February 11, 2009
The state of the playing surface at the Memorial Stadium caused a good deal of controversy and criticism last season. Following the heavy rains of November and December 2007 the pitch took a real bashing from our own fixtures and those of Bristol Rugby. Visiting management teams made public references and the media were quick to jump on the poor playing surface. On the way home from one home game I recall listening in to 606 only to hear a real condemnation from Alan Green who called the state of the pitch at the Mem a disgrace.
That was just prior to our FA Cup quarter final fixture at home to West Bromwich Albion. To be fair and by our own admission, the surface at that time did not lend itself for the passing football that not least our own management team wished to display. The Board would agree that not enough investment had been committed over the previous summer.
With the decision having been taken to stay at the Stadium for one more season at least, the Board recognised the need to support a programme that would hopefully make for a much better surface to play the manner of football that wanted and one that our supporters always enjoy to watch. Down the years, generally speaking that has been the way of it at Bristol Rovers although the pitches have not been great anywhere much, home or away. I well remember Twerton Park as do most of us and the Eastville mud left much to be desired, just ask the old stagers.
I took special note of the surfaces to be found on our travels last season and could not fail to be impressed with Cheltenham and Carlisle especially. I thought that there must be work we could do to improve the Mem, particularly after speaking with the Directors up at Carlisle who told of the investment that they had made up there in Cumbria.
Most parties have praised the improvements that we have brought about this season. The proof of the pudding follows each game at this time of the year and that most definitely includes Bristol Rugby games as well as our own. My heart was in my mouth a few weeks ago when I saw bits of the rugby match at Bath on television and thought of what might be happening at the Mem considering we had played at home the day before. I had prepared myself to say goodbye to all the good work that had been done and to what has been a decent surface all season. Luckily the rain had not fallen so hard over Horfield and the pitch survived very well. All credit to Peter Prior and his team.
The extra investment and hard work has paid dividends we think. It started last summer when three main drains were added across the surface from east to west at the north of the ground. A further one was installed at the south end. The drains were dug were excavated one foot wide and to a depth of twice that amount. Plastic piping was put in place with perforations fifty millimetres apart all around the pipes. The new drains are working well by any body’s account. Even the renowned spring under the surface does not seen to be half of the problem.
Drainage was one massive important factor but we also wanted a flat and even surface on which to play our football. The trick was high technology with a laser levelling machine being brought in to do the job. Three passes were required to achieve the amount of levelling that was required to find the norm. Another fifty passes were required to complete the levelling work. Another machine was brought in to lay a top surface of soil, sand and grass seed to a depth of one twenty five millimetres.
This was over seeded again after a period of six weeks. A new variety of seed is used that grows at temperatures as low as 4 four degrees C. The seed was almost twice as expensive as that used previously. The very good grass cover that we have seen has been helped by a liquid fertiliser with added turf hardener to strengthen the roots and foliage. We have worked in collaboration with Riddley Tayor who has given us much technical advice.
Pete Prior is in charge of all operations even though he only works part time these days. Full time we have Richard Allsworth who performs all the day to day tasks. Richard is supported by Richard and Eric Kingscott and by Stephen Lewis who with Chris are to be found pitching in a couple of days a week.
Peter tells me that the same preparation is applied to both rugby and football matches and after all games a verti-drainer is applied witch punches one inch diameter holes to a depth of nine inches all over the surface. This process takes the grounds team between three and four hours after each and every home game.
Many thanks to the grounds team and to all volunteers, your work is greatly appreciated and the result is there for all to see.