Coming To Terms With Artificial Pitches

Coming To Terms With Artificial Pitches: Eric O’Donnell, Managing Director of Sports Labs, adds insight into the recent highly publicised debate in Scotland regarding players’ reluctance to playing top league matches on artificial pitches.

PFA Scotland released a press statement regarding the state of pitches in the Scottish football Leagues with the headline statement requesting the ban of artificial turf pitches in the Scottish Premiership.

There were many other points raised such as a request for increased monitoring, testing and support to groundsmen, but these were naturally overlooked in the mainstream media coverage.

This demand had the foundations of a player petition, however there was no differentiation between players who train and play on artificial surfaces because their Club has one, or those training or playing on natural pitches. This demand needs to be tempered against the implications of such a measure and not a knee jerk reaction based on a player petition.

This petition was carried out by the PFA Scotland with their members, however, it is a much more complicated debate as to what is right for the development of the game in Scotland. They only called for the ban on artificial pitches in the Premiership when their members spread across four leagues.

There are many contributory factors to this discussion, such as player safety, participation numbers, player performance and the well highlighted financial impact of utilising artificial surfaces.

The headline-maker, it’s stating the obvious to say that any future ‘ban’ would have significant implications for the clubs involved in a number of ways – promotion and relegation, clubs’ long term planning and of course the day to day commercial consequences. All of these would require any proposed ban to be phased in over an agreed and likely lengthy period of time to allow the clubs affected to consider fully, then prepare for, the implications specific to their league status/circumstances at that time.

Currently, there are three artificial pitches in the Scottish Premiership, Hamilton, Kilmarnock and Livingston, however if we look at other leagues there is a much larger presence of artificial pitches with little negative publicity. So, we pose the question can we learn from the other leagues and the systems they have installed? Do they actually differ to ours, or are the players just more accepting of the artificial surface in these territories?

  • 69%Norway–11 of top 16 clubs in their premiership use artificial
  • 56% Sweden–9 of 16 clubs in their premiership use artificial
  • 42%Finland–5 of 12 clubs in their premiership use artificial
  • 25%Scotland–3 of 12 club sin their premiership use artificial
  • 14 clubs out of 42 (33%) in the four Scottish professional leagues.

To ban artificial pitches in the Premiership would, of course, have a direct impact on grass roots acceptance and will likely have negative impacts on player pools, wider club staffing and crucial internal club structures – perhaps the most concerning from a football development perspective being the youth set ups.

The PFA ultimately used a closed petition with their members but referred to some studies previously carried out such as a player survey in 2012 and the player perception APP carried out with Sports Labs and the Scottish FA. The player perception APP rated surfaces by the players, but also asked a series of questions to understand surface better to improve them.

Many findings came from the player perception APP data which was used by the PFA to shape their demands in the press release, but the mainstream media focused on the poor ratings on the Premiership artificial pitches. There was quite substantial data to suggest there was under performing natural pitches across all leagues, particularly with the two largest clubs in Scotland not making the top 10 of which an artificial pitch achieve. There were also clear findings that players preferred artificial pitches for some criteria and natural pitches for other performance rating criteria. The data can be interpreted many ways.

So, what exactly did the PFA Scotland press release say:

Following consultation via a research survey, the PitchRater App results from season 2017-18 and recent club visits, our members in the Premiership call for the following:

  • Regulation be introduced prohibiting clubs from having artificial surfaces while playing in the Premiership
  • Increased and random testing of all pitches be introduced, including grass pitches

  • Grass pitches must be kept to a high standard and there should be sharing of best practice between all club groundsmen at Premiership level
  • The SPFL should work with PFA Scotland to use the results from the PitchRater App to introduce its own marking system and to continue to improve pitches
  •  Players’ marks to be used by the Scottish FA for Club Licencing purposed rather than those of referees
  • Pitches falling below a certain standard will have an improvement and support plan put in place, which will be monitored

  • In conjunction with Hampden Sports Medicine Clinic, a centralised reporting system should be introduced, with mandatory participation by all 42 clubs reporting instances of injuries and where/how they occur
  •  This would create a database used for research and comparison into injuries to be used for the sharing of recovery rates and techniques
  • In addition to the above, proper research must be introduced immediately into the affect artificial surfaces have longer term on players, especially wear and tear on body/ joints.
  • Attendance from each club’s head groundsman at the annual Pitch Conference, run earlier this season, must be made mandatory.

If the request was upheld can the clubs maintain their balance sheets with external facility charges now on a head-on collision. Playing hours on artificial pitches are considerably more compared to natural. One of the benefits of having the artificial surface is the improvement in social interaction with the local community. Both Hamilton and Kilmarnock have commented on the positive impact of being able to train and play locally. Kilmarnock previously travelled to Glasgow to train.

There was reference to long term injuries, wear and tear but the reality of testing data collection would tip the scales in the opposite direction against natural. There are no safety standards on surface hardness, surface traction not to mention ball surface interaction for natural pitches. So, the question must be posed; how does one quantify the surface hardness and deemit safe and in playable conditions for natural or artificial. There is a distinct difference in natural turf quality during different times in the season.

