I'd like to welcome you to join me on my journey and share my experience of a lifetime during my three-month internship in Ohio State with Columbus Crew S.C.
Armed with nine years of industry experience, and an increasing passion and ambition for my groundsmanship career, I aim to continue to develop and improve my professional and personal skills. I am excited at what my time in Ohio will bring - from knowledge enhancement in discovering new species of grass to understanding US working practice, and the creation of international working relationships.
With just over four weeks until my departure for sunny Ohio in the US, it has been a very exciting but equally busy last couple of weeks. Not only because I am now counting down the days until my flight, but also due to the work involved in Everton FC’s vast investment in the development of our Finch Farm state-of-the-art training complex.
This development includes the building of an Under 21 mini stadium, a new first team recuperation block and a new groundsman facility – which myself and the team can’t wait to move in to! But the biggest expansion, in terms of our team’s workload, is the huge investment into the playing surfaces - both first team and academy areas.
First off will be the construction of the mini stadium and to complete this fantastic feature, we are currently in the process of installing a fibre sand, floodlit, full-size pitch plus a goal-keeping training area, which will provide a great back drop for the latest young talent to fine tune their skills.
Most impressively of all is the first team’s two Desso Grassmaster reinforced pitches. To have a system that is world regarded as the most advanced and reliable surface reinforcement at our training ground is a great privilege and to maintain these systems both at Goodison Park and now here at Finch Farm is something special.
That’s all for now, hopefully I can find time in between renovations and construction to update you soon.
To better understand the construction and specifications of installing a Desso GrassMaster pitch, I was fortunate enough to catch up with a very busy John Geoghegan (Head of Delegation, J Mallinsons) and gain an insight into such a big project and its process.
After a short connecting flight from Philadelphia and landing late evening yesterday, today it was time to hit the ground. Following a very warm welcome from Mike O’Keeffe and his family it was then straight down to the University campus for my orientation - to visit the amazing 104,944 seat OSU football stadium. For my first real day in sunny Columbus I also experienced the blistering summer heat I had heard so much about.
First impression, is the shear vastness of the university campus (or mini city as it should be known), covering a huge 1,774 acres with 64,000 students. The place has its own bright and vibrant feel all to itself, and with such a great atmosphere you can see why Ohio State is one of the top universities in US for aspiring students.
After taking in all the fantastic architecture within the campus and endless landscaped gardens it was then time to visit the Ohio Turfgrass research foundation (http://www.ohioturfgrass.org/) where I had a lengthy chat with Dr.Street. With his great experience stemming back to the 60’s and big personality you can clearly see why he is so highly regarded, not only in Ohio but all over the US.
Tomorrow should be great - another hot day (35 degrees), and my first trip down at ‘the crews’ stadium to meet up with Weston (head groundsman) and his team. I am sure this will be a fantastic eye opener.
On arriving at the very impressive Mapfre Stadium (home to Columbus Crew SC, and the first purpose built soccer stadium in the US), I headed down to the grounds garage to meet Weston and the team. Following a welcoming tour of the venue I then shared a ‘nice bew’, or coffee as the lads would call it out here.
With the upcoming busy schedule including a visit from Vancouver and the U.S national ladies team it was time to get stuck in! The afternoon was spent assisting Nick, head mechanic and groundskeeper, with various tasks - including mowing of the pitch for match day. This was a great honor from Weston which I would like to thank him for!
Game day! Columbus Crew SC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - a very busy day indeed with a double cut and pitch marked ready for action. Plus, shortly before kick off I helped the team tend to regular pre match tests - giving Weston a great indicator of how the pitch is behaving regarding holding moisture, hardness, ect.
Again, a fantastic first few days and I would like to thank every department who showed me the ropes and made me feel very welcome.
To watch Nick discuss equipment and its maintenance, click here.
To watch the grounds team discuss agronomy and pre match testing, click here.
With such a busy period of high school and crew fixtures over this week we have been working hard to ensure the pitch can stand up, and give any newly germinated grass the best possible chance of establishing. Early morning inspections of the surface were giving us a good indicator of how our recent top dressing operations has aided not only the newly germinated divot areas but also giving a helping hand to the already existing grass.
Further to getting things just right at the stadium, I recently helped with a community activity at a local family festival (The New Albany Classic). Measuring and marking out a small junior pitch to allow families and youngsters to a game of ‘soccer’ while enjoying this fantastic event and the nice sunny weather of course! This gave me a great insight to how much the Crew SC do for the local community and raising the profile of soccer throughout the city, which is a fantastic thing as I can feel the rise of soccer is definitely on the up!
