Well, that's the end of my summer. I'm back at the University of Nebraska to finish up my last semester and graduate this December with a degree in Turfgrass Management and a minor in Business.
As I sit here in my apartment in Lincoln, I can't help but feel very grateful to everyone who has helped me over the past three years of great experiences.
First, I want to thank Weston Appelfeller at the Columbus Crew SC for answering my shot-in-the-dark email three years ago about a potential first internship in the industry. Out of many emails to many places, Weston was the only one to respond and I can't thank him enough because that led to the rest of the opportunities I have been lucky to have.
While at the Columbus Crew, I was put in touch with Mike O'Keeffe at Ohio State about potentially going overseas for work experience. Mike runs the world-famous Ohio Program, which helps place agriculture and horticulture students from America at internships all over the world and vice-versa.
Mike told me about a company in Macclesfield, England that was looking for their first ever intern. He gave my information to Richard Campey at Campey Turfcare Systems and I went on to have an incredible summer, as outlined in my last blog "Jeff Lenihan- Pitch Prep in the UK".
With Campeys in Finland.
While touring around Europe with Campey Turfcare, I met Steve Braddock at Arsenal, and that's where this story comes full circle. I had an awesome summer at London Colney and worked with some great people. Even though I am a Manchester United fan, I couldn't help but be impressed with the facility and operation that they have going there.
Mowing in lines on one of my last days with Campey Turfcare intern Alex Jensen from Australia
I also wanted to thank Aquatrols for sponsoring my blog this year! And, obviously, I want to give a big thanks to everyone at TurfNet, especially Peter McCormick and Jon Kiger, who have helped me along the way for the past two years. Thanks for following along!
Part of being a great sports organization is being able to develop young talent into the stars of tomorrow. This often means investing time and money into a facet of the club that doesn't get a lot of the attention. Think about all of the resources put into minor league baseball. It isn't talked about often, but it is an important part of the organization.
Soccer development is similar, yet many of the kids start their club careers at a very young age. Barcelona star Lionel Messi joined his first club in Argentina when he was just six years old.
At Arsenal, youth prospects are based at the Hale End Youth Academy. Players from 7 to 16 years old train and refine their craft at this London sports ground. This academy is famous for turning out great players such as Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Iwobi.
Natural grass pitch
Right now, the academy is undergoing a huge redevelopment. More time, effort, and resources are being allocated to ensure that this becomes one of the best facilities in youth soccer in the world.
The pitches are included in this grand redevelopment plan. Paul Ashcroft has taken on the task of turning the playing surfaces there into first-team worthy fields. It's no small task either. All of the pitches are being renovated or reconstructed entirely. There is also the installation of new landscaping that must be looked after.
The site will soon have two natural grass pitches, with one of them being stitched with Desso Grassmaster fibers. That just goes to show the level of commitment that Arsenal is showing to developing young talent. A Desso pitch doesn't come cheap, but is a great investment when you need to handle the wear and tear from all of the youth teams that train at the facility.
Natural grass pitch- soon to be stitched with Desso
A new artificial pitch is going in as well, to go along with the indoor artificial half-sized pitch. Right now, the entire site is a construction zone, but work will hopefully be done by January 2017.
Construction crews prepare the site for the installation of an artificial pitch
Indoor half-size artificial pitch
The next destination on our day out in London was a visit to the home of Arsenals main rival, Tottenham Hotspur, at their stadium, White Hart Lane.
White Hart Lane has been the home of Tottenham since it was built in 1899. That streak will end at the conclusion of this upcoming 2016/17 season, as Tottenham will move to Wembley Stadium for one year and White Hart Lane will be torn down to make way for a new stadium on site.
Actually, the new stadium is being built right there right now. To get a head start, one section of the stand has already been destroyed to make way for one of the six massive support beams that will hold up the new building. Tottenham will still play there next season, just with fewer seats. As we stood there on the pitch, a giant excavator grabbed and ripped down the aging structure.
Corner of the stadium being demolished.
Workers cut the steel where the stadium will be separated
And honestly, that's what White Hart Lane is: an aging structure. You could sort of feel it as you looked around. Covers were missing here and there from the roof and entire sections of LED panels on the video screens looked a bit worse for wear. Although still a very impressive atmosphere, it seems like the right time for a new place for the team to call home.
