Pitch perfect playing conditions at Lincoln City FC
From the National League North to League One, from Aggborough Stadium to LNER Stadium, from Kidderminster Harriers FC to Lincoln City FC; this summer, head groundsman Brad Jefferies climbed the groundsmen ladder and left his beloved 'Harriers' for a challenge at Lincoln City Football Club. With 2 brand new TurfPods for data monitoring at his disposal and his Kidderminster Harriers experience under his belt, Brad (25) is up for the challenge at his new club, determined to keep the stadium pitch in immaculate condition. But no matter how experienced and well prepared you are, those matchday nerves will never fade.
"I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't a little bit nervous. You've got that 8 week window between the end of last season and the start of the new season to make sure the pitch is ready for the first game and there is always that suspense to whether the pitch will come through. But I back myself and I back the processes that I've learnt over the past 6, 7, 8 years. It all went very well and the pitch looks great, but I must admit that I was a little bit nervous about that first game.
Now that's out of the way, I just look forward to the next game, the atmosphere at the stadium is brilliant. So far, we've had 2 league home games and our pitch got awarded 'very good' from the referee twice, so it seems to be going alright at the moment. On the other hand, if we can't get a good review after the first couple of matches of the season, then we are in trouble. I'll be happy when we still get 'very goods' in January."
Accessible data monitoring with the TurfPod
To keep the pitch in perfect playing conditions throughout the year, Brad can rely on his experience and the 'groundsman gut feeling' he has developed over the years, but data monitoring tools give him the reassurance that he is indeed making the right decisions.
"I keep one TurfPod in the penalty area at the south end of the stadium; the area that predominantly gets the shade. The other TurfPod is placed in the north half of the pitch, in between the half way line and the 18-yard box. That gives me insight into the pitch values in 2 regions, so we can make sure we have uniformity across the pitch. And when you have a problem area, you just put the TurfPod in there and see what the data says.
The TurfPod can be easily moved across the pitch. You can pin the TurfPod in the soil and it will automatically and continuously transfer real-time data to the SGL Portal until you take it out again. This way, you can compare the values of a struggling area with a thriving area and take data based action.
"They have been excellent so far and very helpful. Especially on our fibresand pitch, where soil moisture management is absolutely vital. If the soil moisture level gets too low, the stability of the pitch starts to go and it sort of turns into a beach. The fact that I can monitor the soil moisture level and take action if necessary was my main reason behind getting the TurfPods.
But it's not just the soil moisture. It will be interesting to see how the TurfPod can help manage the soil temperature. In the winter we can get really bleak terrain out here and normally we have to prepare for frost covers. No one ever likes doing frost covers. It's a time-consuming job and if you can get away with not doing them, then I would really recommend that. The data that I get from the TurfPod gives insight in the soil temperature at the stadium pitch. Based on that data I can take precautionary measures when soil temperature is expected to drop, and avoid using the frost covers.
I was amazed actually to hear how affordable the TurfPods are. In terms of value for money, they are really accessible. So far, they have been invaluable for me when it comes to data collection."
Translating groundsmen lingo into understandable pitch numbers
As Brad mentions, data monitoring can be a useful tool to get a better insight in the pitch values. Additionally, data comes in handy when you're talking with someone who is unfamiliar with the groundsman lingo.
"I can go to a board meeting and talk about plant fibres for instance, but that will go in one ear and out the other. But when I present them quantifiable data and show the facts and figures, they understand that. They look at facts and figures all day long, so you've got to put your information in terms they can understand.
Data basically underpins what you already know. It makes sure that the decisions you're making, are the right ones. And it also helps me get pro-active and take measures if that's necessary, based on the data."
High standards and big dreams
With Brad's experience and the proper pitch management tools available, expectations are as high as ever. But a demanding playing schedule, challenging weather conditions and high intensity games make the position of head groundsman no sinecure.
"The standard I set for myself remains high, but I've got more resources and I'm really enjoying the challenge, it's a step up. I'm still only 25 years old and one of the youngest head groundsmen in the football league (just a little older than Tranmere Rover's Charlie Still), but I'm happy to take the responsibility. Last year at Kidderminster Harriers FC, where I worked with the BU10, we had 65 games in a season. I'm hoping this year we'll stay around the 35 game mark at the stadium. Which is pretty good manageable.
Ultimately, my aim is to be head groundsman in the Premier League. That's my inspiration. It all sounds nice on paper; 'I'm going to do this in 3 years' time and that in 5 years' time', but things rarely work out the way you planned them. For now, I'm really enjoying the challenge at Lincoln City, it's a great step up. The club is brilliant and very well run. As head groundsman, I'm confident we can maintain a very good pitch throughout the year. And of course, we hope to have a lot of wins on it!"