For artificial turf there is tight FIFA tolerances set and they continually evolve through ongoing research. We can at least say all artificial surfaces in the Premiership in Scotland have a shock absorbing performance of 60- 70% softer than concrete, in line with FIFA Quality Pro tolerances. We can also say every surface has a rotational resistance performance 30 – 45 Nm in line with FIFA Quality Pro tolerances. Furthermore, there is surface deformation and ball surface interaction tests. Surely the motion should be to quantify what is a good natural pitch in modern times? Would that not help re-align pitch quality and safety?

Unlike any other league, Scotland implements random spot checks three times a season on artificial, so why are the players not accepting of artificial? We want to use the data and feedback to improve the products used. We have the opportunity to improve surfaces for all users if we can marry the player perception with quantifiable data.

There were many positive outcomes of the player perception APP such
as an interactive Scottish Artificial and Turfgrass Seminar with ground staff to support them, the presence of a leading UEFA turf consultant and the inauguration of an active groundsman’s forum.Using the player feedback, engaging with the groundsman and using quantifiable test protocols based on player feedback is a very good option. So, in summary, we revert back to considering all implications and having a balanced debate for the development of the game. Is banning artificial in the Premiership the right move or as we have suggested sure there not be a call for information and investigate other corrective action that can be taken to listen to players and imp rove artificial and, yes, natural as well.

Scott MacCallum Chats To Ben Hastie

Scott MacCallum Chats To Ben Hastie: Scott MacCallum caught up with Ben Hastie, the man with the toughest job in turf maintenance as he prepared for…

There is some debate about which sporting turf suffers the greatest damage when hosting the particular event for which it has been so lovingly prepared.

Rugby Union has a case to be made, with 16 men mountains pushing against each other in modern day scrums, exerting tonnes of pressure onto the turf. Motocross is another, while cross country running, with

a huge eld of competitors on a wet day, leaves quite an impression. But there is one sport, and one event in particular, which undoubtedly comes out on top in the damage to turf stakes.

The Cheltenham Festival is hands-down the winner, and Head Groundsman, Ben Hastie, is the man who has to watch turf, he has spent 12 months lovingly nurturing, being churned up on a scale which would have most turf professionals breaking out in a cold sweat and seeking out the nearest padded cell.

And no, I’m not talking about the turf which braces itself for the influx of thousands of beer-drinking punters to the Guinness Village. Although the shortest routes to the various bars do take quite a pounding.

Ben and his team ensure that the 28 races over the four days of the Festival take place on track which is as safe, and aesthetically pleasing, as is possible. With an average of 120 horses each day, every one equipped with four legs and four mighty hooves, on ground which can range from fast and rm to good soft and, soft and heavy, it’s certainly no easy task.

“I would say that horses, given the weight and speed that they are travelling, cause more damage to turf than in other sports,” said Ben, as we spoke a month, before the Festival.

“We can have the course looking absolutely perfect and just one horse running round can make it look like a churned eld. Last year we had ground which was soft, heavy in places and the hoof prints were going in literally a foot. It is hard work for the horses but hard work for us too to get the track back in shape for the next race,” said Ben, recalling the meeting which took place in the middle of the Beast from the East, about which more later.

So, how does the Cheltenham team ensure that the stage – watched by 70,000 visitors each day and many millions more on television screens across the world and often described as “The Greatest Show on Turf” – is at its best for each one of the races?

“Our racing season starts with a meeting in October but prior to that I’ve already identified an area of saved ground for every bit of the track which then doesn’t get run on until the Festival. It means the ground we use at the Festival in March hasn’t been run on for a whole year. If we experience poor conditions we also have the option of moving the rail to protect ground, something which we can do here because, like the likes of Aintree and Ascot, we are bigger than most courses and our track is wider,” said Ben.

“In terms of stability that is a massive help to us, while we make good use of germination sheets to attract a bit more light and heat to specific areas. We are also constantly seeding and over-seeding when conditions allow while we have a system which allows us to pre-germinate to get the seed to ‘chit’ a little bit earlier to get it advanced from where it would be normally. We nd that is a big help.”

The team is also road testing lighting rigs, specifically for the winners’ enclosure.

“The enclosure sits behind the stand and while that’s ok in the summer when the sun is high, during the Festival it doesn’t get sunlight and heat. After each race the rst four come into the winners’ enclosure with the rest going to the unsaddling enclosure, which has an astroturf surface so

we don’t need to worry about that. However, the winners’ enclosure is turf and with four horses for each of the 28 races having buckets of water thrown over them to cool down and walking around trampling the soaking wet turf we do struggle with it. So

we are testing the lighting rigs to see if this will help improve this area.

“We are constantly thinking about what we can do to help weak areas. We are a winter sport and the sun is just not high enough to make a difference when we need it. Fences never move and the take off and landing areas tend to get a lot of damage so trying to get these areas to come back when soil temperatures are very low is a bit of an issue. That’s the reason we have the saved ground,” he explained.

There are 16 racing days a year at Cheltenham but the racecourse is never quiet with something on most days, ranging from pony racing to music festivals – complete with campers – and charity runs.

As to the race days themselves they are full on with a race every half an hour, split across the two courses – the Old and the New – the New generally hosts the steeplechase races and the Old the hurdle races.

