The woes of a non league Groundsman


Hi, l am really pleased to have released by first blog for ,It is a day later than planned but the grass had to come first and as you are all aware it just has not stopped raining.

I have been in fine turf for 30 years (golf/bowls/cricket/rugby/football) and run my own business along with being a E.C.B pitch advisor for Northumberland.

The woes of a non league Groundsman

“Now is the winter of our discontent”. A quote from Shakespeare’s Richard III, but applicable to all groundstaff or greenkeepers from the highest level to grassroots winter sports.

Rain of biblical proportions has lashed the U.K , making it impossible to prepare the perfect pitch. Yes, it has been very wet, but why do pitches at lower levels of the game fail after moderate rainfall & how can clubs take preventative measures ?

Here’s a few steps you can take to have a better chance of getting the game on.

Reduce the weight going onto the pitch & ditch the roller !
Many pitches I pass or observe suffer the same problem. Heavy equipment mowing the surface in the summer months and then rolling it flat in the winter months !
This will compact the soil not just at surface level but at depth leading to lack of drainage capacity or capping of the soil profile.

Aerate, aerate, aerate ….
In physics Archimedes principle stated “for every action there’s an equal & opposite reaction”. In Groundsmanship that’s why we aerate,to break the soil profile or relieve the compaction which makes it free draining and to provide air to the plant, and also create fissures for rooting. This is important as it underpins the playing surface which will retain stability of the turf.

There are many forms of aeration, examples of two methods that are particularly effective are vertical action with heave, or vertidraining & linear aeration or shockwave. These processes shatter the soil profile at depth & assist drainage, if done in the correct conditions.


Play to the conditions ….

It’s often better to live to fight another day. Although sometimes it is out of the groundstaff’s hands especially in non league football, but do have a voice and encourage them to keep off or postpone until a later date to avoid irreparable damage to the surfaces.


Be proactive with coaches/managers/players
Build a dialogue & build a case !
After all, missing one game in questionable conditions may save money in costly repairs in the long run !!

Think for the long term …..

Think of different ways to approach pitch maintenance i.e reducing weight – smaller tractor/mower ?

Maybe a compact tractor/roller mower option which will give more options for pitch maintenance. After all a ride on mower is a one dimensional tool,but a tractor 20 -35Hp could  be used to apply fertilisers,cut and aerate, which will keep the surface open and help keep a healthier plant.

Brushing attachment will also give you stripes and stand the grass up,with less compaction/damage than a roller.

Granular fertiliser as advised should be based on a feeding program via a chemical soil test,which can be done cheaply.

Hand rotary mowing is a option and cheaper to maintain than a cylinder mower,but obviously  very time intensive.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help !!!!

My pitch maintenance plan revolves around these simple principles.

Mowing height/frequency(27mm/twice weekly).
Aeration, after linear aeration I slit tine fortnightly.
Brushing, stands the grass back up, and leaves a nice finish.
Fertiliser, controlled release product based upon soil sampling twice/year.
It is possible to have a good pitch on a budget, if everyone buys into the principle and a budget is agreed. Some tasks may have to be done by a reliable sports turf contractor, but if done at the correct time it’s money well spent !

And ring the scrap man to take that heavy ballast roller away !!!

Paul Jackson
E.C.B pitch advisor

Have a great Christmas and any question post below ,in comments section.

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  1. Don’t mean to sound pedantic but its Newtons 3 rd law of motion. Archimedes principal is any body submerged in a fluid experience an up thrust or a loss in weight equal to weight of the fluid displaced.
    Regards Steve Guest

  2. Having been there and taken the brunt of arrogant referees and/or managers I find it hugely frustrating that we have so little say. I do get our job is to repair the ground and keep it playable but sometimes you just have to yield to the weather. Consequently when you then ask for a few thousand to top dress the pitch and get a contractor or hire in kit they look at you as though you are stupid.

  3. Yes no easy answers David.

    Often spoken to very patronising and difficult to swallow especially when overworked .

    This is something the iog needs to keep working on about changing the way we are viewed.

    Partly a way of the world everyone has a opinion about everyone .

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