Tottenham won't be the only team calling this place home, however. Last year, it was announced that the NFL and Tottenham Hotspur had signed a 10-year deal to host a minimum of two NFL games each year at the new stadium.
From NFL.com, The state-of-the-art stadium, due to open in the summer of 2018, will feature a retractable grass field with an artificial surface underneath that would be used for NFL games. This innovative field will add greater flexibility in the scheduling of games, with the NFL having its own playing surface for games held at this venue.
The retractable pitch will be very much like the one that the Arizona Cardinals play on. However, because there is simply no room outside the stadium, this pitch will not slide outside the building, but underneath it. Grow lights will be used on every inch of the pitch to keep the grass growing when it is put away.
Outside view of the corner being torn down
Massive cranes and hundreds of construction workers work day and night on the new structure
As many have speculated, this new stadium seems like another step towards a permanent NFL team in London. And, according to my co-workers, interest is high in "American football" as they call it. The NFL started playing games here at Wembley back in 2007 and interest has grown every year. Who knows? Maybe an NFL team could survive and thrive over here across the pond with a different style of football.
In one day, we looked at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal's Hale End Youth Academy, and Tottenham's White Hart Lane. Each place was so interesting and had so much going on, I couldn't fit it into one post. So, here is Part 1 of 3:
Remember that blog post I had at the beginning of summer about the Emirates Stadium reconstruction? Well, we were able to visit the stadium this week to see how the pitch is progressing.
Paul Ashcroft, Head Grounds Manager at Emirates Stadium and Hale End Youth Academy, took me and Amanda Folck, another intern at Arsenal from Ohio State, to take a look.
Currently, the pitch is a bit over one week old and due for its first cut this weekend. Like I said in my earlier post, everything about the pitch is new, from the undersoil heating to the Desso Grassmaster fibers, as well as the irrigation and perimeter artificial carpet.
Desso fibers and Perennial ryegrass blades
Below, you can see the current density of the 1 week old pitch beneath me.
But why completely rip out a pitch that has won the grounds staff numerous awards and has been lauded on social media by star athletes and fans alike?
Barclays Premier League Grounds Team of the Year two years in a row (2013/14 and 2014/15)
The Emirates Stadium was built in 2006, so the pitch was at the standard 10 year warranty for Desso-stitched pitches. The renovations after each season take a toll on the length of the Desso fibers, shortening them every year. The longer the fibers, the more the ryegrass roots have to anchor into.
From the viewpoint of the groundstaff, reconstruction is about preventing potential problems and fixing existing ones. If they were to take the old pitch into this upcoming season and parts of it started to fail, they simply wouldn't have time to properly fix it because of the busy match schedule and it would struggle to hold up as a result.
Close up of the current grass stand.
Another reason was to simply upgrade the aging irrigation and heating systems and make the maintenance of the pitch more efficient. Technology in any profession evolves a lot over a decade and sports turf tech is no different. Getting the most updated equipment in place allows the manager the most control over the pitch as possible.
New irrigation system allows for quick maintenance on the components
Other minor adjustments were also made. The perimeter irrigation heads have been placed into the artificial surface to leave no obstructions in the playing surface which will aid with player safety and to ease the difficulty when renovating the surface at the end of the season. The playing surface has a minimum of 1 meter of natural grass around the pitch; this area is to extend the transition zone from natural grass to the artificial surface with player safety in mind. As players run full speed out of bounds, they are at risk of injury due to the surface changing from natural grass to the artificial turf that surrounds the outsides of most pitches.
Because the artificial turf has different playing characteristics compared to grass, the players' boots could potentially stick in and cause a bit of an awkward transition/slow down. Dr. John Sorochan from the University of Tennessee works with playing surfaces and player safety and has done research to investigate this. The extra meter on the edges of the pitch can give the player a bit more time to slow down safely.
Pitch is a bit shaded in the morning
The reconstruction this year is just another step in the Arsenal ground staff's never-ending pursuit of perfection. As one of the most elite soccer clubs in the world, Arsenal have to maintain extremely high standards, starting from the ground pitch up.
If you have been following Arsenal's Twitter feed, you'll have seen that the first team is back for preseason training this week.
