The Groundsman

February 2015

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AHEAD OF THE GAME 14 the Groundsman February 2015 Visit for more information and digital editions or the players and everyone involved with Cambridge United, the media glare that has accompanied the club's successful run in this season's FA Cup has meant they've constantly been in the spotlight – and not least during the build-up (and, as it turned out, the aftermath) to last month's fourth round home game against Manchester United. After the draw at the R.Costings Abbey Stadium, The Red Devils' manager Louis van Gaal commented that "every aspect of the match was against us - the pitch, the referee"... The club's head groundsman, Ian F Cambridge United's Ian Darler in the spotlight Cambridge United FC's head groundsman Ian Darler takes the covers off his pitch preparation for the club's recent FA Cup fourth round clash with The Red Devils By: Colin Hoskins Ian Darler in the frost tent which was on the pitch for five days Darler, has however heard it all before – like in 1980 when Aston Villa's Ron Saunders was 'fuming' about the 'bumpy' pitch after Aston Villa drew 1-1 at Cambridge. But after 36 years at the club maintaining and managing the pitch on a relatively meagre budget using machinery that he has mostly purchased using his own money, plus within 13 years winning five FA national Groundsman of the Year Awards and three commendations - and laudatory comments on pitch quality by visiting managers as well as a current Football League pitch rating of 'way above average', he takes Mr van Gaal's comments with a pinch of salt. Justifiably. "Our third round game with Luton (on January 3) saw the pitch being very heavily 'chopped up' with only perhaps 50 per cent of grass cover, the rest being mud," he explains. "We had 100 per cent grass coverage but prior to the game we had heavy rain and the pitch was waterlogged. We immediately replaced the divots then spent about an hour and a half irrigating the remaining sward, washing the mud and sand off the leaf. Within a couple of days, the grass was returning. We had a home against Newport on the Saturday (January 17) before the Friday night (January 23) fourth round clash and with heavy frosts/low temperatures forecast between that game and on the days preceding the fixture with Manchester United, we decided to cover the pitch with a frost tent, since we haven't any undersoil heating." He continues: "After the Newport game, we covered the pitch with frost sheets, which were removed just an hour before the tent was installed (by Stadia Sports) on the Monday. During that hour, I applied a liquid chemical feed including iron, (supplied by Growing Solutions, with whom Ian has established a successful working relationship) and with the tent on and a heater going, the pitch was looking very good. During the week I aerated the pitch to stimulate new root growth, and with the tent creating conditions resembling temperatures we would normally have in May, a light irrigation was also needed to the high sand content playing surface." The result was a pitch that the BBC match commentator, for one, applauded.

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