The common notion that the summer months give staff and volunteers at a non-league club a long break could not be further from the truth at the Viridor Stadium. Ground maintenance, sourcing and renewing sponsorship, football administration for the new season, kit to organise, the day to day financial management of the club.... just some of the tasks that carry on between May and July.
One of the main areas of focus is pitch maintenance, with a lot of work crammed in since the final game played on 17th May. Chairman and Head Groundsman Kevin Sturmey outlines the challenges faced, commenting:”It doesn't seem long since we hosted Yeovil Ladies v Reading Ladies, in fact it's only two months and less than two months since we re-seeded and scarified the pitch on 19th May. We really should have 12 weeks to compensate for the weird weather we now experience and this summer has been no exception as it's been windy, very hot, a little wet but never how you want it. While we have some great equipment (Irrigator, quadraplay and good mowers), everything here is very labour intensive and I am indebted to Simon (Best), my Assistant Groundsman who puts in so many extra hours as like me he is a perfectionist. Neither of us will be happy with the pitch until it's as we want it”
Despite the work put in so far, the Chairman wants to see further improvement, remarking:”It's probably two weeks away from what I want to see as unless you have the resources of a full time club we end up trying to force nature which never works. It will be ok for the next week or so when we have three games but my target realistically is 15th August for our first home league game. We have watered virtually every day in the last month but you can't beat rain and some seed still needs to come through as where we scarified heavily the sand top dressing is still fairly thick so after the Exeter game we will put the germination sheets on to force the seed up quicker than normal. It looks like we have put in sand bands or drainage but we haven't, it's just the sand used for levelling has not allowed germination as quickly as I would like. Still, we have to get on with it and it will be the best we can produce for the next week and then some more work before the Bristol City game and more work leading up to the first League game.”
Although the pitch is in very good nick, it is no secret that the surface is far from flat. Sturmey continued:” I guess some people may wonder why we can't just level it all up perfectly in one go - believe me if I had a magic wand I would! There are two reasons why not; firstly the pitch moves each season and has undulations caused by being built on a landfill site. We haven't top dressed the goalmouths, it's the land that drops each side of the six yard box which makes it look higher than it actually is. Secondly we don't have at least £100,000 to bring a contractor in to level the whole pitch. So over the next five years or so we aim to lower the top part (Clubhouse side) by scarifying as deep as practicable and raise the lower side (Tom Harris Stand) by small amounts each season. Over the next three seasons we hope to lower the six yard boxes using either a Koro machine or deep scarifying or both!”
Sturmey is again among the nominations for the Groundsman of the Year awards next month and concluded:”My aim is always to produce the best surface possible with the resources and personnel we have and I am always looking at little ways to improve everything. If I ever watch a Premier League game (the one in the different universe, not Southern!) I generally look at the pitches to get ideas and the football is always the secondary bit I watch. Simon and I have been invited to Spurs Training Ground in September by Darren Baldwin, their Head of Playing Surfaces, which will be a great experience and we hope he may have some equipment he doesn't need! We will both be very envious of the number of staff and the resources available but we can but dream and keep doing the lottery! Buying tickets in the Somerset West lottery and supporting Taunton Town will help as at least we get 50% of that going to the club!”