When he was appointed head groundsman, aged 20, at Sheffield United FC, Glenn Nortcliffe must have been one of the youngest head groundsmen in the country.
But the job obviously didn’t faze him, as the Bramall Lane Stadium pitch has continuously attracted accolades, especially nowadays from The Blades’ first team manager, Chris Wilder and the squads that use it.
Glenn, who this year celebrates 30 years at the club (aided today by groundsmen John Gleed and Jacob Campbell) says: “Our work here is helped considerably by Chris, who like us (!), is very protective of the pitch.
“He understands that training sessions and photo calls, for example, all impact pitch wear and tear, and its appearance, so his consideration in our endeavours to maintain a perfect surface is appreciated. In fact, it is also clear that the players, too, appreciate the importance of a good playing surface judging by their comments.”
In addition to extensive pitch care experience, Glenn works closely with Rigby Taylor’s Technical Representative Mike Brear, and together they have formulated an annual maintenance programme that clearly keeps the pitch in pristine condition for the 23 first team home Championship games and women’s football (“usually only one/two games a season here”) several under 23 games, as well as “hopefully, a number of cup games”.
In addition to overseeding with seeds from Rigby Taylor’s ‘R’ range, the programme of fertlisers, feeds and fungicides includes the monthly use of Microlite micro-granular fertilisers, plus applications of the Premier HG and Poly-Pro controlled-release fertilisers (the latter in July and November) as well as Magnet Rapide liquid iron (turf colour enhancer), Activate biostimulant, Spike (potassium and silica) and Amino-Form LX amino acid which are all applied five times a year.
“We’ve worked closely with Mike for some years, here and at the training ground where Kelly Barrowclough is head groundsman,” continues Glenn – “Rigby Taylor is a top company with top products – and on Mike’s recommendation we now overseed with a mixture of R140 and R14 perennial rye grasses. This means we are applying seven different cultivars, including the all-important tetraploids in R140 (Fabian and Tetragreen), which sees us making the most of rapid establishment, wear, and excellent tolerance to cold and shade, for example, in conjunction with the grow lights.”
Commenting that over the years there have been a stream of outstanding developments in grass seeds and treatments, for example, “especially including Rigby Taylor’s Microlite fertilisers”, Glenn adds that Mike has also worked closely with him to reduce pitch N levels and improve root growth through balanced inputs.
Joining The Blades after a two-year YTS scheme at nearby Graves Park – a local council site with cricket, football, rugby, bowling and mini golf pitches – Glenn had already built up considerable pitch care knowledge that stood him in good stead for managing a very old, badly-draining pitch. A new Desso surface, laid four seasons ago, alleviated many of the problems, however.
“The Desso surface made a massive difference, not only in terms of drainage but also in providing a fantastic level of stability,” says Glenn. “Another measure of its worth is that we normally leave about eight weeks between the annual renovation and the first game, but I’ve found that the surface is now playable after just three weeks!
“Last year , for example, the renovation meant going down up to 15mm and applying around 90 tonnes of sand before verticutting, brushing and seeding.”
Every pitch characteristic is recorded; with Clegg hammer readings (hardness levels) and moisture content managed accordingly. “The ProCore is probably our most important machine, and we use this when the Clegg readings start to creep up”, says Glenn.
Construction changes to the stadium have created an environment where there is little air movement over the pitch (three corners of the stadium are ‘filled in’ and there’s little space in the fourth corner) and for three months of the year the pitch doesn’t get any sun at all. “It must be one of the darkest stadia in the country,” he comments.
But it is clear that Glenn and his team consistently overcome all obstacles – with a subtle mix of expert groundsmanship, the use of grow lights “and some superb amenity products”.