trevor Schofield and his business Horbury Mowers for much of his equipment. He has use of a Ransomes Mastiff mower with Kohler 15hp engine - and hopes to get some roller and brush attachments for the tractor. He also a Dabro slitter to keep the pitch aerated, a Sisis seeder and an Allett mower.