As I spend a lot of time carrying out landscape maintenance with in Worcestershire and gardening in Worcestershire that any reader of my blog posts will think that that’s all I do. But I do have other interests as well, and this weekend, with the Premier League entering its most critical week, where underdogs Leicester City need to secure a win, away, at Manchester united’s aptly named ‘theatre of dreams’ to be crowned champions. I have a fondness towards Leicester and like most would love the underdog to win through.
I have visited Leicester on three occasions to watch my own team, Hereford United, play. Once visiting the old Filbert street ground in a F.A Cup game where we lost in extra time in a replay and twice to the Walkers. The first occasion was a playoff final game where Hereford overcame Halifax to gain promotion to the football league on 20th May 2006 (nearly 10 years ago) The second occasion was when we played Leicester city in a league game at the Walkers as recently as 2008. The fortunes of the both teams have been a contrast while Leicester look to be crowned Champions of England, Hereford have reformed after being liquidated and have started the long fight back to league football after gaining promotion from tier 9 of the football pyramid in our first season as Hereford FC.
Any way I slightly digress from my main thought and topic of this blog. How many times, I ask you, have you watched a match and given more than a passing thought to the condition of the grass on the pitch, and of how much effort has gone into managing its growth? Probably, not much. But for me, as someone who, at this time of year, seems to be spending ever more of my time cutting grass and obsessing over improving the standard of my clients lawns, and in some instances grass Tennis courts, I found that I was inspecting the condition of the ground with more attention than the match I was supposed to be watching!
But the actual logistics of managing a pitch to get it in the right condition for match day are quite onerous. In an interview with the Leicester Mercury, last June, the head grounds man for Leicester City, John Ledwidge (who Instant Scenery follow on twitter) gave the Leicester Mercury a wonderful interview about the ground and what it takes to keep the pitch in health.
Pitches for the Premier League, which must conform to high regulatory standards, have undersoil heating systems that aim to keep the ground frost free and to thaw the pitch on cold days. This means that the groundsmen working on pitches like these have to be fully aware of what they are doing: back in 2005, there were concerns about the safety of Falkirk’s undersoil heating system – where critics said that groundsmen who might be forking the turf could be in danger of electrocution. And these undersoil heating systems are big as well: at Old Trafford, there is more than 18 miles of undersoil heating equipment. (The cost of these have to be weighed against the cost of a postponed match if the ground becomes too hard and unfit for play. With the revenues generated in the Premier League, then it makes economic sense to try and ensure that mere arctic winds and blizzards won’t stop kick off!)
Also present in Leicester’s pitch is the Desso GrassMaster technology. At its most basic, this technology is where natural grass is combined with artificial turf fibres that make up about 3% of the pitch. Implanted into the ground to a depth of 20cm or so, the natural grass then grows and anchors their natural root systems amongst the artificial ones. The idea is that it helps keep the grass in better condition and improves its recovery time after each match. It also prevents turf being torn out under the stress of the gameplay.
Yet all this requires constant maintenance. In the summer, the pitch has to be mown three times per day – and bear in mind one of the amazing facts the Leicester Mercury revealed: if a single person mowed the King Power pitch, they would walk a distance of seven miles!
For me, who takes care of less public lawns and green spaces, this is an eye-opening view of another world of grass care that the vast majority of people are most likely totally oblivious to. Yet it should serve as a reminder of the effort that goes into those parts of our life that we take for granted and, in the case of a football game, is of such importance to the life of the sport and the conduct and thrill of the game itself.
So come Sunday, and the fate of the Premier League will be decided, do spare a thought for the unseen skill of the groundsmen.