The Groundsman

September 2015

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Visit for more information and digital editions the staff were doing their best with what equipment and knowledge they had, but I fear it is a lack of grounds maintenance knowledge at management level that created the current situation. All of the pitches had been laid to turf with what appeared to be little more than domestic size turfs that contained a mixture of weed, weed grasses and fungi interspersed with tall fescue and some rye grass. We were told that the soil PH was too high for rye grass to grow, but it seemed to be doing fine in a medium that could best be described as very silty soil or even clay that along with a layer of thatch (which itself can encourage the growth of fungi) was having the effect of capping the drainage system. There was evidence at some stadia that the roots were establishing through the clay turf layer into a better black sand rootzone and the coarser drainage medium. All surface foliage showed varying degrees of stress due to the heat and inadequate watering regimes, despite irrigation systems being in place. As a possible benchmark, the football stadia of Dynamo and Locomotive Tbilisi were also visited. Despite being the national stadium with 50,000 seats, the Dynamo stadium (which also used the same turf supplier as the rugby stadia) displayed similar weed and fungi problems. Locomotive's stadium – which did not use the same supplier - looked very well cared for and free from weed. None of the rugby venues appeared to have full-time let alone trained grounds staff and some complexes even relied on the security team to cut the grass using mostly ride-on domestic garden mowers while more professional pedestrian mowers were gathering dust in the equipment stores due to the lack of training in their use. Towed fertiliser spreaders were evident but fertiliser bags in storage mostly displayed their contents as either straight ammonium sulphate (nitrogen) which is mainly used for agriculture, while bags containing compound nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) mixes displayed the elements in the wrong percentages with particularly high levels of potassium - the imbalance of which can have a detrimental effect on soil fertility (cation exchange). None of the stadia had a maintenance programme nor was there any sign of best practice; in one instance, for line marking, what appeared to be an old sock that had been stiffened with a piece of card or plastic to the width of the line was attached to a broom handle and being used to mark. It took around three to three and a half hours to mark each pitch. Recommendations We drew up a programme of pitch maintenance for the venues, including a list of equipment needed. Education, education, education. There appeared to a lack of basic knowledge of sports turf maintenance and little understanding of the basic principles of plant science. Training is needed to at least Winter Pitches Level 6ne standard for all staff rising to Intermediate or Advanced Levels for stadium managers. Aeration, aeration, aeration. All pitches need deep spiking plus around 60-80 tonnes of sand per pitch needs to be spread and drag matted in (most stadia had some form of drag mat or brush). We all agreed that the grounds staff should be encouraged to visit the Locomotive stadium to see how the grounds staff there operate. Also recommended was a better watering regime and a programme of fertiliser application plus the application of selective herbicide/fungicide followed by overseeding. The pop-up sprinklers needed adjusting as the heads were too close to the surface, presenting a danger to players and potential for damage to the units themselves. The mowing equipment was basically ride-ons which would be more at home in a large garden. The grass was boxed off but mowing was hard work as in most cases it was only done once a week. We also suggested that the pitches should be cut at least three times a week (ideally with the Ransome Mastiffs they have) but agreed that the ride-ons could continue to be used provided the blades were kept sharp and until better cutters were sourced. If the feeding/watering programme is followed, and with the warm climate, each stadium should ideally mow every day. Synthetic pitches All stadia had floodlit synthetic pitches and all had the same problem - improper maintenance. The grass fibre strands were worn due to the fact that they did not have enough rubber crumb to stand them up. We recommended that all pitches be topped up with rubber crumb and that each pitch be brushed or drag matted once a week depending on usage. Apparently, though, none of the pitches had shock pads, which is a requirement for rugby. All in all these facilities – effectively oases in some fairly rundown areas - provide great facilities for the locals. And I must say the trip was an amazing experience with rugby definitely being the winner. Colin Wooster, secretary of the south east London & north Kent Branch of the IOG, also facilitates informative meetings once a quarter for grounds people in the region where help and advice is available, and where views can be exchanged with other grounds staff and trade suppliers. The meetings are held across the region. Colin can be contacted by 'phone and email: 07595 590975; l Line marking the Georgian way: using an old sock! 27 the Groundsman September 2015

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