TLM robot saves time and money: The Lilywhites’ home ground, Deepdale, holds the title of the ‘world’s oldest professional footballing site in continuous use’ with Preston North End FC (PNE) remaining loyal to the plot of land that [former cricket] club members leased in 1875.
Today, PNE Head Groundsman Pete Ashworth and his team of six, are ensuring that the site continues to remain ‘fit for purpose’ by maintaining excellent pitch standards at Deepdale – as well as those at the club’s Springfields academy site and newly acquired first-team training ground in Euxton.
Both sites feature four, natural turf and fibresand pitches and are located a few miles apart, which can cause a time-management issue for Pete, although he’s now able to reduce pitch-marking man hours – thanks to Rigby Taylor’s robot line-marking technology.
Pete’s team includes Sam Newton who oversees the Deepdale stadium, 19-year-old Luke MacDonald looks after the Springfields site, while Dean Ash and Dan Mahoney manage the new Euxton site – assisted by two willing apprentices, Harry Duckworth and John Paul Mcavoy, who are given work experience across all sites, as and when required.
When the club took over the Euxton pitches in September last year [it was previously owned by Bolton Wanders and more recently Wigan Athletic FC] Pete says the site hadn’t been renovated, there was a high population of meadow grass and no fertiliser had been applied since February that year.
Dan, a former Wigan Athletic FC groundsman joined the grounds team around the same time and Pete says his knowledge of the site helped to get the pitches back on track with an agreed well-balanced fertiliser programme that mirrored the one used at the Springfields site – before raking out and lightly top dressing the pitches ready for use.
This programme included Rigby Taylor’s Activate biostimulent, ConVert and ConVert Gold, Apex and Nutri-Link liquid fertiliser – and this, plus other turf-related issues are discussed on a regular basis by Pete and former Preston Golf Club Course Manager, Andy Merry, who is now Pete’s local Rigby Taylor Sales Technician.
“I’ve worked with Rigby Taylor for most of my time at Preston and trust the products because they have always performed,” Pete says. “Andy and I have a great relationship. We have regular sit-down chats and plan what we think the pitches need the month ahead. We look at the weather forecast, compare it with the year before, and decide which products to use.”
Pete uses Rigby Taylor R14 grass seed on the Deepdale pitch and likes to mix up the grass seed on training ground pitches to “see what works best” – using Rigby Taylor’s R140 grass seed on half of the natural turf and fibresand pitches. Andy is also working with Pete to get the best product colour and longevity by conducting trial plots on the Springfields and Euxton sites.
Regarding grounds team time management across the extended training ground sites, Pete says available man hours can be a problem – particularly when marking pitches in the height of the summer when the grass growth meant cutting the lines out every day.
He saw a potential solution when he was introduced to Rigby Taylor’s robotic Tiny Line Marker (TLM) at SALTEX 2019 and after subsequent demonstrations, advised the club that it would be a cost-effective time saver for the grounds team.
“Getting the robot is quite innovative for us and we’re pleased the club supported us,” Pete says. “We now take the TLM to mark out twice a week at each site – it’s used on the first team training ground on a Monday and Thursday, and the academy on a Tuesday and Friday. If there’s only one lad at the academy site, he can just set it off while he gets on with the cutting or vertidraining – it’s definitely helping us a lot.”
When the TLM Sport arrived, Pete and his team had a ‘hands-on’ TLM Sport training day at Euxton. Andrew showed the team how to use the accompanying tablet, access the football pitch templates and how to plot bespoke pitch markings. “We literally turn on the tablet, click on the required pitch template and press start – it’s so easy,” Pete says, adding that he also uses Rigby Taylor’s IMPACT paint for vibrant lines.
“Now all the pitch templates are stored in the tablet for each site, if we ever lose one – for example, if we were cutting and didn’t mark it, we know we can put the robot back out and it will mark it up from scratch within half an hour.”
The grounds team’s hard work doesn’t go unnoticed either. West Ham FC’s first team recently trained at the Springfields site before their mid-week game against Man United FC and their Saturday fixture with Leeds FC and as well as some of the players, West Ham manager David Moyes remarked on how good the pitch was – compared to when he was managing the club 20 years ago.
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