There are still a few key players missing, thanks to their countries' successful runs in Euro 2016, of course. Aaron Ramsey (Wales), Mesut Özil (Germany), Laurent Koscielny (France), and Olivier Giroud (France) are all currently taking part in the semifinals of the competition.
The rest of the non-injured players are back and working hard for the start of the Premier League season in just about one months time. With this for us comes the added pressure of preparing the pitches to measure up to the standard the manager and the players require.
You get a bit of a sense of pride knowing that some of the most famous athletes in the world will see (and play) on your work. The club has invested a LOT of money in these players, so every blade of grass must be immaculate in order to minimize injuries and maximize performance.
One of the first team pitches.
All ten of the main pitches have been renovated and have either grown back in or are currently growing back in. Mowing and marking out the pitches are the main jobs every day. Along with the first team, the Under-21 and Under-18 mens teams and the Arsenal Ladies are training each day as well.
Liquid-feeding a new pitch using a covered boom 3-pt hitch sprayer.
We also had a weekend free, so assistant head groundsman Andy Purser and I went on a camping/fishing trip to a nearby lake. I was able to catch the biggest fish I've ever caught, an 8.5 lb carp.
Below, Andy prepares a nice prawn curry for dinner.
It's been a week now since the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in what you have no doubt heard called the Brexit vote. The final tally was 52% Leave to 48% Remain. Great Britain had been in the EU since it was formed, in 1993, and all the way back since 1973 when it was called the European Community.
While visiting the nearby town of St. Albans a few weeks back, I ran into campaigners from both sides of the aisle. I will admit, the Leave campaigners outnumbered the Remain campaigners I saw 10-1. Each gave me a pamphlet stating their case either to Vote Leave or Vote Remain. I'll let these pamphlets explain both sides, as they will do a better job than I probably could.
From most I have talked to, there definitely was a certain anger at the way the country was being taken advantage of. Many agreed that something must be done about it and that the UK could certainly survive on its own. However, they also acknowledge that leaving the EU could possibly be a big mistake.
In reality, no one is certain what will happen, as no country has ever invoked the Article required to leave the European Union. Really, only time will tell if the move was a good one or not.
And it will definitely take some time. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, was a leading Remain supporter. After the results were final, he announced that he would be stepping down as Prime Minister in October. He has said that he will leave the secession process from the EU to his successor.
As for now, the Brexit has affected me slightly. Because I am earning my wages in British pound sterling, I am closely watching and hoping that the value of the pound stays much stronger than the dollar. Right now, I am sad to say that I am losing that battle as the pound has dropped .10 in the past week. It can only go up from there, right?
One of the disadvantages of being a groundsman is that not everything can be controlled, and that is best exemplified by the weather. The weather can be a groundsman's best friend or absolute worst enemy.
I really wasn't planning on writing an entire post based on the weather, but it really has been that bad. It has been a very atypical summer of weather according to the locals. There has only been one week of straight sunshine, and its been cloudy and raining off and on since.
The main disadvantage of bad weather is not being able to cut the fast growing pitches. With that off the table, the daily tasks turn to other aspects of a groundsmans multi-faceted job.
With the pre-season right around the corner, some of the teams are already coming back to train. The Arsenal Ladies team, fresh off a championship season, has already been in a few times over the past week. Other youth teams are also starting to come in.
With those teams in training, and when there is a break in the weather, we have started to mark out pitches for them to use. Marking out pitches over here is done with a wheel-to-wheel line marker, different from most of the spray painters back in the US. It is used because it is simple, easy to operate, and, to my knowledge, has never broken down.
One of the staff, Declan Robinson, marks out the center circle using the wheel-to-wheel line marker.
The pitch lines are measured out, lined up with strings, and painted typically two times over, to ensure the line is down.
Another job that must be done each year is cleaning goals. Every year, the goals at the training ground take a beating from a seasons worth of training from the hundreds of athletes that use the facility. The goals must be cleaned of all marks and have the nets repaired if need be.
When putting on a new net, these clips must be placed all along. Putting on hundreds of them makes for a long day!
The photos below are a testament to how bad the weather has been. The house where I am staying was almost under water after a storm. The street turned into a river!
The man in the door was using a broom for about an hour to keep the water out of his house!
We made a makeshift sandbag wall to keep the water out- glad to say it worked.
