Friday, 7 December 2007

Ground Force at the Deva Stadium

Being a football supporter really comes into its own when wearing a scarf becomes a neccessity and not just a retro fashion statement. Huddled in the festive fug recalling those pre-Christmas stuffings and horrendous Boxing Day away trips, the season's midpoint evokes a curiosly Dunkirk spirit. Warmed within by those stick top-shelf tipples that only get uncorked at Christmas time, and stoic in the knowledge that a few more months of frozen foot standing and damp floodlip afternoons remain to come. The holiday tans and unfeasible optimism of August seem a very long time ago indeed.

But it could be so much worse. Just spare a though for the groundsmen at football grounds all over the country whose job it is to prepare their clubs playing surface for the next game. Here at Chester, as a season draws to a close preparations are already underway to make sure the Deva Stadium playing surface is ready for the new term. City groundsman Gary Kent has been with Chester City Football Club for years. His vast experience in ground maintenance is a asset the club are proud of.

Gary and his team start working to revamp the pitch as soon as the final fixture is completed. With each year that passes, this seems to become a more a more difficult task to complete. Close season breaks are becoming increasingly shorter and shorter and Gary has to bear in the mind, the pitch needs to be ready for the possibility of pre season friendlies being played on it as early on as July.

The company that laid the present Deva Stadium playing surface in 1992 also supplied the playing surface at Liverpools Anfield Road stadium. The similarities end there though as Liverpool have had their pitch renewed on at least three occasions since 1992 whilst the Deva Stadium pitch remains in its original form. The process of preparing the playing surface is painstakingly time consuming.

One of Gary's many tasks include brushing seventy tonnes of sand across the playing surface that has then to be drag matted to ensure the surface level. There are parts of the Deva pitch which suffer from drainage problems and all have to be carefully nurtured to allow those areas to be capable of withstanding the trials of the coming season equally. Reseeding takes place late on in the process and needs to be carefully planned at the correct time in order for the surface to be ready as required for the opening fixtures of a new campaign.

Playing throughout the season generates a heavy wear to the surface. During half time and full time on a match day the ground staff can be seen carrying out minor repairs before a full scale repair operation is undertaken the following day. Gary Kent's team will work as required to keep the pitch in playable condition and this will include a seven day week if the weather dictates it to be required. Gary said: "The pitch needs to be rolled and in particular we have to have the pitch level before a frost or freeze makes the pitch impossible to work on."The current Deva Stadium pitch is rolled with a large industrial sized lawn mower that can take a long time to complete. All other pitch requirements are completed by hand in a more traditional manner and therefore top of Gary's shopping wish list is a compact tractor to allow the work to be completed in a much shorter space of time. Gary contined: "The tractor will allow other attachments to be pulled across the surface and will allow several jobs to be done quickly and that is something we don't have at present."

Throughout the course of a campaign, the Deva Stadium pitch can take quite a battering from the full programme of first team matches, reserve games and squad training. Gary highlighted the goal areas as a particularly difficult area of the field to maintain. Training can mean the pitch suffers from damage to one area only and a morning's squad training can do more damage to the pitch than a full ninety minute football match bearing the same conditions. Despite taking such heavy usage Gary is proud of his pitch. "There are worse pitches around than ours" muses Gary "but my concern is that the Deva pitch holds out for the rest of the season and all fixtures are completed on time for the season's end in May."

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