To cope, Ben’s regular team of 12 is in ated considerably for regular race meetings and even more so for the Festival.

“I have a team of 50 treaders, supplied by an outside contractor, which goes out with forks and treads in each hoof print, ipping it back and making it as level as possible. The team splits up around the course into groups of two or three and they each cover around 100 yards of track until they arrive at where the next team started.

“As soon as racing is nished for the day the team is straight out with soil

and seed and ll every single hoof print created that day. The job is usually nished in the morning because of lack of light. In some conditions you get hooves going in up to a foot, theseThe holes are lled with soil so the horses for the next races have a level playing eld. It’s so important for the safety to horse and rider.

“Sometimes we will use a ring roller and roll in front of the team pushing some of the divots back into place to give them a bit of a hand but generally it’s all done with their feet and a fork.”

For a regular meeting, Ben marshals a staff of between 90 and 100, while at the Festival this grows to around 130.

“During the Festival we bring in teams from other racecourses including Aintree, Nottingham, Warwick and Wincanton. It’s really good for the guys from the smaller courses as it allows them to see how a big event is run, but it is also great for me because I know that they know what they are doing because they do the job every single day. They are a massive help for me. We are a big area and I need eyes and ears everywhere,” said Ben, who added that three weeks after the Festival he and some of his team go and help out at Aintree for the Grand National.

So, in many ways, for the week of the Festival Ben is in a similar position to a Golf Course Manager during The Open Championship or at the Ryder Cup when there is an army of people to manage.

“I won’t be able to speak with every one of them every day but we have a briefing meeting at the beginning of the week and the treaders are split into teams of 10 with a team leader for each and I speak with them. “I have a really good Assistant

Head, Tim Fewster, and he works closely with all the teams. Even when the ground conditions are really good there is still plenty of work to be done looking after the fences and the like. During a race many things can happen, when I’m in other areas of the course so I rely of them to be able to resolve any issues which might come up.”

A Festival day for Ben begins at 5.30am when he meets Clerk of the Course, Simon Claisse, and between them they walk the course, checking for any going changes and discussing any other issues which may need resolving before racing begins.

“I’m then managing the guys and making sure jobs are being before I go to bed I’m thinking about what I need to do the next day. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to it,” said Ben, who started as a golf greenkeeper at Cherwell Edge Golf Club in Banbury before moving to Kirtklington Golf Club before a chance to take his love of horse racing into his professional life when a job came up at Cheltenham.

Racing is a close kit society and Ben is a regular at the Head Groundsman Seminars which bring them all together on a regular basis. “I get on really well with the other Head Groundsmen. We are having a seminar at Sandown next week and a day at Wimbledon where Neil (Stubley) will be looking after us.”

In many ways the difference between Head Groundsman at Flat and National Hunt courses are much greater than those of links Course Managers and parkland Course Managers in golf, and in more ways than the at guys can carry out their day to day work in shorts and the National Hunt guys in thermals.

“In summer we don’t irrigate at all while at courses are being irrigated constantly because they want to produce safe ground. We don’t have
any horses running in summer so we don’t need to worry about the going. We actually want to let the course crack in the summer so that it self aerates

and lets the roots go a bit deeper in search of water. It also means that we keep our water supply for when we need it from October onwards.”

There is another real plus as well for Ben and the team. “It also means that we can all get our holidays during the summer!” Speaking with Ben he doesn’t need

to mention, although he does, that he gets up every morning with a spring in his step, never failing to look forward to what work is going to bring him that day. He is genuinely someone for whom you feel believes he has one of the best jobs in the world.

“In terms of National Hunt we are the biggest course in the country, if not the world, and from that point of view there is no other job I’d rather have.

“During the Festival we’re in the papers all the time and we will have 70,000 people each day and many more on TV and I do think that I’ve had a large part to play in making it happen.

“When we get positive comments about the track, how it looks and how it rides, it makes me and the team hugely proud of what we have achieved.” And so they should as, after all, it is “The Greatest Show on Turf”.

Toro’s World Cup Prep

Toro’s World Cup Prep: As one of just ten venues in the country selected for the 12th ICC Cricket World Cup next year, Somerset County Cricket Club is relying on Toro to ensure its outfield is ready for the eyes of the cricketing world upon it.

The club, based in Taunton, is in good company as a World Cup host with Lord’s and The Oval, but as one of the smallest and newest in the line-up, the benchmark is high, says head groundsman Simon Lee.

“Our trajectory of growth over the last five years has been huge. As part of our categorisation in to group B we received some funding so for the first time in 100 years we could improve our drainage system. This completely changed the way the outfield grew. What had previously been more like a recreational surface was suddenly more like a sports surface, with thicker, denser grass.

“This has meant a lot more work in terms of cutting and maintaining the area. We’d been using a 20-year old Toro Reelmaster 2300-D, and while that machine has been a fantastic workhorse and we’d never had a problem with it, the time had come to upgrade to a newer model to help cope with the change in the turf’s characteristics.”

A demo, organised by Devon Garden Machinery, saw Simon and the team trial a seven-year old Toro Reelmaster 3100-D, which, says Simon, “set the bar high for everything else that followed.”

