The Groundsman

May 2013

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GET INTO GROUNDS 23 the Groundsman May 2013 However, after all the hard work Tony admitted that he found it hard to watch the actual Games: "I couldn't watch the ball as I was too busy looking for divots," he said. Then and now This level of global scrutiny would certainly not have been the case during the 1948 Games, although Tony doesn't doubt the level of professionalism among groundscare staff at that time. "Today we've got 24 sprinklers, underfloor heating, a pitch drainage system as well as modern technology, modern turf science, modern fertilisers, wetting agents and of course there would have been no lighting rigs to hasten the growth of turf – they would have had to rely on pure sunshine to do that back then," he said. There are, however, a couple of props and procedures that have stood the test of time. Tony says he still uses a wooden stick for measuring the goal height. "It's constant, stays straight and can be cut to size," he explains, while the wheel-towheel line marker is another piece of traditional equipment that the groundsmen of today can rely on for its accuracy. Perhaps one of the biggest turf advancements at Wembley in recent years is the Desso GrassMaster pitch – synthetic fibres which are stitched through the natural turf to stabilise the rootzone. Allowing the group to step onto the pitch to see for themselves – another privilege allowed to the chosen few – Tony explained that the pitch is 4m lower than the original surface at the old Wembley. "The roof is 62m high and there's restricted airflow and sunlight so the pitch only gets three weeks of full sunshine each year – if we're lucky. This pitch allows us to attain a good playing surface during the heavy timetable of multi-use activities," he said. Wembley memorabilia After the pitch inspection, the team of volunteers, led by project leader Karen Woolland, met up with Wembley Stadium's logistics manager Wesley Taylor, who led a tour of the historical artefacts on display throughout the stadium. Wesley's brief, during the past few years, has been to track down some of these artefacts and other memorabilia linked to the sporting venue and its role in hosting the London Olympic Games in 1948 and again in 2012. Some of these had either been held for safe keeping at stadia and football clubs throughout the country or had been traced through Wembley Board minuted references. Historically a multi-use venue, Wesley enlightened the group to the fact old Wembley (the Empire Stadium) used to host show jumping, greyhound racing and speedway as well as football in years gone by. In fact apparently the This plaque was displayed at the front of the stadium in 1966 The 1948 Olympic torch cauldron groundscare team had made complaints about the state of the pitch in the run up to the 1966 World Cup, so speedway events were suspended in time for the World Cup Final. The original famous crossbar from that game was pointed out to the group during the tour. Other historical artefacts linked to the 1948 Games included a hand-sewn Olympic flag that had been found, infested by termites, in a wooden box stored in one of old Wembley's twin towers. According to Wesley, this flag had been tracked to Berlin, Germany where it is believed to have been earmarked for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. It was taken by the Russians and given to London for the 1948 Games, but wasn't used. Another interesting relic was a wooden plaque with the Olympic rings painted on - it had apparently been made by Wembley groundsmen in their workshop for the 1948 Games in a last minute request. The 1948 Olympic torch cauldron had also been tracked down by Wesley. Made of concrete he found it, covered in black soot, at the back of a warehouse. Amazingly there's literally crates of artefacts stored in the bowels of Wembley. These are yet to be catalogued and are destined for display in a Wembley Museum in the future. Wesley and Tony, on behalf of Wembley Stadium, one of the project partners, are kindly supporting the research for a unique Heritage 'Get Into Grounds' Exhibition at SALTEX at Windsor racecourse this September. l Visit www.iog.org for more information and digital editions

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