Working on a shoe string budget
By David Markham
Bradford City Groundsman, David Dobson, has joined the chorus of criticism of footballers who damage pitches by excessive warm-up and warm-down procedures.
David, who has been Groundsman at Valley Parade since May 2001 - just before City were relegated from the Premiership - said: "Our worst problem is the warm-ups before the match and the warm downs afterwards. They seem to do more damage than the game itself. The warm-up starts any time after 2pm and the players are on the pitch for half an hour afterwards and then there is the practice done by the non-playing substitutes. It means the pitch is used not just for 90 minutes but the usage goes on for three hours or so."
Now, the Premier League and the Football League have addressed the problem after Groundsmen approached them to complain about the damage being done to their pitches. "I hope the directive they have issued might have some effect," said David.
David is pleased with the weather this season. He said: "It's has been a good winter. We have had a mild winter and autumn following a good summer and there was grass growth until early December. Up to Christmas the pitch was in good condition. The wear and tear has come in the last six weeks - January and February are the worst times for the pitches. "Last summer we engaged Michael Sewards sports ground contractors from York to hollow tine the pitch and then we applied 80 tons of top dressing - a 70-30 mix of sand and loam and then we over seeded. We use fertiliser regularly and we cut three times a week to give us a good sward of grass and we did some irrigation last summer."
Valley Parade doesn't suffer as much as some of the larger grounds where high stands restrict the amount of light and air, but David says: "We have had more shade since the main stand was extended three years ago and the north west corner linking the main stand and the kop stand was filled in. That means we don't get as much light and air on that side of the pitch and the grass growth is not as strong. All you can do is to sow a grass that will live in damp and dark conditions. Fortunately, there are grass mixtures that are a bit more durable in these conditions.
We use Barenbrug Bar Stadia which has been developed for grounds with shade and moisture problems. It helps by providing a stronger grass which doesn't come off as easily during matches, but you need to get the mixture right. Now, we are planning for the close season and we have approached Sewards to strip off the surface. They will use Koro Topmakers to strip off the foliage and break up the ground below. Then, we will apply about 100 tons of 70-30 sand and loam mix and sow using Bar Stadia.
David is frustrated at the lack of equipment at Valley Parade. Money is tight nowadays, but he believes the club should have invested in ground equipment when they were in the Premier League for two years between 1999 and 2001. "There has been a lack of investment over the years," he said. "That should have happened when the club were in the Premier League. I get frustrated when I see what is available at other clubs."
David uses a Dennis G8 60 mower and an 18-year-old Kubota tractor, but adds: "I could do with a new tractor with more equipment at the back of it. We spend money on contractors, but we could do the work ourselves if we had our own equipment. We are sadly lacking in equipment. We also need some new protective covers for the pitch. That would be another useful piece of equipment."At least Valley Parade is not used as much now as it was when David became Groundsman nearly three years ago. Then, Bradford Bulls Rugby League club shared Valley Parade while their stadium at Odsal was being re-developed. The Bulls' season overlapped with football at the beginning and at the end and this made for some hectic weekends for David and his staff in preparing pitches, changing markings and posts for both sports, but now there is only football - 23 League matches, 12 team reserve games plus cup ties.