He continues: “Whatever machine followed the RM2300-D had its work cut out. We think so highly of it that if its successor is even half as good as it’s been, that will be enough”. And it’s so far so good with the new Toro RM3100-D the club ultimately opted for. Only time will tell if its longevity matches up to the formidable RM2300-D, but in terms of performance, Simon is impressed.

“Mechanically its all the same – an engine and bottom blade – but my goodness the way it chews effortlessly through the grass is really impressive. It takes two and a half hours to cut five acres. Plus, by opting for Toro again, we have the added benefit of the reassurance of having a quality product, one that will last for years, giving us excellent value for money.

With three international matches between New Zealand and Afghanistan, Australia and Pakistan and West Indies and Bangladesh to look forward to it in June 2019, it really has been an eventful five years for the club, with the future everything to play for. Simon concludes: “Being chosen as a World Cup venue puts us on a level playing field with some of the best sporting venues in the country, and it’s incredibly important we present at our best. We feel confident we can do that, especially with Toro looking after the grounds.”

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Jacobsen And E-Z-GO At Forefront Of Battery Power

Jacobsen And E-Z-GO At Forefront Of Battery Power: Jacobsen and E-Z-GO have been at the forefront of battery powered equipment in the turf maintenance and golf sector for many years, from the E-Z-GO RXV golf cars to the Jacobsen Eclipse 322. Now, E-Z-GO has introduced a range of ELiTE vehicles, activated by Samsung SDI lithium technology, offering zero-maintenance batteries with a five-year unlimited amp-hour warranty and increased energy efficiency.

The E-Z-GO ELiTE vehicles are a case in point to illustrate how battery power has evolved and the benefits it can bring. Launched into the UK market at the beginning of 2017 it has represented a major step forward in golf car technology delivering exceptional value to golf course operators.

New ELiTE Series vehicles are powered by hundreds of Samsung SDI lithium cells that are loaded into a single battery pack. The battery pack is controlled by an advanced Battery Management System that monitors efficiency, temperature, state of charge and the health of the batteries. These batteries are used to safely and reliably power electric cars, e-scooters, power tools and many other electrically powered vehicles, equipment and appliances.

The vehicles are powered by zero-maintenance lithium batteries that don’t require watering, terminal post checkups and cleaning like traditional lead acid batteries do. This is good news for businesses and individuals operating golf cars, as there is less downtime and maintenance to be carried out on the vehicles.

Charging time is significantly reduced, and ELiTE vehicles allow courses to “opportunity charge,” plugging vehicles in for quick charging sessions between rounds that can rapidly restore significant levels of energy to the battery system, as opposed to the lengthy recharge cycles required by lead-acid batteries.

The batteries in ELiTE vehicles have also been developed to be lighter than traditional lead acid batteries. ELiTE Series vehicles batteries are half the size and a fraction of the weight of lead-acid batteries, with the aim of reducing turf damage and soil compaction due to vehicle weight.

Jacobsen and E-Z-GO are brands under the umbrella of Textron Specialized Vehicles, so when Jacobsen began development of its latest diesel-electric hybrid and all-electric greens mower, the Eclipse 322, it was a sensible move to consult the design engineers at E-Z-GO. Much of the technology in the battery-powered Eclipse 322 is taken from the E-Z-GO RXV, another stalwart machine in the evolution of battery powered equipment. The automatic braking system and the main drive axle of the Jacobsen Eclipse 322 are shared with the RXV in particular.

All the systems and functions on the Eclipse are powered by electricity, the only difference is whether the electricity is produced ‘on the go’ as with the diesel-electric hybrid machine or stored in a battery pack as on the all-electric version.

Once you use electricity to power the machine, you can then use reasonably sophisticated electronics to control the functions on the machine. On the Eclipse the transport speed between greens can be set, as can the cutting speed when on the green; this can be locked in by the course manager using a PIN passcode, which cannot be overridden by the operator. 

Again, using electronic control, the steering in transport mode reacts much the same as a car, but when cutting mode is engaged, the ratio changes and becomes more responsive allowing the operator precise control.

However, the major benefit is the machine’s ability to control the number of cuts per metre when mowing. This ability to precisely control the frequency of cut (FOC) is unique to this mower and, like the transport and mowing speed control, it can be locked in by the course manager ensuring that every green is cut to exactly the same specification.

This is achieved because it is now possible, for the first time on a ride-on mower to control the relationship between reel speed and the forward movement of the mower. On a standard hydraulic-powered greens mower, the reels rotate at approximately 2000 rpm. The faster you move across the green, the cuts per metre reduce; conversely the slower you move, the number of cuts per metre increase, because the reels are spinning at a constant rate.

Now, with the reel motors and traction motors electrically driven, it is possible using electronic control, to slow the reels as the machine’s speed decreases and then increase reel speed as the speed across the green increases, therefore maintaining the number of cuts per metre.

Why is this important? It means that for the first time the course manager can guarantee his members that each and every green will be cut to exactly the same specification, ensuring consistency across all 18 putting surfaces.

The Eclipse also features individual reel lift and lower; the electric lift arms can be actuated individually, particularly useful when alternating the width of the clean up pass. As battery technology develops in the car industry, it will eventually cascade down into the turfcare sector and perhaps we’ll see some significant new developments in the way we maintain our outdoor environment.

