Steve Winterburn at Brighton & Hove Albion FC still holds an incessant desire to produce the best pitches at the Premier League club’s training ground and stadium.
Since he joined the club in 2001, his role has developed from being head groundsman at the club’s (former) stadium in Withdean to one today that, as head of grounds maintenance, means he oversees a team of five full-time grounds staff at the stadium in Falmer as well as 14 full- time grounds staff at the club’s Lancing-based training ground – where there are eight grass, two hybrid grass and three 3G pitches, plus several grass and hybrid grass training areas
He also works closely with the nearby University of Sussex, where the club’s women’s first team now uses up to four pitches every season for their training needs, and the club’s stadium grounds staff’s input into the maintenance works on these pitches.
Today, he admits, he rarely gets ‘to pick up the tools’ because his role is focused mostly around numerous strategic issues of grounds maintenance across the sites, especially concerning staff training, development and progression – “giving people something to aspire to is vitally important”, he says – as well as ensuring that all the grounds within his remit are using the best available products and maintenance techniques to ensure the consistent availability of top-class playing surfaces.
“I’m forever experimenting with a variety of amenity products, especially at the training ground,” he continues. “I’m always willing to tweak things to ensure we are always on top of what’s best in terms of both working practices and the resulting pitch performance.
“One example concerns the use of nutritional products as well as controlled and conventional release fertilisers. I always want the best – and at the best price!”
That said, one amenity supplies company in particular has stood the test of time, he affirms, “and that’s Rigby Taylor, from which we source a host of products”.
Steve’s connection with the South Coast club extends back to 1993, however, when the Seagulls’ squads used the University of Sussex Sports Ground for training. Steve joined the university initially as a groundsman then became head groundsman there three years later.
His move into groundsmanship came after his career path led him from experiences in civil engineering, drainage and landscaping before he joined the East Sussex National Golf Resort as a greenkeeper for two seasons, during which time he started to gain his Levels 1, 2 and 3 qualifications as well as accreditations for spraying and chainsaw use, for example.
After a spell working at a private school, Steve joined Brighton & Hove Albion at the Withdean Stadium (a converted athletics track owned by the local council) and he brought with him an extensive skills set “especially in terms of varying playing surfaces (artificial and grass, from sand- to clay-based) for a multitude of sports”.
While he naturally applied this experience to the maintenance and management of the Withdean Stadium pitch, his expertise really came to the fore when the club decided to build a new stadium (the AMEX Community Stadium) and Steve became an integral member of the team which specified the construction of the new pitch for the club’s 2011/12 season.
“All new pitch projects are a case of marrying what’s ideally required with the available budget, of course, and this was no different,” Steve reflects. “We opted for a fibrelastic surface, using grasses that I was used to working with – mainly Rigby Taylor’s R14; a 100 per cent perennial ryegrass containing the cultivars Columbia, Poseidon, Duparc and Berloiz 1.
“That pitch has performed very well over the years but this summer  it has been replaced by a hybrid surface – two similar hybrid pitches are in place at the training ground alongside hybrid surfaces for goalkeeping and training areas – but, again, we are sticking with the R14 as part of the seed mixtures used because it gives me everything I need, including rapid establishment, good colour, a clean cut and good disease and shade tolerance.
“The position of the stadium (elevated but on the South Downs) represents quite a harsh environment in terms of temperature, shade and air flow – the stadium design means we lose a lot of light on the pitch in the winter, perhaps having only a 3 metre wide by 10 metre long strip of sun on the pitch by mid-winter. R14 continues to perform well in conjunction with grow lights and a number of other Rigby Taylor products.”
Underpinned by regular agronomy advice from STRI, R14 is just one of a host of Rigby Taylor products on Steve’s shopping list. He also uses, for example:
 A variety of fungicides;
 A range of fertilisers such as the Microflow-CXS controlled-release liquid – containing chelated trace elements including copper, iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc;
 Amino Form LX amino acid-based supplement for stress relief;
 Activate XL microbial biostimulant; and
 Breaker Advance wetting agent.
Working closely with Rigby Taylor’s Regional Sales Director Mike Ring – who, in fact, was a winger in the Seagull’s squad from 1981 to 1984 (he also played for Hull City and Bolton Wanderers, for example), Steve adds: “I actually started doing business with Mike when I was at the university, and we’ve always worked hand-in-hand testing and using the products for the most successful results.
“But Mike’s history with the club does not have any sway on the way in which I select the products I use today. Lots of different products from different suppliers may well make a pitch look good, but that doesn’t always mean it will play well. And, of course, they may not always be the most cost-effective purchases. My job – and the job of all my groundsmen – is to ensure we satisfy all these demands.”
“I’m always willing to tweak things to ensure we are always on top of what’s best in terms of both working practices and pitch performance,” says Steve Winterburn, head of grounds maintenance at Brighton & Hove Albion FC’s AMEX Community Stadium (below) as well as at the club’s training ground.
Photo credit: BHAFC, Paul Hazlewood