As some of the biggest games in Fulham’s history loom in the form of the Championship playoffs, can technology first developed for the carpet industry help the club weave their way back to Premier League? STRI drainage specialist James Westwood discusses the reconstruction of training pitches at Motspur Park, and the merits of hybrid turf.
At the start of 2016, Fulham received planning permission to undertake a major upgrading of their Motspur Park training ground located in south west London. The club was keen to ensure that first-class, sustainable facilities were available to encourage and support future footballing talent.
STRI agronomist Paul Woodham was asked to review the state of the existing natural turf pitches at Motspur Park with a view to upgrading facilities for the first team. On inspection, Paul found that the pitches were of soil-based construction, which was not draining sufficiently well. This was leading to problems with standing water accumulating in the lower areas of the uneven pitch surfaces, rendering the ground slippery and not ideal for training on.
By comparison, the Craven Cottage stadium pitch had been constructed using a sand-based rootzone, which allows for free draining of water through the soil profile. STRI delivered various scenarios to club officials for pitch upgrading, but ultimately the decision was taken to commence an entire reconstruction due to the disparity between the quality of pitches at the training ground and Craven Cottage.
There is a growing trend to replicate football stadium pitch construction at club training facilities for continuity in type of surface. Therefore it was agreed that the two training pitches used by the first team would be reconstructed to stadium standard.
The reconstruction project went out to competitive tender and the successful tenderer was Kestrel Contractors, who had previously worked on the training grounds at Motspur Park. Planning permission had enabled Fulham FC to undertake a huge amount of upgrading work at the facility, including build of a new 3G pitch, an indoor domed pitch and enhancement work to the main pavilion.
STRI drew up the Employer’s Requirements which consisted of design and build documentation for the pitch reconstruction, and included solutions to address existing surface unevenness. Our inhouse CAD team drew up site specific designs for the formation of a single graded platform accommodating two pitches.
In their original state, the two pitches had a slight dip in-between them which meant they couldn’t be moved and the difference in levels also encouraged standing water on the lower lying areas. However, the new uniform surface allows them to change the position of the pitches slightly or to re-orientate them if required, thereby improving the flexibility of usage and also surface drainage.
STRI’s CAD team undertook design layout of the Fulham drainage system, as well as specifying the depths of the materials utilised within the construction profile, eg gravel, both upper and lower rootzone, and sand. Lateral drains were positioned running across the platform at 7m intervals and a gravel drainage layer provided a uniform draining sub-base enabling the water to drain consistently through the profile.
A very sandy rootzone was utilised to ensure a high rate of drainage down the construction profile, into the drains and through the outfall. STRI specifically designed the construction profile to be fast draining so that play could continue irrespective of weather conditions.
The training facilities are used three or four times a week, for a couple of hours each time, but following future downpours, the pitches will drain rapidly and there will be minimal interruption to usage of the pitches.
The pitches were seeded in late July 2016 and stitching of the hybrid plants (plastic blades) into the surface followed once the grass had established (around four weeks).
The sandy rootzone excels at eliminating excess water from the pitch surface, but this can lead to a very loose and unstable pitch surface when being played heavily and grass is being worn away. The hybrid plants do not affect play, and being used across less than 5% of the total surface area, they are hardly visible to the naked eye.
The hybrid plants have limited function with full grass cover. However, when you start losing the grass cover it means that you can play them a lot more heavily than a natural unreinforced surface.
SISGrass commenced stitching of their hybrid plants in early September 2016. The plants were injected into the playing surfaces to stabilise and stop any surface break-up. This injected hybrid form of construction has proven to be very successful in places such as St George’s Park and iPro Stadium.
The machine utilised for stitching in the hybrid plants was first developed in the carpet industry, so it’s essentially a modified carpet plant on wheels. The needles are very fine so there is no need to use a rootzone. However, stitching can either be done directly into the rootzone or into an established grass surface.
The new pitches performed very well during the first trial session in early October 2016. Subsequent use has received equally positive reviews from the team coach. It was noted that following a heavy downpour, both pitches continued to play well. There are no longer issues with surface standing water as water drains away quickly and the pitches were immediately playable.
After a very ordinary September, Fulham pulled themselves out of mid-table obscurity and began a successful march into the Championship play-off picture. The training pitches have done their job, now it’s down to the players to make the final push into the Premier League.
STRI have worked with both champions Newcastle United and runners-up Brighton. So, three promoted teams would be very pleasing all round.