Dave Mitchell on his 'highly commended' accolade
Stadium manager Dave Mitchell picked up yet another ‘highly commended’ award from the Football League this season as his playing surface continues to impress through what are often difficult weather conditions.
"It was a long hard season because of the weather so to be highly commended for the pitch again is very pleasing," he said.
"The start of the season was a struggle because it was a lot wetter than we anticipated, particularly when we were trying to grow the grass. There were then long periods of frost and snow over the winter, so it hasn’t been easy.
"We had a lot of occasions where the sheets and blankets were needed. They don't help the pitch at all but we've got through another season without having a game called off. That can only be a good thing.”
"When you get into March you expect the grass to recover and start growing again but the weather affected that as well,” he explained. “There was absolutely no sign of any kind of pick-up until half way through April and the season was almost over by then.”
Each home game throughout the campaign brings with it a series of marks and comments on the condition of the playing surface from match officials and opposition managers – a system which goes a long way to deciding the end-of-year pecking order in the all-important pitch of the year stakes.
"I sit on the Playing Surfaces Committee so I get to see these marks first hand,” Mitchell told us. “This season the marks have been down across the board, apart from at Premier League level.
“It’s a whole different ball game up there, if you pardon the pun, because they have grow lights and various other tools to help them along. As you come down into the Championship, and League One and League Two, you can then see that it’s been a struggle for everybody.
"Even though it has been difficult I think the awards were handed out to the right people. It was fantastic for us that we had won it twice in a row and to be in the reckoning again this year was another big pat on the back.”
"The target at the start of the season is to play all of your games and to get to the end of the calendar year with the pitch in a decent condition,” he revealed. “The first couple of months of the year are always the hardest period and after that we try and bring it back to life again towards the end of the season.
"You do have to feel sorry for groundsmen when they have to call one off late in the day. I know a lot of the background into most League One clubs, from visiting them and speaking to them, and I tend to know how their pitch will cope with different conditions.
“A good example of that is when I was sat on the supporters’ coach on the way to the Scunthorpe game. I had a very good idea that the game was in trouble but I just have to sit there and stay as quiet as I can.”
“Dealing with the climate we have comes with experience and a little bit of luck sometimes,” he told us. "You have to learn to see and second guess problems as early as you can to help you to do something about it. That can sometimes mean putting loads of holes in the pitch, which makes it look less pretty, if you like, but at least you then give yourself a better chance of getting the game on.
"When it comes to Christmas time you have to stop trying to present the pitch to the best of your ability and just get the game on. There will have been a lot of times where groundsmen have had to stick holes in their pitch and it will have looked awful, but getting the game on is the most important thing."
for part two of this interview.
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