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Vandals Damage Prestigious Golf Club

Vandals Damage Prestigious Golf Club: Vandals on quad bikes have ripped up turf on the greens at a local course while horrified golfers looked on.

The wrecking spree has caused £5,000 worth of damage at Howley Hall Golf Club in Morley just weeks before the start of the summer season.

The prestigious course claims to have the best four finishing holes in Yorkshire and hosts the PGA Yorkshire Open Championship.

Two men in their late teens or early 20s rode a quad bike onto the course at around 5pm on Tuesday when golfers were still playing.

They churned up the 14th hole while members were teeing off, before riding onto the 16th green and causing further damage.

They then fled in the direction of Woodkirk. The club’s head professional Ryan Rastall said:-

“It’s a real disappointment having to deal with this any time of the year, but especially so close to the start of our main golfing season (April to October). The golf course will take time to recover and it will cost a significant amount of money to repair the damage, but as a club we feel for our members and guests that enjoy playing here.”

It’s not the first time a golf club in Leeds has been targeted by nuisance bikers.

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An Update From Scott MacCallum

An Update From Scott MacCallum: You catch me as I’m gazing out of the living room window and the weather is absolutely gorgeous. Sunny, calm, warm, there’s even a slight heat haze. Not what I expect from here, certainly while still in February. Last year – the opposite. Cold, ice, temperatures barely reaching zero.

Now to an extent, while we enjoy what we have now, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be like this. Here in Scotland we’ve just broken a temperature record for Feb which has stood since the 1890s. It is a further example of how climate change is now a part of our every day lives.

An Update From Scott MacCallum

While like every rational human being I worry about it, it doesn’t impact my day to day living the way it does for you guys, the nation’s turf professionals. Traditional schedules for maintenance practices go out of the window and while you may have previously been still in the middle of winter maintenance work you are now having to cut grass.

Going forward, it is going to require a much more flexible approach to turf maintenance – not to mention your working attire during the winter months. Shorts in February! –  and those who adapt best will be rewarded with the best surfaces all year round.

I’m not suggesting that we should revel in our traditional winter weather but at least it was consistent.

Let’s enjoy this while it lasts but think about how it may shape things to come.

Scott MacCallum

Sharrocks Become Pellenc Dealer

Sharrocks Become Pellenc Dealer: Pellenc’s exclusive distributor for the UK and Ireland, Etesia UK, has announced Sharrocks as a new dealer for Pellenc’s battery-powered equipment.

Current Etesia dealer Sharrocks, a family owned business who specialise in the supply of machinery for agriculture, grass care and other land management requirements, will now be distributing Pellenc battery powered equipment to the areas of Birmingham, Shropshire, Staffordshire, South Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire.

Sharrocks Become Pellenc Dealer

Pellenc was the world’s first manufacturer to introduce lithium-ion technology in portable power tools. This innovative technology, which combines an electric motor and a revolutionary battery, has quickly become a viable solution for those seeking the benefits of green technology without comprising on power.

Light, odourless, noise-free, with no starting problems and enough power to enable professional users to work for a full day on a single charge, it’s no wonder more and more professional users are turning to Pellenc. It is an attractive alternative to those who have, for a number of years, been relying on fuel based machinery – and machinery dealerships, such as Sharrocks, have started to see a rising demand for battery powered equipment.

Pellenc has developed the most comprehensive range on the market leading the way in terms of performance, lightness and durability. The extensive product range features an impressive portfolio – from chainsaws, pole saws and hedge cutters to grass strimmers, brushcutters and mowers.

Not only will users be able to comfortably achieve a full day’s work without having to re-charge the battery but they will see a huge amount of savings by eliminating the necessity of purchasing fuel. Furthermore, users will be contributing to protecting the environment by reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and noise pollution.

Sharrocks managing director James Sharrock is delighted with the new dealer agreement and believes that Pellenc equipment could well be the future.

“We are taking Pellenc on-board for the first ever time and I’m really excited about it,” he said. “We have been trialling the Pellenc products and have evaluated them over three months and for us it is the future of electric powered commercial equipment. They are astounding products and they complement the Etesia products so well.”

The complete range of Pellenc equipment is now available for both hire and purchase from Sharrocks, who will also take on responsibility for all parts, servicing and warranty for current users.

For further information, please contact Etesia UK on 01295 680120 or visit

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Basildon Facilities Encourage The Next Max Whitlock

Basildon Facilities Encourage The Next Max Whitlock: Basildon sport has received a shot in the arm following the opening of a near £1m scheme at Everyone Active’s Eversley Leisure Centre.

Witham-based ETC Sports Surfaces has installed new 3G football pitches and floodlights for 11-, nine-, seven- and five-a-side football, while contractor Morgan Sindall focused on the centre’s internal development.

Basildon Facilities Encourage The Next Max Whitlock

The sports hall has been transformed into a state-of-the-art gym to add to the Basildon Sporting Village base of South Essex Gymnastic Club (SEGC) that has turned out star members, including Max Whitlock, Amy Tinkler and Brinn Bevan.

