The Groundsman

April 2012

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the Groundsman April 2012 FEATURE 25 bearing in mind the maintenance regime that we have adopted under Head Groundsman, Tony Stones, and the fact that football is our priority." He continues: "Our original plan for the Wembley surface simply didn't match our business needs – for example, a wide range of sports would be held, often in quick succession, alongside concerts and a range of corporate and sponsor events. And as a consequence, one in three surfaces failed during those 'formative years'. Football is our core business, however, and we knew we had to get the surface right for football to meet the demands of our parent, The FA, and other football event owners, and of our Club Wembley members from whom we derive around 70 per cent of our income. It was clear that we had to make changes." The Wembley team looked at all the available options, "perhaps seven or eight different surfaces including Fibresand", says Tony, "as well as a choice of aggregates/soil types. We had to marry the perceived performance of all these options with the demands of the venue, its micro-climate as well as our heavy event schedule. The pitch is four metres lower than the previous surface at the old Wembley, and has a 62 metre high roof and restricted air flow and sunlight. As such, the full pitch is only in sunlight for three weeks out of 52, if we are lucky. There are, of course, specific challenges in terms of growing and maintaining grass at its optimum in such an environment!" Greg Gillin: "There is no question over the quality of a turfed surface, but it was obvious that it simply didn't suit the Wembley environment and the required work rate, so in conjunction with a variety of industry experts the decision was made to invest in a Desso GrassMaster surface." The turf was removed and the top 12 inches of soil removed, says Tony. "Then we backfilled with sand for six inches and topped off with a 70:30 sand/soil mix before seeding. We've changed our seed this year, sowing in December with a perennial ryegrass which should be more hardy and able to manage the usage rates, especially our busy summer schedule which this year, of course, includes Olympic football – nine games in 12 days during August!" Olympic football – and summer events aside – Wembley's footballing schedule in the immediate future gives some idea of the challenges faced: April 14/15 – FA Cup semi finals; May 5 – The F A Cup Final; May 12 – The FA Trophy Final; May 13 – The FA Vase Final; May 19 Championship play-off final; May 26 and 27 back-to-back League 1 and League 2 play-off finals; June 2 – England versus Belgium. "While we've gone 'back to basics' by seeding regularly," says Tony, "our busy summer schedule means that any major renovations, and the re-seeding programme, starts in December.

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