The pivotal role of the regional pitch advisors from the IOG-led Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme was highlighted when The Football Association (FA) announced its £8 million Pitch Improvement Programme (PIP) to help improve more than 2,000 natural turf football pitches in England, from the National Conference League down.
Part of The FA’s Strategy for Participation and Development, the four-year programme will enable grassroots clubs to access discounted products from the programme’s two official suppliers: Rigby Taylor (grass seed, fertilisers, line marking paints and machines and other consumables) and Redexim Charterhouse (machinery and equipment) – plus professional and semi-professional grounds staff. It will also include a range of measures to help develop the skills and knowledge of the volunteers and groundsmen including seminars and workshops.
Co-ordinated by County Football Associations, the regional pitch advisors will visit sites to perform pitch quality standard tests, then produce recommendations where improvements could/should be made. Their expert advice to the clubs will include the maintenance routines that should be employed and their frequency, along with suggested types (not brands) of machinery, equipment and consumables that could also help make the pitches more playable for more of the time. It is then up to clubs to act on that information.
Launching the programme, The FA’s director of participation and development Kelly Simmons, and Mark Pover, The FA’s national facilities and investment manager, both emphasised how the scheme is designed to enable thousands of groundsmen – predominantly volunteers – to make the most of their time and their budgets.
By being aware of and using the latest maintenance techniques and turf care technologies, they said, not only will the standard of pitches improve but also more games will be able to be played.
Alan Ferguson, The FA’s head groundsman, added how PIP offers volunteer groundsmen unprecedented access to the products and expertise of leading suppliers “helping them on their way to achieving playing surfaces that facilities like St George’s Park and Wembley Stadium have consistently enjoyed”. He went on to say that www.groundsmanship.co.uk, developed in conjunction with other governing bodies and Sport England, was also available to offer complementary help.
Commenting at the launch, Rigby Taylor’s executive chairman Chris Clark said: “Our official supplier status to the Pitch Improvement Programme provides a fantastic opportunity for grassroots football clubs to benefit from of our market-leading products that are the result of years of research and development. PIP gives these organisations a unique opportunity to make considerable gains at relatively low cost.”
Redexim Charterhouse’s business development manager, Curtis Allen, added: “Since being involved in the programme it has become very clear that there is no shortage of dedication and desire to improve at grassroots level. “There is, however, a lack of equipment available for those tasked with producing a playable surface year round. With this initiative they get to bring their machinery requirements in line with their never-ending quest for improved playing surfaces. The programme enables grassroots organisations to take ownership of the maintenance programme which is such an important part of the game that often gets forgotten.”