Basildon Council has invested £570,000 in the first outdoor all-weather pitch in Pitsea, combined with £230,000 from SEGC and £123,900 from the Veolia Pitsea Marshes Maintenance Trust.

The full size 3G football pitch allows play all year round and provides players with the look and feel of natural turf and all the benefits of a hardwearing, weather and stud-resistant surface.

ETC worked alongside Zaun Ltd, who manufactured and supplied its Duo8 Super Rebound sports fencing system and gates to surround the pitch.

Duo8 Super Rebound forms a robust play area that is highly durable, low maintenance and ‘graffiti-proof’, with great rebound properties similar to a wall and rubber inserts between panels and posts to keep ‘rattle’ during play to a minimum.

Councillor Kevin Blake, Basildon Council’s chairman of the leisure, culture and environment committee, said: “The development of a second gymnastics hub for the borough is a great opportunity for young people to try the sport for the first time.

“Together with the new 3G pitches they will help boost participation in sport and tackle local health inequalities.”

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From Homeless To Award-Winning Greenkeeper

From Homeless To Award-Winning Greenkeeper: Jack Percival spent six months on the streets. When greenkeeping provided a lifeline, he never forgot what he had been through.

Of all the things Jack Percival no longer takes for granted – and it’s quite a list – there is one that stands out, that’s hardwired into his brain like a bad memory. Warmth.

From Homeless To Award-Winning Greenkeeper

The thought of its loss makes him shudder, conjuring flickers of frozen nights spent lodged into the crevice of a fire escape in a Tesco car park.

Sometimes he could call on a friend and get something to eat, or to find a couple of hours to sleep or wash his clothes.

But whether he got a bed for the night or had to huddle on the frigid tarmac could depend on the knock of a door.

The hum of the greens mower reminds him his situation is now a world away from what it once was.

Sometimes he might ask himself why he’s out on the golf course at all hours – carrying out a bit of watering – or reading up on a new product at home.

He’s spent the last 18 months as the deputy course manager at Chipstead and the 24-year-old loves it. It’s a way of life he could not have countenanced when he was homeless.

“I always say that it isn’t just a job, it’s a passion,” he says. “It’s not just 9 to 5 and it’s definitely a job where you need that passion.

“To drive round and see the course in good condition makes you smile because you know you are doing something well. It’s job satisfaction.”

But if he stands and catches a breath, Jack might consider how remarkable this turnaround has been – from a life of desperation to one of hope and positivity.

Jack admits he was a difficult teenager. A problem for his mum, he “wasn’t the greatest of kids to be around”. Falling into the proverbial ‘bad crowd’ he found himself on the Croydon streets.

It was a six-month spell of sofa surfing and rough sleeping. His friends helped where they could but it was only so long before he was outstaying his welcome.

They had their own lives, their own worries, their own bills to pay.

“There was a guy I met and he was a local alcoholic,” he says, remembering some of the alternative ways he’d try to get out of the cold.

“He had a house but he was a really bad drinker. He was a nice guy but had just fallen into it.

“I used to stay at his house when I could. He’d drink a lot during the daytime and sometimes he’d just come home, be paralytic drunk, and sleep on the sofa.

“Sometimes I could go there and he’d answer the door and sometimes I’d go and he wouldn’t. By that time it was 10pm and I’d be stuck for choices.”

So his fate would be a fire escape and even that proved no sanctuary. When the shoppers started arriving in earnest, Jack was on the move – wandering the streets and a nearby country park.

He never begged, trusting he’d find enough to keep him going. Even so, the effect on his health was gradually devastating.

“I really struggled. In the end, my skin was covered in psoriasis because I was so stressed, down and upset. I was covered in scabs all over my body. It was a tough time. It was horrible. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

Had a family friend not come to his rescue, Jack can’t think about where he might be now. Karen took him in, “gave me a kick up the arse”, and issued a sort-your-life-out warning.

She got him a job, doing groundwork at a cemetery, and he found a spot in a little house share.

Soon after, he met his girlfriend, Tori, and his growing interest in agronomy saw him land a job as a greenkeeper at Purley Downs.

He was 18 and had purpose.

He moved to Addington Palace as a mechanic greenkeeper and served as the head greenkeeper at a 9-hole course in Forest Hill, South London, before taking the job at Chipstead.

Everything turned out rosy for Jack. With a four-year-old son and another baby on the way in May, he’s turned his life around in impressive fashion. It’s a feelgood story for anyone who loves a fairytale.

And yet it doesn’t end there. Because living on the streets left a scar – and the kindness shown to help him back on his feet compelled him to take action.

It started with sandwiches. If he saw a homeless person, Jack would stop and get them something to eat, or something to drink.

Then a couple of years ago, on Christmas Eve, he got on the bus to Croydon laden with sandwiches and bottles of water and gave them out to those he found.

“I just kept it quiet,” he says. “Only my family knew about that. I’d come home and we wouldn’t really speak about it again. It was something that was done.

“I used to call Karen my foster mum. Unfortunately, she died in March last year. She always taught me that no matter what you’ve done everyone deserves a second chance.

“Whether you are a drug addict or an alcoholic, you still deserve to eat food and have clothes on your back.”

