Reece explains pitch renovations during the off-season
“Why are you ripping the pitch up when it looks this good?” or “What does the ground staff do in the summer?”. Questions that are frequently asked, often forgetting how the pitch looked in January. Reece Watson (CTO of Raw Stadia and multi-award-winning Premier League Grounds Manager) explains some of the many tasks ground staff execute during the off-season. And why this is needed to prepare the pitch for the upcoming season.
It seems crazy to renovate the whole pitch when it looks great, at least from the outside. During the season, all the decaying grass plats leave build-up on the surface. This is the black slime, generally visible in January and February. This is also known as an organic layer and is often more prominent in shaded areas where the soil stays wetter for longer.
Therefore, the top layer needs to be cleaned or even removed and later replaced with clean sand. This freshens up as most of the pitches are made of sand these days. They don’t have enough microbes or bacteria in the soil to break the organic layer, discussed earlier, naturally.
These steps are essential. If these steps aren’t carried out, the organic layer will become problematic, especially next winter. It would affect plant health and the surface will become slippery, resulting in a layer that is harder to penetrate for the players’ studs.
A second reason to renovate the pitch at the start of the summer is, that it allows clubs to monetise their pitches, having corporate games and concerts organized on the venue. Arranging events during this time gives the ground staff the perfect amount of time before preparing the growth of the new pitch.
It generally takes between 3-7 days to perform a full renovation. The ground staff, first, remove all the vegetation or grass (top 10mm). Then, they re-apply around 100 tonnes of clean sand, apply soil amendments, drill-in seed in 5 directions and subsequently apply wetting agent. After these steps, the ground staff will cover the pitch if needed.
To germinate seed, the ground staff only needs 2 things: moisture and heat. The seedling doesn't need any fertiliser at this stage, ground staff always try to focus on 'even watering'. If the ground staff can keep the seedling at an accurate moisture level, and keep the moisture consistent over the whole field, causing even germination.
Once there’s a plant again, ground staff will start focussing on nutrition. They need to be cautious or even avoid watering at night-time as this extends the time the leaf stays wet, which is a huge contributor to the onset of turf disease.
Ground staff generally have between 4-8 weeks to grow a pitch in from seed. The pressure on delivering is ceaselessly high. The ground staff is battling against the weather, high disease risk and general workload at this time of year to deliver on time.
Renovating the whole pitch is high-risk and very demanding for the ground staff. Using the Raw Stadia Platform helps keep track of the progress from start to end. The Raw Stadia technologies help, for example, monitoring weekly progression of grass by using the Density Scanner, monitoring the evenness of the moisture, keeping track of disease risks and shows the growth potential by using the Raw Weather Station.
On matchday 1, nerves are tense as the ground staff can’t predict the pitch quality or are unsure of the condition of the pitch. By performing traction tests with the RTT and impact tests with the RAA, the ground staff acquire more data to reassure the quality and the condition of the pitch. Raw Stadia's software also enables ground staff with a data report to show the staff and management that the pitch is ready for play.
And now? The ground staff will go again, keeping the pitch in perfect condition during the season and already start preparing next season...