Town hoping to win pitch battle
'LET THERE be light'. That's the plea of Ipswich Town's head groundsman ahead of the new season, writes Steve Mellen.A harsher than usual post-Christmas period and a heavy home fixture schedule in January and February meant the Portman Road pitch – which has regularly won awards and been praised by opposing managers – suffered some severe damage.
'LET THERE be light'. That's the plea of Ipswich Town's head groundsman ahead of the new season, writes Steve Mellen.
A harsher than usual post-Christmas period and a heavy home fixture schedule in January and February meant the Portman Road pitch – which has regularly won awards and been praised by opposing managers – suffered some severe damage.
And while the ground redevelopments have turned Town's stadium into one considered good enough to host a full England international, they have also proved a headache for head groundsman Alan Ferguson.
One measure being considered to help the surface is moving half of next season's reserve fixtures to another venue.
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Already this summer the top surface of the pitch has been scraped off and replaced, but more long-term solutions are linked in to the club's financial recovery. The current work has cost £32,000, but this is small change compared to the £500,000 some teams spend on relaying their playing surfaces.
Ferguson said last night: "We identified a seven-week period around January last season where the pitch was under severe stress. Because of a backlog of reserve games due to the UEFA Cup matches before Christmas and a heavy load of home league fixtures there was far more football being played than we would usually see. The winter was also far harsher than we are used to in this part of the country.
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"The light issue is crucial. Before the new Greene King Stand was built it wasn't a problem but now the winter sun struggles to get high enough to actually give enough coverage for the grass to grow.
"We have had environmental studies carried out and the results were quite startling. There was a four-week period where the levels were incredibly low.
"The surface needs about 50 watts of sunlight per square metre to grow properly and at times it was as low as 20-23 watts in some areas of the pitch. The corner in between the Greene King Stand and the Britannia Stand is the darkest area of the stadium now."
Since the end of the season, the top 20mm of last season's pitch has been removed and the levels re-adjusted using laser technology. Fans will notice a new 'crown' where the height has been changed to help with drainage.
Three hundred tonnes of new sand has been put down with new grass, and Ferguson has a deadline of August 1, the day Town are due to host a Premiership club in a pre-season friendly, for all the elements to be in place.
In the long term the ground staff may have to remove as much as 40cms – 10,000 tonnes of grass and earth – before relaying new turf grown off site. All this will depend on how the team performs on the pitch, though.
"We've done our research and have the full support of the board, but it's all a question of money. If the team was to get promoted then it would obviously make things easier.
"We hope to get some more of the translucent sheeting which runs along the front of the Greene King Stand along the back of that stand, and also the Britannia Stand to help get more light to the pitch."
Ferguson has always discussed changes with the Town manager of the day. Joe Royle has been involved this summer as the staff look to the new season, and Ferguson is aware his role is crucial to the team's progress.
"There were times last season when the surface was poor and some teams – no disrespect to them – were coming here and being able to compete on equal terms because the ball was in the air so much. Some of our quality ball players were being taken out of the game because of the pitch," he said.
"We are considering moving the reserve matches away, but we don't want to take them all to another ground because playing in the stadium is a vital part of a young players' development."