IT has been a challenging few months for St George’s Park head groundsman Alan Ferguson and his team.
A long, harsh winter brought heavy snowfall as well as regular frosts that challenged the facility’s outdoor pitches.
But the centre’s ground staff worked tirelessly to keep the facility open for business, with half of the site’s pitches regularly made available for use.
He said: “It has almost been five months of winter now, starting from the early part of October 2012, and only finishing in the last eight to 10 days.
“I am happy to say that we have coped really well. We had 50 per cent of the centre active through under-soil heating and use of the indoor pitch.”
It was quite an achievement, especially considering that the number of pitches benefiting from under-soil heating suddenly had to cope with an upsurge in bookings.
Mr Ferguson added: “I think the winter has probably stopped at the right time for us and allowed us to recover the pitches that have been intensively used.”
The use of under-soil heating proved pivotal in ensuring the centre remained open, but there were some surprising effects on the grass that needed careful attention from Ferguson and his team.
“At that stage, the plant doesn’t know whether it is coming or going. In the soil, it still thinks it is spring or summer, but a few millimetres above the surface it is still in the depths of winter.”
With the pitches taking quite a strain, it would have been understandable if some were closed to allow for recovery and to ensure their long-term health.
Mr Ferguson and his team have worked wonders to not only keep the pitches open, but to keep them in good health ready for the spring and summer.
“It is difficult because the business plan for St George’s Park clearly said that we would be open 365 days a year, and in order to do that we have had to keep the pitches ready,” said Ferguson.
“I think what we have seen over the first half of the operational year was that when the weather set in, half of the pitches became unusable and the other half had to take on that extra strain.
“There’s not a lot you can do as a groundsman at that point, other than save as much grass as you can.”