The seeds are planted...
- Thu 28 Jun 2012, 5:52PM
- Posted by Nicola McCarthy
The Etihad Stadium has hosted some of the biggest names in music this month, but with concert season has now finished.
City’s Head Groundsman Lee Jackson has won numerous awards for his pitch-perfect surface at the Etihad Stadium - and far from having a quiet close season, he spoke about the challenges ahead.
“After the Bruce Springsteen concert on 22 June, all the flooring started coming off and by Sunday afternoon (24 June), we had the whole pitch back," said Jackson.
"It came out of it quite well - the best it has done in terms of all the concerts we’ve had at the stadium."
As well as dealing with the tens of thousands of fans who flocked to see The Boss, the pitch also had to cope with a double dose of Coldplay concerts less than two weeks before.
Despite all of this, and as a result of a lot of hard work from Lee and his team, things are looking good ahead of City’s season opener at home to Southampton on Saturday 18 August,
“As things stand, we’re sat here on Thursday (28 June) and it’s all put to bed and seeded a day ahead of where we thought we would be, which doesn’t sound much, but every day counts,” stressed Lee.
“The seeds are down now and the pitch has been covered with sheets to help the grass germinate quicker, so hopefully that will give us more of a head start.”
How well, or not so well, pitches look is often a talking point among football fans and for Lee and his team, they want to be up there with the best – but, their number one priority is always the players,
“We look at it slightly differently, we get the pitch the way the players want it to be first and then we’ll worry about how it looks afterwards,” said Lee.
“We’re constantly trying to get feedback from the players and the management, what they think of the pitch and how it’s performing. It’s trying to strike a balance too, to give them something similar to what they have at Carrington – so they’re not going from a soft pitch to a hard pitch, or vice versa,” he continued.
With advances in technology, controlling conditions has become a lot easier than ever before and I was astounded to hear that Lee can turn on sprinklers or drainage systems from anywhere in the world!
“I have a programme on my computer and on my iPhone, which I can access remotely, so I can control what happens on the pitch from anywhere,” Lee revealed.
“This really helps when the weather does the opposite of what you thought it was going to do. It’s also rigged up to a camera in the North West corner of the ground, so I can see what’s going on when I’m not there. It’s good, but sometimes it’s a bit too handy when you’re sitting at home bored at 10 o’clock at night and you just have a bit of a nosey – it gets me in trouble quite a lot!”
Lee’s dedication to the job is clear to see and the condition of the pitch is always on his mind, especially with the unpredictability of the Manchester weather!
“Things change all the time,” he grinned.
“We get emails at 7, 8, 9 o’clock at night which sometimes change what you are going to do the next month, or even the next day, particularly at Carrington with training times changing quite a lot– it’s quite intense.”
“You don’t get a minute’s peace and when you do, you turn the telly on and usually it’s football in front of you, so you just can’t get away from football pitches one way or the other!” he smiled.
On Sunday 13 May the City pitch became sacred ground for fans and during the friendly invasion of the playing surface that followed the final whistle of the game against QPR, some were spotted trying to take a piece of the ground with them!
I imagined such actions would have had Lee and his team in fits of despair, but I was surprised at his response,
“To be honest, I wasn’t concerned because we know the make-up of the pitch,” he confessed.
“They may have been able to pull strands of grass out, but they wouldn’t have been able to pull out chunks of turf - it’s impossible with the type of pitch we’ve got.
“I didn’t mind the pitch invasion, daft as it sounds, because if we didn’t have one, then we wouldn’t have won the league, so I was quite happy to have it!”
Title winning celebrations were short and sweet though for the ground staff and it was straight back to work almost immediately.
“We went on afterwards and one of my lads and me didn’t leave until about 7.30 at night. When we left the pitch it was in perfect condition, you would never have known anyone had even been on it,” he recalled.
Having survived all of this as well as the aforementioned gigs, the pitch will now have a rest lasting over seven weeks before The Blues and The Saints go head to head on the opening day of the season.
Until then, Lee will be hoping for a bit of well-earned rest as well as keeping an eye out for new shoots of the green stuff – it’s a good job that camera is never too far away!
“We’re just relying on the good old British summer going away and a normal one coming in, it’s in the hands of the Gods now, so we’ll just be keeping our fingers, legs and eyes crossed,” he concluded.