With the arrival of eight new signings John Still’s been a busy man this summer as he pieces together a squad fit for promotion next season.
Often the manager’s close season business is the only visible work seen by those outside of the Club but, as we will reveal over the coming weeks, there’s more to life at Kenilworth Road during the summer months than new signings and a lick of paint here and there.
In a series of reports, lutontown.co.uk will be giving you a behind-the-scenes insight into what’s happened and how it happens around the ground as the Club prepares for the 2013/14 season.
From goalkeeper shirts and grass seed, pots of paint and pies, we’ll unveil the exciting changes and projects that have been undertaken around Kenilworth Road – and the reasons for them.
This week: Kenilworth pitch and training ground pitch improvements
Every summer there’s one way to tell that the new football season is just around the corner.
It’s called grass. Yes, often just the mere sight of thousands of green, spindly, shoots sprouting up on the Kenilworth Road pitch are enough to send supporters into uncontrollable excitement.
Okay, so it might not be that exciting, but for one man it is - and it’s his job to make sure that it is perfect for playing football on. Even if he would rather nothing was played on it at all.
Richard Bird is the Hatters’ head groundsman and has been for 20 years. Until this summer he’s seen it all during his time lovingly attending the Kenilworth Road pitch. So what’s changed this summer? To find out we caught up with Bedfordshire’s most protective and attentive groundsman.
Official website: Summer is notoriously the busiest time of the year for groundsmen up and down the country, but at what point do you begin planning for the new season.
Richard Bird: We start to make plans for end-of-season renovation works towards the end of February which involves taking soil samples and liaising with contractors regarding what needs doing in the allocated timeframes.
After the pitch hires have finished, usually by mid-May, contractors will strip the pitch bare and turnover the remaining root-zone to freshen it up in preparation for seeding. This year, we have been fortunate to introduce more fibresand into the top surface which will aid the stability of the grass during the coming season.
OS: What is fibresand and what are the benefits of having it at Kenilworth Road?
RB: The pitch was first constructed using fibresand in 2006. Fibresand, in layman’s terms, are millions of strands of a tough, hair-like material that is integrated into 75mil of the root-zone. Grass roots wrap themselves around the fibre, thus making the grass more stable and less prone to divoting. We are able to keep a truer, flatter surface this way.
Even though the grass thins through winter, fibresand also helps to hold the top surface together. This is one of the reasons why you see us water the pitch on matchdays, because if the soil dries out too much the sand separates from the fibres and the pitch will not perform as well.
The reason for carrying out this process this summer was because every year the top five mil of surface is skimmed off during the reseeding process. This means each year we resurface the pitch the fibresand content is progressively reduced. This summer 120 tonnes of fibresand has been put into the main pitch.
There has been a significant amount of investment in the main pitch this close season.
OS: What have you done differently this summer?
RB: This close season we have been fortunate enough to be able to improve our training facilities by carrying out the same renovations carried out to the main pitch up at the training ground. This investment will improve the condition of the pitches, especially during the winter months when the training ground has a tendency to be at its worst. This is the first time in the 20 years we have been able to do this and credit must go to the board for making this happen.
OS: Why was investment needed at the training ground?
RB: It was felt that the training ground was showing the affects of a harsh winter. The pitch was cut up and holding water in places – it certainly wasn’t a pitch condusive for professional footballers. We removed the top surface and rotivated and incorporated sand into the soil in order to help draining. This also allows us to introduce more preferred grasses to the pitches, rather than basic annual meadow grass which is shallow rooting and prone to cutting up in wet conditions.
OS: Is the project at the training ground complete yet? Have there been any problems during the improvement process?
RB: No. We were unable to commence the work at the training ground immediately at the end of the season due to the inclement weather, and the seeding did not take place until the second week of June. By this time the soil was unbelievably dry and, coupled with the high winds we had in June, this led to some of the seed, in certain areas, literally being blown away. This has meant we have had to reseed affected areas a second time which has, consequently, put back the estimated time of completion by a few weeks. It’s important that the grass has rooted properly before it is played on otherwise there will be large areas that will become loose and become displaced. Long-term damage could be done, and the last thing we want is to waste the investment that has been made.
Apart from the physical renovation of the pitch, we also installed a brand new 25,000-litre storage tank and pump so we can irrigate the pitches more effectively than we have ever been able to do before. This was very important because if we sowed the seed and we couldn’t water it properly the grass would wilt and possibly die. This was another problem we had. Without an advanced irrigation system we were unable to seed the pitch.
However, once the training ground is up and running the players should experience a flatter surface to train on and, especially during the winter months, it should drain a lot more freely, reducing the risk of waterlogging.
OS: What’s the total cost of the investment on the training ground?
RB: Approaching £40,000 – and this doesn’t include the labour and hire of machinery and other necessary costs. We have never carried out this level of renovations at the training ground before.
It’s fantastic that we have been able to invest in making improvements at the training ground and the players and management will really reap the benefits six months down the line, especially when the weather’s not so kind!