Soccer club installs first fibresand pitch in Czech Republic
Opened in 1940, only to be partially destroyed during the war, the Andr Football Stadium has been the pride of Olomouc, a small town of 100,000 people in Moravia, east of Prague, for nearly 70 years
The stadium was named after Josef Andr, a successful local businessman and sports enthusiast who funded its construction and also invested heavily in local tennis and handball facilities, and it is home to football team SK Sigma Olomouc. Andr would be justly proud that the stadium has been awarded the League 1 Pitch of the Year accolade by the Czech FA for the past two successive seasons - but only after some major reconstruction work over the last 15 years.
Aside from the benefits of a new irrigation system and the installation of floodlights, the 1993 pitch reconstruction project was a disaster due to the use of unsuitable materials both in terms of profile and turf. However, post Euro 96 and with expectations that the Czech Republic would host the Euro 2000 tournament, Joe Vodehnal, a sportsturf consultant and sportsturf constructor Zdenek Philipp decided to research grounds technology and construction in the UK where championship matches were played and talk to the groundsmen in charge. Together they visited Wembley, Nottingham Forest, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Liverpool to garner as much knowledge as possible about grounds management and construction.
Though Euro 2000 wasn’t held in the Czech Republic, their trip was not wasted - much of the knowledge helped to improve grounds and the profession on their home turf. Further research on subsequent visits brought to light the technology of fibresand surfaces.
In 2006, plans for further reconstruction of the SK Sigma Olomouc pitch were announced. Zdenek Philipp persuaded the club manager and its investor to visit some football clubs in the UK, while Joe Vodehnal persuaded Carl Pass ( Premier Pitches ) and Russel Latham ( Fibresand UK ) to help with selecting clubs with fibresand pitches that they could visit. So together they chose the constructions at Newcastle United, Sunderland and Hartlepool FC. They were so impressed with what they saw that the decision was immediately taken to proceed with a fibresand construction at SK Sigma Olomouc - the first one of its kind in the country.
In September 2006, prior to work starting, Zdenek Philipp, who was put in charge of the construction, spent time at Bristol City FC and gained hands-on experience of the renovation of the fibresand pitch there. Commenting, Zdenek explains: “The experience at Bristol was invaluable. I was able to take part in the work and really get to grips with fibresand. I also had the opportunity to discover the secrets of the Koro and the use of BLEC Rotorake. Working alongside Carl [Pass] and Craig Richardson, Bristol’s head groundsman, gave me the knowledge to take on the job at SK Sigma Olomouc with confidence. I knew what to expect.”
The project began with the removal of 300 mm of soil followed by the construction of a drainage system then the laying down of a water heating system. This was followed by 120 mm of fibresand and re-seeding of the surface with DLF J9 seed mixture (80% Ryegrass, 20% Smooth Stalked Meadow Grass) at the rate of 50 gms/m2.
“One of the many tips Craig gave was to mix in 200 kg of Activate R Granules into the top 100 mm, and this worked wonders. The whole job was completed in just 22 days,” Zdenek adds.
Head groundsman Dusan Romanovsky, 32, has been working at SK Sigma Olomouc since 1994 and he became an IOG member in 2006 when the Czech branch was formed. He is rightly pleased with the results: “The aim was to create a natural grass surface that would tolerate heavy use in all weather conditions. That is a tall order considering the extreme weather system we have here. However, the surface is very stable - the polymer fibre and the solid ryegrass/ smooth stalked meadow grass root system prevents the turf being kicked out,” he says.
“The maintenance required for this type of surface is different to what I have been used to,” he continues. “Due to the high seeding rates, the thickness of the new turf was amazing - from seeding, the surface was ready for play after just five weeks! I also started to verticut and the great results that it achieved mean I haven’t stopped since.
“In addition, I gradually incorporated the use of the SISIS Rotorake TM100, Fisher rake (springtime verticutting harrow) and Dennis G860 cassette verticutter. More recently I have acquired a new Redexim Turf-Tidy scarifier because I believe surface hygiene is very important. I also have several different brushes which I use on a regular basis.”
Ian Lacy, IOG Head of Professional Services, visited the stadium in September 2008 and was bowled over by what he saw. “The playing surface was in fantastic condition,” he confirms. “I took a profile of the pitch and was amazed by the quality of the root structure. This is attributable to the sand being top quality and Dusan’s maintenance regime being so exacting. Indeed, the surface is as good as any of the top fibresand pitches in the UK. Also, it is apparent that the building contractor, technical advisor and head groundsman are all IOG members!”