Last Friday, the UEFA European Championship 2016 kicked off in France. As expected, there are high hopes here around London about the English national team. England is one of 24 teams that are vying for the title Champions of Europe. It is very similar to the Copa America Centenario competition that is currently taking place in the United States.
Arsenal has nine current players who will be playing for their respective countries at this years Euros. These include midfield stars Mesut Özil (Germany), Jack Wilshere (England), and Aaron Ramsey (Wales), as well as goalkeeper Petr Cech (Czech Republic).
All of Europe tunes in to this contest and cheers on their teams. That includes the people I am staying with while I'm here, who are Romanian and Polish. Its great to watch the games with them and see just how much they wholeheartedly support their countries.
I'm able to live stream all of the Euro 2016 games on my iPad- non stop soccer for about a month!
I guess the only way to really understand it would be to imagine how passionate we, as Americans, would be if there were a tournament like this for our brand of football. (By the way, could you imagine how dominant we would be in that? Our starting lineup would be unreal- JJ Watt, Von Miller, Adrian Peterson, OBJ, and Gronk to name a few.)
But I suppose that is what makes this tournament so special. This is each of these countries top sport and they all offer their best players to represent them. It really makes for an elite and entertaining competition.
Anyways, an update from the training ground: Renovations are still underway and the new pitches are just starting to get cut for the first time. The lighter weight Honda push mowers are used for their first "haircuts" and from there, the Dennis Premiers take over, followed by the Jacobsen triplexes when they are good and established.
Dennis Premier sits on a relatively new pitch
The game pitch is growing in really nicely
One of the senior pitches getting a drink. Also, this is a rare sight- the sun is out! We've been getting lots of rain lately.
"There's a way to do it better - find it." - Thomas Edison
This quote by the famous inventor is a simple reminder that there is always room for improvement, even if everything seems to be going perfectly. The Arsenal ground staff is constantly on the lookout for new products and ideas to help them do what they do better.
(Diagram from naturalgrass.com)
One new development this year is the installation of a hybrid sports turf called AirFibr. Straight from the manufacturers website, naturalgrass.com, says, "The AirFibr technology is made of 100% natural turf anchored in an artificial root zone. Sand, cork, and synthetic microfibers create a soft, yet resilient surface for optimal drainage, stability, and player safety."
The construction of this new pitch at Arsenal comes after a couple years of testing at the training ground. The AirFibr technology was implemented in high wear areas, mainly right in front of the goals on a few of the pitches.
The result turned out to be areas that withstood the higher levels of traffic and wear and allowed the natural grass to thrive. The modified root zone provides a less compacted, air-filled environment for the plant roots to grow. The fiber and cork allow for the pitch to absorb energy from the player and lessen the impact of the pitch on the athlete's body.
4" wide and 8" deep AirFibr profile (from growinggreengrass.net)
AirFibr has been around for a few years now, mostly found in soccer and rugby stadiums in France. According to their website, it is also used at the Omaha Beach Memorial in Normandy, France in areas with very intense foot traffic. As for soccer, along with the implementation at Arsenal, it is also found at Real Madrid's training ground and it will be in 5 out of the 10 stadiums used for the UEFA European Championship 2016 in France, which starts June 10th.
For more information about the AirFibr, including more in depth about the benefits to player biomechanics and safety, visit Jared Minnick's article Welcome to the Future?!.
Pile of AirFibr
Up close, you can see the microfibers, little bits of cork, and sand
A bit of the micro fibers poking out of the grass
First AirFibr pitch at the training ground looking good at a about a month old
It's the off-season for Premier League soccer here, but that's when the work starts at Arsenal's soccer facilities. Much like the off-season in any sport, this is when the real hard grounds work is put in, so that the benefits will show during the season.
The latest techniques in reconstruction and renovation are used to create a clean surface for new grass growth. Machinery from my last internship with Campey Turfcare is used, including the Koro Field Top Maker, Koro Top Drain, and the Recycling Dresser.
Renovating the pitches every year is essential because it enables us to maintain the highest quality playing surfaces that the coaches and players demand. We pride ourselves on doing our own renovations, which is quite a rare thing to see over here in Europe, since most are contracted out."