So last summer, he started working for Croydon Nightwatch on a Sunday evening and as Christmas approached, and he planned his annual sandwich run, those in the know urged him to try and do something bigger.

Jack erred. He didn’t want to get on social media to ring the bell fearing he’d be branded as hunting for likes and congratulations. This wasn’t about that.

But he also knew if he could get some weight behind the project, and get some helpers on board, he might be able to do something big.

He gave into his fear, and something amazing started happening.

“It ended up going through the roof. I was getting carloads of donations turning up at my door. Suppliers were buying everything I needed.

“In the end I had to put it all in a storage facility. Every couple of days I had to get a van to the house, fill it up with donations, and go and put it into storage because my house was getting too packed.

“I had barbers come forward. The tea and coffee van that I visit in the morning said she would supply all the coffees for free. I had the owner of a pizza shop message me and then a curry shop also came on board.”

The scale of the donations was breathtaking – stacks upon stacks of packs of biscuits, bottles of water, cans of drink, toothbrushes, deodorant, chocolate bars, and more.

From a walk around on a festive evening, Jack now had an event on his hands that required military planning.

Every night for about two months he’d sit on his phone working out logistics, sharing WhatsApp messages with volunteers and organising licences.

But even he couldn’t have imagined the impact his efforts would have.

There is something pernicious about the way our society views the homeless. We avert our gaze in the face of a plea for help. We imagine the worst about those in a desperate plight.

They are there because it’s their fault, we tell ourselves. It’s because they are drug addicts, because they are alcoholics, or because they are feckless.

The milk of human kindness runs sour. Those who are homeless can face the worst of us – and largely expect nothing else.

So when someone does something to break that chain, as Jack did when he galvanised a community to support the Croydon homeless, the response is enough to melt even the hardest of hearts.

“One guy had a haircut and started crying,” he remembers. “There was an old Jamaican guy who came and he was looking for new pair of shoes – he had holes in his.

“We found him this pair of boots and he was dancing on the spot with happiness. We ended up taking him back to his tent and piled him up with sleeping bags and clothes.”

Jack had been struck with last minute jitters. Would anyone turn up? Would it go well? He’d been round the streets telling everyone he could find to come along.

But at first there was only a trickle of people, and then it started to rain. Suddenly there were tables full of produce he thought were going to go to waste.

They were piled high with hygiene bags, snack bags, sleeping bags, hats, hot water bottles, gloves, pants, socks, fruit bars, meal replacement shakes, chocolate, a transit van full of clothes to rummage through. It was everything you might possibly need if you had to get through another frozen night.

His team of volunteers took some of the supplies and wandered through the streets. Then people started arriving in their droves.

“It was basic needs,” Jack says. “We even catered for dogs and gave out little doggie bags and biscuits. One lady just couldn’t believe it. She said, ‘The dog’s going to get fed, I’m going to get fed. It’s unbelievable.’

“People were asking if they could have an extra cup of coffee. They were really hesitant. I said, ‘It’s here, you can help yourself, take as much as you want.’

“It was the face on a young lad that got a haircut – that was the thing that got me. He was quite cocky, he obviously had a small addiction or something like that, and at first he didn’t really want the help.

“I sat him down and said, ‘Come on mate. You can pick anything you want. We can help you out. What about a haircut?’ He said, ‘A haircut, you are joking?’

“But he had one, was sitting there and bonding with the guy cutting his hair and they were having a good chat for half an hour. We were bringing him a cup of coffee and a pizza. In the end, he was ecstatic and loving it.”

Jack looked nervous, and sounded it too. We were inside the massive convention centre at Harrogate and, in a couple of hours, he was up for a big award.

It was a month after his Christmas feed on December 23, but news of what he had done spread quickly.

His team had helped about 75 people in all – feeding and clothing them – and those selfless efforts had earned him a nomination at the annual BIGGA Awards.

Organising and preparing that was one thing, standing up in front of a room of his peers was quite another.

And yet they were the ones to stand for him – in their hundreds as he received an ovation that moved him to tears when hailed for the Outstanding Contribution of the Year.

“When I heard Jack’s story I was absolutely blown away,” explains BIGGA’s chief executive Jim Croxton. “Having heard what he went through during those six months when he lived on the street and seeing how he has worked tirelessly in the years since to not only turn his life around but also provide opportunities for other less fortunate, is quite inspirational.

“I’m delighted that we have been able to recognise Jack’s achievements in this small way. He is an incredible young man and I’m proud to call him a member of the association.”

Jack didn’t know what to say. A week later, with a phone bulging with congratulations from well wishers, he was still at a loss.

“I guess it’s an achievement,” he says. I’ve asked Jack where greenkeeping fits into his past and where his life is now.

“I call this job a ladder and it’s one that everyone is trying to climb. I have been around a bit but when I move on I make sure I leave on good terms and, while I was there, I work my nuts off so it stands out.

“People look back and say, ‘That Jack’s a really good kid. He works really hard.’ It stands out and it goes a long way.”

If everyone didn’t already think that of him, what is coming next would only cement their opinion. Planning for a summer feed is under way.

Tori had shared a Facebook post about his winter campaign and it had received around 3,000 likes.

