Partnership a win-win for Middlesbrough FC Academy

The sight of goalposts floating off onto a floodplain and fish on the pitch during heavy storms is not one that many football groundsmen see on a regular basis.

Head groundsman Neil Rogers, left, with Rigby Taylor’s technical representative Jamie Applegarth. Image: Supplied
Head groundsman Neil Rogers, left, with Rigby Taylor’s technical representative Jamie Applegarth. Image: Supplied

But that was the situation Neil Rogers, head groundsman at Middlesbrough FC's Rockliffe Park training complex, found himself in a few years ago when the north of England endured record rainfall over a two-day period.

"With the River Tees running alongside the ground, the bottom corners of a couple of pitches always suffered whenever we had heavy rain," he says. "But the problem seems to be resolved now that the adjacent golf club has planted reed beds at the bottom of the course, next to those pitches."

These days Rogers worries more about working within strict budgets to keep the site's 12 natural turf pitches and two artificial surfaces ready for action seven days a week.

"It's a challenge; a balancing act," he said. And helping in his quest is Rigby Taylor, the complex's sole supplier of grass seed and amenity consumables.

Rogers, 44, has been with the club for 11 years, after spells at two local golf clubs, and he says the agreement with Rigby Taylor is a win-win situation for the club.

"Knowing that we have a consistent supply agreement using market-leading products means I can worry less about dealing with numerous different companies and their 'reps' and therefore spend more time actually keeping the playing surfaces in trim," he explained.

Rogers uses different grass on different pitches – including R11 on the academy pitches and R14 on six pitches including the two 'match' pitches. They are maintained at 30 mm during the winter months, reducing to 25 mm in the spring and autumn.

The R11 100 per cent perennial ryegrass, which contains the cultivars Greenfair, Mercitwo and Greenway, gives rapid establishment with all-year-round colour and is particularly disease tolerant. R14 (also used at the stadium) has the Columbine, Poseidon, Duparc and Berlioz 1 cultivars and boasts rapid establishment and high tolerance to wear and disease, plus all-year-round colour. The R14CR creeping perennial rye, with Columbine, Poseidon, Duparc and Fiesta 4 cultivars, boasts all the above features plus provides a cleaner cut and extra-strong roots.

"A similar budget-busting philosophy is applied to our feed regime; we used to use only granular products but wanted to make things easier (and possibly lower cost) by employing more liquid feeds. Working closely Rigby Taylor we made the switch and we now apply feeds at the rate of 80 litres a pitch rather than using the more expensive 14/15 bags of granules. The result is the same, but we save both time and money."

Rogers' pitch maintenance programme revolves around fraise mowing, vertidraining and spiking and a precision-like watering regime to ensure the surfaces are perfect - not too soft nor too hard.

To complement these regimes, he uses a wide range of Rigby Taylor consumables, that are applied "as and when the pitches need it", he says. These include the liquid feeds and the special mixes:

Mixture 1 containing amino acids, phosphites and trace elements; and Mixture 2 containing wetting agent, humid acid, seaweed and carbohydrates.

These mixes have been specially formulated by Rigby Taylor to suit the Rockliffe Hall site's environment and are applied monthly; other clubs use similar mixes but in different percentages of content to suit their particular demands. The mixes are also applied monthly at the Riverside Stadium but, as suggested, with differing levels of organic material and inoculants.

The ConVert 21.5.6. fertiliser is used at the training ground and at the stadium. Rogers is full of praise for this phased-release (over 8-12 weeks) fertiliser that combines two granules – one a coated nitrogen granule and the other a compound granule containing conventional and slow release nutrients – plus high calcium and magnesium contents.

"ConVert is a fantastic product," he says. "It produces a great sward of a deep emerald green colour and at such a rate that we could easily cut it twice a day."

He added: "Certain pitches need more aeration and watering, as well as nutrients, than others," he says, "simply because of their high sand content - sometimes 80 per cent sand on a clay underbase. If every pitch were the same the job wouldn't be as interesting at it is; it would mean that I'd stop thinking about what each pitch needs."

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