For Alfreton Town FC groundsman, Rob Brooks, the ability to Koro the club’s Impact Arena stadium pitch every third season, and regular vertidraining, would be Utopia. In the real world, however, the five-figure cost of such an annual renovation is prohibitive, so the usual end-of-season renovation normally centres around deep scarification and Earthquaking.
That said, for the past nine years since he has been full-time at the National League North club, Rob has consistently managed to present a pitch that exceeds expectations to the extent that it is not only regularly used (for matches and training) by the club’s first team but also for games by its newly-established Academy and for matches by the Nottingham Forest FC under 23 squad.
In addition, Rob’s expertise has secured him two National League (north and south – 53 clubs) Groundsman of the Year Awards in 2011/12 and 2015/16.
Usage rates are high – sometimes five games in ten days – with the first team alternating with Academy games on Saturdays. The Academy also uses it some Monday evenings and the Nottingham Forest players are often on the pitch on a Tuesday or Friday. This season, Rob has already prepared the surface for 48 home team, academy and Forest games (including friendlies), with a further 32 scheduled plus pitch hires at the end of the season as well as training sessions.
“The immense pressure on consistently presenting a first-class pitch that is playable all year round is compounded by the financial reality that every game means more money in the coffers,” says Rob. “And while I have quite a bit of maintenance machinery at my disposal, including a Dennis 860 cylinder mower with cassettes which is used to keep the sward at 27mm high, there is no doubt that the consumables I use also play a key role.” That and a lot of skilled, hard work no doubt!
“I’ve been using a range of products from Rigby Taylor – the company at the forefront of the supply of products for the effective maintenance and management of sports surfaces – since I joined the club. I’ve always found them effective and, equally as important, very cost-efficient. This is essential when every penny counts!”
For example, the pitch is overseeded with 12 x 20 kgs bags of predominantly R41 100 per cent ryegrass (plus R14 and R11) and Rob regularly uses a mixture of fertilisers and iron feeds – such as Fineturf (conventional release fertiliser) and Microlite Activ-8 6-0-24+2%fe which has a high level of humic acid to improve root strength and soil structure; plus Soluble Iron; Crossbar selective herbicide; and the Mascot Hi-Aktiv glyphosate herbicide. “I do have a feeding ‘schedule’, which normally entails perhaps five feeds a season, but I’ll increase that frequency if I can see that the grass needs it.”
Rob joined the club after working there part-time while also caring for the nearby Ilkeston Town ground. Before that he was employed by the local council, starting from school as an apprentice, and this role saw him involved in the maintenance of a range of playing surfaces including bowling greens and tennis courts, as well as tree surgery. It was during this time that he gained his NVQ Level 3 in horticulture.
“When I joined here I discovered that the pitch had been built on a rubbish tip, and one of the first things I saw was that the surface had regularly been given a lot of sand. That included building sand – and I immediately changed that practice!”
His annual regime now focuses on a vertidraining/deep aeration/Earthquaking (done by a contractor) usually at the end of each October, plus a good feed, then vertidraining perhaps four times a year. His desire for Koroing is understandable:
“We had the pitch Koro’d last season, the first time for six years, after we lost some games through waterlogging,” he says. “We had heavy thatch and the water was sitting on the top layer. Since Koroing down to 18 mm, however, we haven’t lost a game.”
Nowadays, thatch levels are at 5 mm and root depth extends to 110 mm – and both are continually improving. Plus with annual deep scarification, then 60-90 tonnes of sand and an application of pre-seed fertiliser and the use of a controlled-release fertiliser every four to six weeks, Rob says he is able to maintain good (at least 98%) grass coverage – whatever the wear and weather.
“It would be nice if I could have my own vertidrainer, then I’d use it twice a month. I do have a spiker and slitter, which allow me to go down to one inch and 3 inch, respectively, but it would be ideal to vertidrain to six or eight inches whenever I wanted. A pop-up irrigation system would be nice, too, but I’ll just have to wait and see. ”
Alfreton Town FC groundsman, Rob Brooks: “I’ve been using a range of products from Rigby Taylor since I joined the club. I’ve always found them effective and, equally as important, very cost-efficient”