Head Groundsman Chaz Woolnough has provided an update from the Cliff Hill Training Ground as pitch renovations continue to take place both there and at St James Park.
Away from his usual updates from the stadium, he has explained the extensive investments at the training facility, which will soon be ready to welcome the players back for pre-season.
As well as the surface at St James Park, Chaz has four pitches to look after at the training ground, including the 4G astroturf. The three grass pitches have all undergone some form of refurbishment, as he explains.
“The main pitch at SJP is what most people see but we spend most of our time out here, as do the players.
“On the main training pitch we have put secondary drainage in which is similar to what we have at the stadium and it’s looking very green at the moment.
“We have about a month before the lads come back and we’re really pleased with it. In a couple of weeks we’ll be ready to get the lines back on it.”
While the focus has been on the two main pitches, attention has also been paid to pitch three, which is often used by the academy and younger age brackets,
“We are very lucky to have been able to do pitch three as well, so we’re trying to get the surface right for all age groups. There has been some really strong investment out here which we hope to be able to continue for years to come,” Chaz added.
The biggest project at the training ground has been pitch one, which is used by the first team for practice matches and shooting drills. Like the surface at St James Park, sand bands have been used, which allows for better drainage when the weather is at its worst.
“On pitch one, which was done a couple of weeks ago, you can see the sand lines which are much more prevalent and they go down six inches. About 100 tonnes of sand went into this pitch,” he said.
“Like at the stadium, it’s all about keeping the surface open and keeping the water going through it into the drains below. The pitch has been overseeded and I’ll be cutting it next week, so it should start to look a lot greener.
“Pitch three is very similar to pitch one, and we’ve never put any drainage in that pitch before. All this investment really will pay dividends.”
Installed in 2016, the 4G astroturf is the world’s first cork based astroturf and is also a part of Chaz’s daily workload. Using a variety of tools, he ensures the surface stays up to FA standards and remains a first class surface for the players.
“We have a system of brushes and metal rakes which agitate the surface to keep it from going too hard, and it makes it feel like natural grass as much as possible, despite it being unnatural.
“Once or twice a year we also use a decompacting machine. It is tested every three years by the FA Approved testers to ensure it remains within the certain criteria, and that was done last week - the initial response is really good.”