2018 IOG Industry Award winner Dave Fellowes certainly has his work cut out at Rotherham United FC.
Because, as head groundsman, not only is he and two assistants charged with looking after the stadium pitch but they also maintain the training ground which has two pitches, including one for the first team and reserves’ training, as well as reserves’ matches. The trio also help out with the maintenance of an additional pitch used by the club’s under 18s.
So, he says, everything he does must have a purpose – “I don’t have any time to waste” – and every product he uses must have the desired effect during a busy season.
Between May 2017-May 2018, for example, there were 46 games at the stadium, including the UEFA U17 European championship (two group games, one quarter-final, the semi-final and final), as well as 28 training sessions.The two-pitch training ground hosted 455 hours of use during that period.
Dave joined the south Yorkshire club in 2011, after nine years at Fulham FC – seven years as head groundsman there, moving to Craven Cottage from a groundsman role at the University of Sheffield where he gained Levels 1 and 2.
He admits it was a bit of a shock to the system moving from a Premier League club with a team having all the groundscare aids at its disposal, including undersoil heating and grow lights, to a club where the budget was very different. Indeed, for his first year, he was working alone.
“I wanted to get back to this part of the country for personal reasons,” he says, “and because The Millers were then in the throes of planning the new stadium I needed to be part of the new build, particularly the construction of the fibresand pitch. So, I spent a considerable amount of time commuting between London and Yorkshire before joining the club when it was using the Don Valley Stadium while awaiting the completion of the New York Stadium.
“I had experience of fibresand at Fulham, but the environment here is a bit different to London, not least the fact that little air gets onto the pitch, which we try to overcome by regular drag-brushing in an attempt to stimulate some airflow. There’s also a huge temperature difference between here and London, which affects grass growth in particular.
“But you have to work with what you’ve got and the weather you’re confronted with, and we’re always trying to improve things.”
He adds: “It is crucial that I use quality amenity products to complement our groundscare techniques to ensure the pitch plays well and looks good. Of course, we have to meet the expectations of the players and the board [Dave says he has an excellent relationship with the chairman and chief executive] but it seems that every spectator becomes a grounds expert when they enter the stadium – then they are referees and managers when the game is underway – so we have to ensure the pitch always looks great. And thanks to Rigby Taylor products, it does.”
Working closely with Rigby Taylor’s Technical Representative Mike Brear, the benefits of an annual pitch care programme are clear to see and, says Dave, it is spearheaded by a number of products:
 Microlite Activ8 micro-granular fertiliser – applied six times a year – “the best one on the market”;
 Activate R biostimulant – applied once a year – “a fantastic product that makes a real difference to rooting”; and
 Magnet chelated liquid iron – “we apply it on a Thursday before a Saturday game and it really kicks in quickly; it looks like a different pitch within 12 hours”.
Also used are Microflow and PolyPro controlled-release fertilisers (each twice a year) and Magnet Dynamic chelated iron (once a year, for long-term greening).
Dave adds: “We also rely on the biostimulant Activate R in the winter, for good rooting, and we top up the surface regularly by adding R140 seed and, especially in winter, I find that it germinates well at low temperatures. Three bags every six weeks makes a big difference. I do regularly compare products but have always found Rigby Taylor’s to be the best.”
The challenges that Dave faces continue unabated, following his recent success in the IOG Industry Awards – where he and his team won the SISGrass Professional Football Grounds Team of the Year Award, open to grounds teams from the English Leagues 1 & 2, National League, National League North/South, Scottish Championship & Leagues 1 & 2, Ireland & Wales Professional Leagues.
The Championship club’s stadium has also been selected as a host venue for the 2021 Women’s European Championship: “I’m already thinking about the timescales between the end of our season, the European Championship fixtures and the start of our new season.
“I’m planning mini renovations to accommodate those needs rather than having the usual seven-week break. And I’m confident that Rigby Taylor will help me effectively re-establish the pitch twice in one summer.”