The Premier League Groundsman of the Year awards were announced recently, and our own Grounds Manager Darren Baldwin finished joint second with Southampton, while Arsenal took first place.
It’s an excellent achievement for Darren and his team who work so hard each day preparing and maintaining the White Hart Lane pitch and also the many pitches at Spurs Lodge and Myddleton House. We caught up with him to talk about the award and how he feels the season has gone with relation to the pitches.
You must be delighted with the recognition that comes with finishing joint second in this award?
For sure, it is a tremendous achievement not only for myself, but my deputy Paul Knowles, his assistant James Buttar and indeed the whole groundstaff department who have all helped out at The Lane during the season.
Obviously the pitch must have played well this season but what problems if any have you encountered?
It’s the third season now with this type of pitch construction and we are very much in a learning curve with it, in terms of the stadium environment. The major problem is, and always will be, the shade at the Park Lane end, the lack of sunlight and next to no airflow have caused us problems with algae and
sustaining grass growth during winter months. We are still looking at and researching artificial lighting rigs to counteract this light problem and also wind fans for airflow. Centre Court at Wimbledon have been using fans with some success recently and I will continue to monitor their results. The fixture list has also fallen a little heavy at just the wrong time during the season. Looking back at the campaign we have had a home fixture every weekend in February plus an FA Youth Cup tie, this amount of fixtures can
deteriorate a pitch very quickly at a time when the grass is not growing.
A lot of fans often ask why do you water the pitch before the game and, quite often, at half-time as well?
Most people think that we water the pitch to “soften” it, but in reality it’s all about friction. The modern footballs have a plastic coating and when the grass is dry the ball will tend to stick to the grass making the surface appear bumpy, it can also make for a slower game. By watering the grass we reduce
the friction creating a faster pitch which suits our style of football. Therefore during the warmer months evaporation is higher and it is necessary to apply water at half-time.
Now we're at the end of the season, what are your plans for the White Hart Lane pitch?
Off with the old and in with the new. Firstly we will scarify and rake out all of the grass that we are playing on today. The main reason for this drastic action is to eradicate all the ‘bad’ grasses that invade the pitch over the course of a season. We will then top dress the surface with a special type of sand to reform the levels of the pitch and then re-seed. Then its regular turf maintenance and fingers crossed for a good summer!
And what about the pitches at Spurs Lodge?
It’s all quite routine except for the first team’s main pitch and the goalkeepers training area, both of which have had 20mm stripped off, top dressed and re-seeded ready for pre-season training in July.
Do you get any special requests from the players about the pitch?
The only real requests players have is down to the amounts of water used but it’s my responsibility to try to compromise and give them what they want but be mindful not to do anything that might be detrimental to the pitch.
And finally, What do you put this seasons success of the pitch down to?
We learnt lessons from last season, changed some of our procedures and used some new products to our advantage. The overall hard work of all my staff has been the major factor in producing good quality surfaces at The Lane and both of our training grounds.
Goalkeeper Paul Robinson was among the first to congratulate Head Groundsman Darren Baldwin on his success at finishing joint second in the Premier League Groundsman of the Year awards.
The England shot-stopper is just one of the players who rely on a good surface. He has to deal with back-passes and opposition shots that zip along the ground and admits that, with such a level pitch here at the Lane, he hasn’t encountered any problems.
“It’s a fantastic pitch to play football on and all credit to Darren and his team for that,” says Paul.
“It’s important for me as a goalie to know that, when a shot is coming at me or I’ve got a back-pass to contend with, the ball is going to run true and that certainly is the case on this pitch.
“All the lads enjoy playing at the Lane, and the groundstaff also do a great job on the training pitches at Spurs Lodge too, again they are excellent surfaces for playing football.”