Most were positive but there was the odd one – there’s always the odd one – who asked the question. ‘What happens for the other 364 days of the year? What are you doing to help them then?’

That could have stung – after all the social trolls were one of Jack’s worries when he debated whether, and how, he could take his idea bigger.

But how large it now becomes is only limited by the scale of his ambition. That’s the ultimate rebuttal to those who lack faith.

“I set a New Year’s resolution this year and it was to give back more, to change someone’s life and to make an impact on someone’s life – even if it is just bringing happiness.

“I feel like I am doing that.”

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Not Just Three Numbers

Not Just Three Numbers: Understanding fertilisers: What to use where, when and why

By Chris Humphrey MBPR FQA – Technical Manager, Collier Turf Care

Not Just Three Numbers

We are all familiar with turf fertilisers being referred to as three numbers (for example 6:6:12) but what does it really mean and what are we putting on our turf? To start, the three numbers are just what is required by legislation to be on the fertiliser. They relate to the percentage of major nutrients Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) in the product. But you need to know a lot more.

Read the label and discuss with your FQA (FACTS qualified advisor) your requirements. FACTS is the Fertiliser Advisor Certification and Training Scheme. Is your advisor qualified?
Ask to see their FQA card.

Why do we apply fertiliser?

Turf needs many nutrients to remain healthy and it is important to ensure that they are present in the soil in sufficient quantities and are available to be taken up by the plant.

Typical level of nutrient in grass.

Major nutrients
Nitrogen          – 2.50 – 6.0%
Phosphorus      -0.25 – 0.50%
Potassium        -1.25 – 3.50%

Secondary nutrients
Calcium           -0.40 – 0.70%
Magnesium     -0.05 -0.25%
Sulphur            -0.25 – 0.50%

Iron                  -60 – 400ppm
Manganese     -50 – 400ppm
Copper             -50 – 400ppm
Zinc                 –  2 –  30ppm
Boron              –  2 –  5ppm
Molybdenum   –  2 –  5ppm

Nutrients are lost through leaching through the soil and clipping removal. But how much should we put on and in what form? Nutrients come in different forms and vary in speed of delivery, potential to scorch the turf, the effect on soil pH, availability at different temperatures, granulation size, longevity of response and physical breakdown. Nutrients also come from different sources. The major nutrient – Nitrogen – can come as Ammonium Nitrate, Sulphate of ammonia, urea, an organic source or as a synthetic nitrogen.

Ammonium Nitrate and Sulphate of Ammonia will release quickly and give a fast response at low temperatures, they will therefore not last as long as other nitrogen forms and do have a higher scorch risk. Sulphate of ammonia is also quite acidic which could be a useful or not depending on your soil pH and requirements. Urea needs bacteria to convert it to nitrate for the plant to take it up, therefore it needs some moisture and the temperature to be above 6 degrees centigrade to get it working. Organic nitrogen comes in any format where organic matter can breakdown with bacterial activity to release nitrogen. The common ones used in turf fertilisers are Bone Meal, Dried Blood, Poultry manure or Leather-meal. By the fact that organic nitrogen scores need to be broken down, they are a fairly slow release of nutria and do require some moisture and temperature to help them. The exception is Dried Blood that does break down quicker than the other organic forms. Because Organic fertilisers are slow they have a very low scorch potential. Most fertilisers that call themselves organic are actually only organic based and have a degree of inorganic nitrogen in them. Check the label or ask your FQA. The final source of nitrogen is the synthetic nitrogens such as Methylene urea, IBDU, Resin coated urea or Sulphur & Resin coated urea. These are designed to give you a slow release over a set period, often up to 9 months. They generally therefore have a lower scorch potential. It is important when using any coated product that the granulation is a suitable size for the turf area where you plan to use it and maintenance operations do not break the coatings.

How much nitrogen should you put on? This will vary on many things such as soil type, leaching potential, grass type and growth rate. You should prepare an annual fertiliser programme based on your individual requirements and the results of a soil test.

To work out how much nitrogen you are applying use the following formulas to give you the Kg/Ha you will be applying.

For Granular products

(Application rate x % Nutrient) divided by 10

Example – Apply a 4:0:8 fertiliser at 35g/m2
(35 x 4) divided by 10 = 14kg/Ha of nitrogen.

For Liquid fertilisers

(Application rate x specific gravity x % Nutrient) divided by 100
(specific gravity is the weight of a known volume of liquid fertiliser vs the same volume of water)

Example – apply a 15:0:12 liquid fertiliser at 60ltr/Ha. The liquid fertiliser has a specific gravity of 1.2 (i.e. it is 1.2 times heavier than water).
(60 x 1.2 x 15) divided by 100 +10.8kg/Ha of nitrogen.

Every site will vary and many things need to be taken into consideration when planning your fertiliser programme but as a rough outline of common nitrogen inputs are:

Golf Green/Bowls/Ornamental Lawns 80 – 120kg/Ha
Soil based Golf Tees 80 – 160kg/Ha
Sand based Golf Tees 200 – 240kg/Ha
Cricket Square 80 – 120kg/Ha
Soil based Football 80 – 120kg/Ha
Sand based Football 200 – 800kg/Ha or even more.

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