To watch Mike, a fellow intern discuss grounds care, click here.
To watch Andrew, assistant head groundsman discuss divot mixtures and preparation for upcoming fixtures, click here.
Sadly, with Crew SC not making the playoffs this year all eyes are now on pitch preparation for the biggest international soccer fixture in the Americas! The ‘Dos A Cero’ simply means ‘two to zero’, which is the score this fixture has been over in the last 4 meetings, hence the nickname. With various high school games still playing at the stadium and in order to minimize wear as much as possible Weston decided to shorten the field size. This gave us prime opportunity to re-sod/re-turf the goal mouths which you can see in the attached video. On completion, both goal mouths were looking fantastic, and it was now all about getting plenty of water on them and getting this new turf established ready for international action in November!
To watch Weston, head groundsman at the Mapfre Stadium discuss preparation, click here.
Our industry gives people the potential to work wherever they wish globally. This, ultimately is a key differentiator in a difficult job market, and whatever you can do to make yourself more professional to potential employers can only be a good thing. Internships, combing work and travel are becoming more popular in grounds management. They have been around in golf for years, but now as grounds management develops with more career opportunities it is becoming clear that not only are the few participating interns learning something from their hosts but the hosts are learning something from the interns, particularly those experienced at top flight UK stadia.
Here are a couple of reasons why Ryan decided to participate;
1. It gives you more confidence, taking you out of your comfort zone.
2. It makes you a better people person – dealing with diversity helps.
3. It builds your network of like-minded people – if you have a problem, you can reach out overseas to your peers, for advice and help.
4. It will make you a better employer later as you see more than one way to attempt any job, and it builds empathy having been in difficult situations yourself. You become more understanding, more flexible, and adaptable.
5. It makes an interview easier – a beefed up CV can help immensely. Been to America or Australia? Employers love that. Bringing back a wealth of knowledge and being more experienced can make you much more valuable as an employee.
6. Travelling requires communication, and membership today requires communication. You are not afraid to set up a blog, or a newsletter for members, making them aware of what’s happening in your pitches, your grounds, the cultural cycle, why an area is closed.
7. You are not afraid to meet with members, address them professionally if you’ve dealt with difficult customers overseas. Being confident is infectious. They see it, and they like that you take pride in your work.
Ryan will be back with one of his final blogs soon, along with a few words from his host, Weston Applefeller.
To watch Mike O'Keeffe, programme manager for the Ohio internship programme discuss learning abroad, click here.
To watch Ben Jackson, groundsman, discuss his own personal learning route and experience, click here.
The IOG are currently trying to encourage more internships with outbound UK students so if you are interested please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Message From Weston
In 2006, Dan Bingle (Groundsman at The American School in London) joined our staff at Columbus Crew SC as an International Intern. We worked with Mike O’Keeffe at The Ohio State University to bring Dan over and the learning experience was beneficial for both Dan and us. It helped our staff by not only having a new face that provided new ideas, but by raising our profile as an organization.
Fast forward 10 years. Since 2014, Mike and I have worked to find a person from England that would want to experience groundskeepeing in the United States, while providing value in leadership and knowledge to our staff. We found the perfect fit in Ryan Powell from the Everton Football Club.
Ryan, who joined us in September, was a perfect ambassador for Everton, the IOG, and all groundsmen across the UK. Ryan was eager to learn and asked proper questions to better understand the battles American Groundskeepers face. He provided insightful ideas when he thought appropriate and often led by example.
This November, I traveled to Liverpool and met Bob Lennon at Everton FC. It is clear after meeting him where Ryan has gained his wealth of knowledge and his work ethic. I am extremely grateful that Bob was willing to part ways with Ryan for three months so that my crew could learn from an EPL Groundsmen.
I am also grateful for Phil Dewhurst of Rigby Taylor. He realized the value of education and helped make a wonderful learning opportunity for both Ryan and us.
The opportunity that Ryan had and has shared with the members of the IOG isn’t unique only to him. A body of water separates our two countries, but there are many similarities in managing football pitches. This program can be experienced by any young man or woman and needs to be of importance. Because of the work that the IOG, Rigby Taylor, Mike O’Keeffe, and others have done, many future groundskeepers can experience working in other countries.