Man Utd head groundsman takes APSE parks event behind the scenes at Old Trafford where Sir Alex Ferguson "is almost like a groundman himself".

The head groundsman at Manchester United Football Club has given an insight into his high-tech turf regime and close working relationship with manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Lighting rigs at Old Trafford: Image HW
Lighting rigs at Old Trafford: Image HW
Tony Sinclair told an APSE conference at the Old Trafford pitch on 20 March that he relied on a battery of computers, sensors and pitch cameras to look after the 10-year-old sward. He could control irrigation and under-soil heating from his office-cum-mission control, or from his home.

Sensors meanwhile track soil moisture and shade and £1.1m of lighting rigs increase light levels for seed development. His 25-strong team work with £2m of leased kit and cameras tell Sinclair how well the pitch performs.

Increasingly "erratic" rain levels had prompted him to use growth regulators but the stadium did not trial organic products or new feeding regimes because "we just can't afford to do anything wrong".

However he said: "This stadium has had its troubles and people say 'you should have the best pitch in the world'. You can't buy the weather. Meanwhile last season we had 98 usages including corporate games. This pitch is 10 years old, and in the 10 years before we had 18 pitches, three in one season. We are going to replace this one soon.

"The manager is great; he's almost like a groundsman himself and rings me anytime of the day or night to ask about watering or whatever. He's a great ally for me and the lads. Anything we need for the pitch, he will push for it.

"I needed clearance for £300,000 of rigs and when I told him why I hadn't ordered the kit he couldn't believe it. Next morning I got an email from the bosses saying 'order the three rigs'.

"People see only one side - a tough man. But he's the nicest guy; I have as much respect, if not more, for him as a person. He will help anyone he can, whether it's a footballer or a cleaning lady. He is a really good man."

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