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Friday, 22 March 2013

The Magpies fly high thanks to Mansfield Sand

On the up
Newcastle United Football Club is a club on the up, finishing comfortably in the top half of the Premiership league table last season.  This success could be attributed to many different elements – the skill of the players, the knowledge of the manager, the support of the fans, or the excellence of the facilities.  However, one feature that has remained consistent week in and week out is the quality and playability of the pitch.
Since 2007, Newcastle United has had a Fibrelastic pitch from Mansfield Sand.  The Club was the first in the UK to use the new pitch technology, and with the care and expertise of its groundstaff it continues to go from strength to strength – so much so that three more Fibrelastic pitches have been installed at the Newcastle United Football Club Training Centre.

Back to basics

Before 2007, Newcastle United had Fibresand pitches from Mansfield Sand at both St. James’ Park (now the Sports Direct Arena) and its training ground.

“Our Fibresand pitches were excellent quality and served their purpose adequately.  However, in 2007 we decided to review our surfaces and see if we could improve them even further.  It was then that we started to research other products and technologies on the market,” explains Eddie Rutherford, Stadium Manager at Newcastle United Football Club.
At the same time Mansfield Sand Company were trialling a new product, Fibrelastic, with the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI).  This new development was a totally natural turf grown in a Fibrelastic Rootzone, which was made up of rootzone but reinforced with Polypropylene and Elastane fibres.  The findings of these tests were enough to convince Newcastle United to purchase a Fibrelastic pitch before one had even been grown.
“The results from the STRI trials were conclusive – Fibrelastic would provide a fantastic playing surface for footballers both in terms of comfort and playability,” continues Eddie.  “We were the first club in the UK to have a Fibrelastic pitch and as such had not seen one in action.  However, we had confidence in the product and Mansfield Sand’s expertise, and we haven’t looked back since.”
Now in its fifth year, the Fibrelastic pitch at the Sports Direct Arena continues to perform just as well as it did in 2007.  Head Groundsman Michael Curran, who has been with the Club for over ten years, has first-hand experience of the surface:
“Since it was laid five years ago, the Fibrelastic pitch has definitely had a positive impact on both the players and the wider support team.  The softer surface has increased player comfort, as well as significantly reducing the amount of impact injuries sustained by the players.  It is also extremely Groundsman friendly.
“All pitches need the expertise and knowledge of an experienced Grounds Team to keep them in top condition, but it does help if you are working with high quality raw materials to begin with.
“The materials and technology in our Fibrelastic pitch have kept it playable even during the harshest of winters, with its levels remaining constant, little danger of slippage, and no loss of ball control.  Even when there has been reduced grass cover, the pitch has retained its traction – making it the ideal choice for clubs exposed to harsh weather conditions like us!” adds Michael.
Practice makes perfect
The success of the stadium pitch led to two Fibrelastic pitches being installed at the Newcastle United Football Club Training Ground in 2008, with a further pitch being added in 2011.
“During training sessions, players would usually head for the pitch nearest to the changing rooms.  However, when the new Fibrelastic pitch was laid the lads walked straight past that pitch to get to this new one,” explains Michael.

“It is not only that these pitches mirror the conditions within the stadium, but the comfort of playing on them and the reduced risk of incurring an injury during training have made them a popular choice with the players and medical staff alike,” adds Michael.

One man and his ground
There are eight Groundsmen in total looking after the pitches at the Sports Direct Arena, the training ground and the academy.  The team is led by Head Groundsman, Michael Curran, who is supported by his Deputy Andrew Tulley.

“The pitch is the key component to any football game.  You can have the best players in the world on the pitch but if the surface is substandard, the game will also be poor,” says Michael.

The team at Newcastle are particularly diligent in the care of their pitches and the results speak for themselves.  After every match, the goals are dropped and all eight staff divot the entire pitch. Five 22” John Deere rotary cutters are then used to “vacuum” the surface before it is watered and the lights are turned on.  The pitch is then “walked” on a Monday to ensure everything is still in place.

“We cut the stadium pitch every Thursday, weather permitting, and fertilize every ten to fourteen days. We use a specialised feeding program due to the growing conditions of our grass plants, which are exposed to the Grow Lights throughout winter.  Our lights are moved every two days, and from September to the end of March they are on 24 hours a day.  We also spike the pitch with a Toro Pro Core twice a month,” adds Michael.

The pitch is now as much of a feature of the Sports Direct Arena as its players, and it continues to outperform its Premiership counterparts.

“Mansfield Sand has a long standing relationship with Newcastle United and as such understands its needs,” explains Mark Robinson, Sports Turf Manager at Mansfield Sand Company.  “We work very closely with Eddie and Michael to ensure all of their pitches are performing as they should as well as advising on best practices.  Michael and his team are the perfect example of how this partnership between supplier and Club can work successfully.”

Michael concludes, “We all work extremely hard to keep all of the clubs pitches in the best condition possible and it does take a lot of knowledge and expertise to achieve this.  However, Fibrelastic has definitely made our job a lot easier and we are all rightly proud of what we have accomplished at the club.”

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