Pitch quality and playing surface management have been a hot topic in Scottish football for many years. STRI’s senior project manager, Gordon Howat, discusses how Heart of Midlothian solved its pitch issues by ignoring synthetic and going hybrid.
Hearts had been working with an old natural grass pitch with dated technology that significantly impacted on groundsman Colin Davie’s ability to produce a surface that both he and the team would be happy with.
This came to a head when pitch conditions were such that an emergency returf was instructed in February 2017. It was acknowledged by the club that this was merely a short-term solution and would not solve the fundamental pitch infrastructure issues at Tynecastle Stadium.
After a period of consultation with the Sports Surface Design team at STRI, the club commenced the process of replacing the Tynecastle Park pitch. Exploration digs, preparatory design work and due diligence were completed by STRI with the assistance of Colin Davie and the clear conclusion was that a full reconstruction was required.
Such an investment is significant for any club in the UK but is particularly significant in Scotland where TV revenue is a fraction of what clubs receive in the UK.
With this in mind, STRI provided the club with various cost modelling options, including the installation of a 3G synthetic pitch (although this was quickly dismissed at Board level) to give the club an understanding of the financial commitment required to fund the works.
It was apparent from the outset that the board of directors at Hearts, whilst conscious of costs, did not want to compromise on the project and be left feeling that an opportunity was missed.
The Hearts board put the project out to tender with a number of contractors and concluded that the contract should be awarded to Carrick Sports.
The STRI team worked on behalf of Hearts to ensure quality and compliance and Carrick were fully committed to delivering the project within the four-week construction programme.
The target was to commence works on Thursday 10th May and have the pitch playable for the opening League Cup fixture on 24th July to allow Colin maximum opportunity to grow in the pitch. There would be no room for delays to the works.
Carrick Sports commenced work immediately after the conclusion of the club’s final home match of the 2017/18 season.
The remit was to remove the old pitch and re-engineer the pitch levels to create a single graded south-north playing surface that tied in with the existing infrastructure.
The pitch would have a comprehensive piped drainage system, stone layer, base sand and rootzone layer, along with an entirely new irrigation system and upgraded undersoil heating system (the existing boiler and pump was retained).
Precise planning was required to make this possible. Aggregate Industries supplied the drainage stone, sand and rootzone on schedule working with a restrictive traffic management plan as there were residential, commercial and school buildings surrounding the site.
The irrigation was installed by Carrick’s in-house irrigation team and Pitch Heating Ltd installed the new heating pipework as soon as the pitch was ready to receive it.
The schedule for hybrid stitching was always going to be difficult within such timescales and, after dialogue with SISGrass, the pitch was stitched in less than three weeks after sowing.
STRI agronomist Richard Windows, in conjunction with ICL, provided an establishment programme that Colin was able to implement. Establishing grass cover was difficult with the unusual heat experienced this summer, however the pitch played well and stability was never questioned for its first match on 24th July – a 5-0 victory over Cowdenbeath.
Since this point, Colin has been able to continue establishment and the pitch soon after had full grass cover – and is handling an intense schedule of use very well.
By anyone’s standards this is a challenge and the current pitch condition is testimony to Colin and his assistant Grant McDermid’s dedication and the high-quality construction and reinforcement system.
There is, however, far more to the pitch than meets the eye. Tynecastle now boasts the first full-scale deployment of a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system, developed by STRI.
This means that the pitch at Tynecastle Park will be one of the most precision managed in the world, allowing the club and STRI to ensure the surface is maintained to the highest possible standard.
This will provide Colin Davie and Grant McDermid with detailed insights into the condition of the pitch whilst also allowing the groundstaff to tweak the surface to optimise player performance and maintain prime physical condition.
The collaborative working between Hearts staff, STRI, Carrick Sports, Pitch Heating and SISGRASS, in conjunction with supply partners ICL and Aggregate Industries made the project happen.
As I write, in late October, Hearts are sitting pretty at the top of the SPL and with a fantastic home win over Celtic under their belts.
What a way to introduce a new surface to the good folk at Tynecastle Park.
For more information on STRI design and build services, call +44 (0) 1274 565131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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