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PITCH: The clock is ticking

17 May 2013

Dave Mitchell on a summer of work ahead

With the last game of the season now a distant memory the focus for stadium manager Dave Mitchell and his team of staff is to set about the playing surface and training pitches to make sure everything is in place when the squad gets back together for pre-season training at the end of June. 

“We've taken all of the vegetation off now,” Dave said. “That means we've basically scraped the old stuff off to take it down to a clean surface we can build on. 

“That part of it has gone well because of the work we do throughout the season to try and stop the debris from building up. We'll turn it over and then we'll put 100 tonnes of fibre-sand on. That simply tops up the fibre content because it tends to diminish over the course of the season.”

“We've got some alterations to do with the PH level,” he explained. “That has dropped a bit too much and it made it slightly more acidic than we'd like. Once that’s done we’ll have optimum growing conditions for the seed. We’ll then be in a position to level, seed and fertilise and we'll be off and running again.”

Time, of course, is always of the essence. 

“With the home friendly games we’ll have in the schedule we are probably looking at somewhere in the region of just under nine weeks to get the surface back to a playable condition,” he said. “That’s not too bad because I think we had to do it in seven weeks one year. That was not enjoyable at all.” 

“All you can do is try to work to the conditions and force it as much as you can with fertiliser and water,” he told us. “But if the weather isn't great, like last year, then you can't really do much about it.

“I'm always nervous about not getting it ready for the start of the season. Sometimes you look at it and there is a little bit of doubt, but once the base work is done it’s a case of waiting for the seed to germinate. That process lasts about a week and the month after that is pretty slow.”

And with the first pre-season home game pencilled in for the visit of Burnley on 20 July the countdown to kick off has already begun. 

“When we play the first pre-season friendly we'll have had about three weeks of letting it grow,” he said. “After that you hope the individual plants are getting strong enough to boost themselves along.

“We did the bare minimum on the pitch last year and, even with the weather, you could tell that had been the case as we went into the second part of the season. Last year we literally only scraped the surface but, this time round, we're also turning it over to get the air back into it. That allows us to add things into the base of the pitch, because throwing stuff on the top all the time just doesn't work. 

“There are only two of us here full time to do this at the moment so we’re looking at possibly getting people in over the summer to help with the more general maintenance work around the stadium. 

"You want the fans to come back in July and see that things have been changed or tidied up and I think that helps to give everybody a lift at the start of the season. We’ll do our best to do that over the summer.”

And as well as the ‘highly commended’ award from the Football League Dave Mitchell finds himself in the running for the Stadium Business Awards ‘Unsung Hero’ prize at the prestigious Manchester ceremony in June. 

“Our work has been recognised internationally with that one and that’s just unbelievable,” he told us. “I think the results are on 6 June so we’ll see how that goes. 

“I think if you speak to anyone they'll tell you it's nice when the work you do is acknowledged, but this is down to the whole team we have here, and not just myself.” 

Click HERE for part one of this interview.

United Player subscribers can see a two-part video interview with Dave Mitchell now. Click HERE to go to the Player platform. Follow the same link for more information on United Player, and to subscribe. 

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