With the gruelling pre-season starting this week, Fleetwood Town’s Head Groundsman, Dale Firth, has been juggling his time to get the Highbury pitch in perfect condition ahead Nathan Pond’s testimonial fixture against Preston North End on July 20.
Firth has also played a vital part in the renovation of both Fylde RFC’s Lytham training ground and Arnold KEQMS School’s pitch as part of the clubs continued partnership with both ahead of the 2013/14 season.
“It is coming along ok (the Highbury pitch), we are currently four and half weeks from seeding and three and half weeks from the Preston game so it is coming along nicely.” Firth said, “The germination period was excellent and was helped by good conditions, it was warm, and we had a few wet days as well, which was ideal. So it has progressed ok.”
One of the challenges Firth has been faced with has been to ensure the pitch doesn’t suffer the way it did last season. Poor weather conditions coupled with a rudimentary drainage left the Highbury pitch in poor condition and Firth says that improving of the drainage system has been his priority this summer.
“We did all right previous to last season but last year was a difficult one. The weather was poor; the weather last summer was poor. We had a lot of rain and we also had games played in poor conditions like at Christmas against Morecambe and York. It was also a very difficult January, it turned cold, the covers was on and it was soon followed by snow and we had a difficult spring as well.
“The work we did back in May was to improve the drainage system around the ground. We have intensified the drainage so if we get games in wet conditions, the drainage will be able to deal with it better and get the water away from the surface better so hopefully it will maintain a dry surface to prevent wearing more.
“To me drainage is the number one priority. It is the number one factor in sports surface really. If you don’t have good drainage, you don’t have a good surface, it doesn’t stay dry and won’t allow you to grow grass on it. So we have to put more in to that here.”
As well as working heavily on the Highbury pitch, Firth has also been renovating Fylde Rugby Club’s pitch as well as improving the pitch at Arnold KEQMS School, which will not only benefit both parties, but Fleetwood as well in the future.
“We have done a similar renovation for Fylde Rugby Club to what we have done at Highbury apart from we haven’t done any drainage work as we don’t need it down this way. We have skinned the surface off, re-seeded and top-dressed it. It was seeded on May 1 but because of the spring was so cool; it struggled to get going for three or four weeks. It has picked up really well since June and they are due to have their first training session on it.
“Furthermore we are going to be doing some work at Arnold KEQMS, we are going to be doing a little bit of work with them because they have been helpful and allowed us to use the surfaces so we are going to help them by improving the surface for not only our own use but for schools use.
“The partnership with both of these two is beneficial to us especially when the weather is poor and it allows us to rotate around a bit and the drainage is better at both of these pitches.”
Fleetwood don’t play back at Highbury until local neighbours, and Graham Alexander’s former team, Preston North End visit for Nathan Pond’s testimonial match and Firth says as well as being at both Fylde RFC and Arnold KEQMS School, all hands will be on deck to get the Highbury pitch in good shape to fit the occasion.
“We have got to continue to look after the grass. We are going to get the fertiliser down on it today, we have to keep cutting it, grooming it and then we can get the white lines down, the posts up and we will be ready to go. It is all hands on deck at the minute with this pitch and the two in Lytham at the minute.”