Old Trafford grounds manager Tony Sinclair has revealed how he will prepare the turf at Old Trafford, as well as the pitches at the Aon Training Complex for the 2019/20 season.
Speaking to ManUtd.com, Sinclair talked through the work he and his team undertake during the summer, explaining why this can be the most difficult period of the year for keeping the pitches in immaculate condition.
“From the training ground to the stadium, we have 23 natural pitches and five synthetic pitches to look after,” said Sinclair. “They all need to be renovated and prepared for 1 July and pre-season training, and then we have the stadium pitch itself to work on for the first match in August. It never stops. If anything, the constant challenge we have, to make sure the pitches are right, gets harder during the summer.”
This season, United’s first team have played at Old Trafford 26 times across the Premier League, two domestic cups and the UEFA Champions League, and the pitch has also been used for Champions League training sessions and three Under-23 matches.
“I know supporters will come on a match day and they’ll see the bright white lines and the shaded patterns and the chequerboard effect, but to make the pitch look like that takes a lot of hard work and a lot of it is a science. Our pitch at Old Trafford is a Desso hybrid, so there are basically 20 million pieces of stitched-like nylon material, 20cm deep, 1.5cm apart and 2cm from the surface. So this stitching makes up 3 per cent of the pitch. Samples are taken away every week, so we can check if we are low in nutrients and micro-nutrients. If we are, then we have to decide how to amend those elements. We use artificial grow lights which kid the plant into thinking that the conditions are adequate to grow.”
Sinclair and co have numerous challenges to overcome during the season to make sure that the pitch remains in peak condition.
With rugby league’s Grand Final held at Old Trafford – plus a couple of high-profile concerts to contend with in the last year – precautions are taken to make sure that the turf can return to serving its main purpose within a couple of days.
“The rugby has been something that we have done for many, many years, so we have processes in place. The final is played in October and we can play a football match within a week and there’s very little evidence of a rugby match having been played. With concerts, we use the very best pitch covering that is out there in the world that can take the weight off the surface underneath and protect it in the best possible way.”
Walk around Old Trafford during the week and sometimes your nostrils are hit with the strong aroma of garlic. More often than not the source is coming from the pitch, with garlic being used to ward off potentially harmful parasites. There are millions of different species and if you get the wrong sort they can be detrimental to the outside and inside of the plant,” Tony clarified.
“So, what we have to do is apply garlic, we have samples taken away, and as and when eggs are about to hatch we apply this liquid garlic. Everybody working at or walking around the ground certainly knows when we’ve applied it!”
With the local region renowned for its fair share of rain during the year, pitches like Old Trafford need to have sufficient drainage to ensure that games can always be played. “A Desso pitch can withstand 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) of rain an hour. Don’t get me wrong, if three to four inches fell, the water would be lying on the surface there and then. If we had a heavy deluge of rain at the start of a game, within three quarters of an hour to an hour you’d expect to see all that disperse from the surface. These pitches are designed to be self-draining in order to cope with the elements, so it’s a surface that fits well with the Manchester weather.”
Tony Sinclair and his team have won the Premier League’s Grounds Team of the Year accolade for 2019, which is judged by referees and match delegates awarding marks during the season on the usage of the pitch and the environmental conditions, as well as an end-of-season quality assessment by independent agronomists.