- Head Groundsman Steve Braddock
While the training centre pitches are being renovated, the Emirates Stadium pitch in London is currently undergoing a massive reconstruction. The 10-year-old Desso Grassmaster pitch has been completely ripped out, as well as all of the sandy soil, down to a depth of 12 inches. A new under -soil heating system will be installed and new Desso fibers will be put in, providing stability and strength for the grass in the root zone.
Over the past couple of weeks, a constant stream of semis has been making the almost one hour journey from the stadium to the training ground to dump the once hallowed turf into a back field here to be recycled into use on another pitch.
Along with the renovations at the stadium and the training grounds, there are also renovations taking place at Arsenal's Hale End Youth Football Academy.
Paul Ashcroft is the Grounds Manager for both the Emirates Stadium and the Hale End Academy. He is overseeing the efforts to rejuvenate the pitches at both sites and give the players pristine playing surfaces throughout the year.
Koro Top Maker used to strip off the surface of the pitch
Koro Top Drain (middle) digs out 3 trenches and backfills with sand provided by the Dakota Top Dresser (left). The removed soil is offloaded into the trailer.
I got to try out the Top Drain on one of the pitches.
Emirates Stadium pitch being dug out (photo via Twitter: @DessoSports)
The (former) Emirates pitch turf sits in piles at the training centre.
New under soil heating tubes being installed
The reconstructed Emirates Stadium pitch
Renovations at the Hale End Academy
Rootzone mix deliveries at the Hale End Academy
My first week at Arsenal has come and gone, and so far I'm really enjoying it. We start each day at 8am, as we get our jobs for the day and get ready to go out.
Because it's the start of the summer, the days right now mostly consist of mowing the vigorously growing pitches (soccer fields). Mowing is done with either Jacobsen triplex mowers, Dennis Premier pedestrian mowers, or Honda Rear Roller rotary mowers. The triplexes are used to give the pitches a quick cut, while the Dennis mowers are typically used to burn in a pattern due to their heavy weight. They give the pitch good, sharp lines and quality presentation. The Honda mowers are usually used on new pitches, where the grass stand isn't as dense yet as the other pitches.
Mowing with one of the Jacobsen triplexes.
Normally, if you use the walk mowers one day, you'll use the rider the next to save your legs. For example, we spent a day cutting the same pitch twice, once with the small Hondas and then with the Dennis Premiers and each walked about 12 miles and 40,000 steps!
...we spent a day cutting the same pitch twice, once with the small Hondas and then with the Dennis Premiers and each walked about 12 miles and 40,000 steps!
Breaks during the workday are at 10:30 and 1:00. The 10:30 break is for tea, while the 1:00 break is for what they call "dinner", which they also call tea, which we call lunch. If you could follow that, then an even more confusing curveball is that they call our dinner "tea" as well. I think I prefer the regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner combo!
Since it is the end of the soccer season over here, renovations are also taking place. Some of the time during the day is dedicated to preparing the fields to be stripped off. Pitches are being taken out with the Koro Field Top Maker and new surfaces will replace the old. More on that next time!
One of the pitches being Koro'd off using the Universal rotor.
Hello again! You might remember me from last summer's blog Pitch Prep in the UK as I travelled around Europe renovating soccer fields with Campey Turfcare. For those of you who don't remember, my name is Jeff Lenihan and I am from Omaha, Nebraska. In the fall, I will be a senior turfgrass management major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
This summer, I am back across the pond and have the great privilege of interning at the Arsenal Training Centre. Arsenal FC has a storied soccer history that includes 13 English Premier League titles and 12 FA Cups. This season ended on Sunday and they finished second in the league behind 5000-1 underdogs Leicester City (underdog may be an understatement!).
Steve Braddock is the head groundsman at the training ground located in London Colney, a village in Hertfordshire, England, about 15 miles north of the middle of London. With 11 fields to take care of, as well as landscaping and other training areas, there is plenty of work to be done day in and day out.
A view of Pitch 1 where youth games and scrimmages are played
A photo from last year with head groundsman Steve Braddock (left) and assistant head groundsman Andy Purser (right)
Throughout the summer, I will post about different projects and things that are happening around the grounds. Feel free to follow along and ask any questions you may have in the comment section of the blog!
And a huge THANK YOU to Aquatrols for sponsoring my blog this year!