Singing praises of Town's perfect pitch

ENGLAND will trot out onto the perfectly manicured Portman Road pitch tomorrow prepared for them by a Scot, writes Derek Davis.Previous international experience for Ipswich Town groundsman Alan Ferguson was for his country while at Rangers but he feels just as proud to be seeing the lads in the white shirts wearing the Three Lions step out on to the Suffolk surface.

ENGLAND will trot out onto the perfectly manicured Portman Road pitch tomorrow prepared for them by a Scot, writes Derek Davis.

Previous international experience for Ipswich Town groundsman Alan Ferguson was for his country while at Rangers but he feels just as proud to be seeing the lads in the white shirts wearing the Three Lions step out on to the Suffolk surface.

He said: "I used to come to Wembley every couple of years and went away very happy to have taken something away from England. Now I'm happy to be putting something down for them."

Three months ago when Town ended their home fixtures it would have been hard to imagine the pitch being transformed from the threadbare, patchwork surface then, to the bowling green style carpet it is today.

A lack of sunshine, building work on two stands and a heavy fixture schedule meant the award-winning pitch took a hammering and Ferguson and his staff worked wonders to get it ready.

But Ferguson insists it was not done just for the arrival of Sven-Goran Eriksson and his men.

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He said: "The pitch was the worst it has been in seven years during which time we have won awards galore.

"But for two years we could not get on to do the work we wanted to due to building work, the stands then blocked the sunlight and then we had record low amounts of sunshine during the winter months and that all culminated in the pitch suffering.

"We had planned what to do and we have worked throughout the summer to get where we are. It was a close thing. I was worried at one point that the young grass might not make it but our target was not this game but August 1. We made it and happily the pitch has held firm, Ipswich have had a couple of games on it and the reports back from the players and coaching staff have been very good.

"England have a very good pitch to play on."

Ferguson is also responsible for the training pitches used by the Croatian team last night at Playford Road and Bent Lane.

These have previously been used by England Under-19s, who also praised the high standards of facilities.

The club's financial difficulties has meant Ferguson working under strict budget, after being forced to make redundancies, and being ultra careful with equipment and feed and seed.

He is grateful for a link-up with Otley College, who have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship.

He said: "The students have had invaluable hands-on experience and learned a great deal while we have been grateful for the extra labour."

If that was not enough Ferguson also works as a consultant to Five Lakes hotel golf and country club where England trained yesterday.

A Spalding-based company reconstructed the pitches there two years ago and under the careful maintenance of their head groundsman Robert Bell and his staff it has matured into a top-class facility.

Ferguson said: "I go down two or three times a year to help or give advice but it has grown really well. Tottenham Hotspur used it in the summer and gave glowing reports, as have many top sides who have trained there over the years."

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