DURING the off-season, it is still very-much business as usual for the staff who work behind-the-scenes at the Pirelli Stadium.
That is especially true for the groundstaff at the club who, at the start of every season, provide a brand new playing surface fit for the stars of English football. Last season our pitch played host to footballing greats such as Sergio Aguero, Riyad Mahrez and Lucas Akins.
But the preparations for Head Groundsman Simon Marshall and groundstaff Stan Wallis and Josh Nixon in preparing the pitch start long before the first home game of the season.
This summer marked the second phase in a two-year plan of improving the drainage to help conditions when bad weather strikes. We spoke to Simon to find out how much hard work is required to grow 7,000 metre-squared of grass.
“As part of our two-year plan with improved drainage, we started off by taking the top of the surface off as we usually do,” he said. “The plan then was to do the secondary drainage.
“Last year, primary drainage was put in and that is about three quarters of a metre deep. It made for a big improvement, but for the water to get down to that, you need to put in the secondary drainage. It was always the plan to do the secondary drainage this year. We have done everything we can to improve the pitch without a full reconstruction.”
So once the old pitch had been dug up and the new drainage put in underneath, what was the next step?
“The area was top-dressed with a root-zone. To ameliorate the root-zone with fibre-sand, the cultivator comes on, mixes all the sand together over the drains and you start to get your levels back. Then we cultivated it a few more times, which again mixes the fibre-sand into the root-zone and evenly distributes it.
“Whilst we were doing that, we were mixing fertiliser which so that it was in the surface ready for when the water gets on it. It helps the plant uptake as soon as the seed pops, so when the plant comes through it will start to pick up the nutrients.
“Once we had done all that, it was all levelled and once it was flat enough, we looked at seeding it. Another fertiliser goes down on the top, then it was just a case of watering it and hoping for the best!”
And how long does it take to start looking more like a football pitch, once seeding has taken place?
“Usually you expect to see germination four or five days after (seeding), which we have got but it is not consistent across the whole pitch yet. You’re looking that, by nine days in, to expect to see it green all over.
“We are feeding it heavily because you have to push it through at this time of year. You’re also watering because the temperatures pick up at this time of year, so it needs lots of water, lots of feed, warm temperatures and cutting every day, which encourages the plant to tiller.
“It just goes crazy from then on. I do it every year and it still amazes me every year, how it goes from nothing to a full pitch so quickly. This year we have around seven weeks growing which is more than last year. It is around the minimum that you want for a good grow. The more you get, the stronger the pitch is when you start on it.”
How will the pitch help the football we will be seeing at the Pirelli Stadium next season?
“It helps from a style-of-play side of things because the worse the drainage, the quicker the grass coverage disappears. The less grass you have got the harder it is to play nice football on. We have done quite well in terms of grass cover.
“Last year was the best we have had through the winter. It was a mild winter so part of it was due to that, part of it is down to the conditions on match-days.
“The manager [Nigel Clough] wants to play nice football, so the more grass we can keep, the better. He is pretty positive with it. He allows us to do stuff that will protect the pitch a little bit as well. A lot of managers would just say that they want it ‘like this’, and that’s it, but we have a bit of dialogue with the manager and we work together on that side of things.”