A winning partnership with Manchester City

"It’s been great to have the commitment from Barenbrug in terms of research and development, and the pitches are looking good as a result of that.”


Pitchcare tags along with Barenbrug’s Matthew Williams as he  pays a visit to Premier League champions Manchester City FC to check out the club’s new BAR 7 RPR playing surfaces.


Arriving at Manchester City Football Club in early August to inspect the performance of a new Barenbrug grass seed mixture offers an insight into the unique challenges the grounds staff here face. 


The first port of call is Carrington training ground, which Barenbrug area manager Matthew Williams is visiting to see how the specialist grass seed breeder’s BAR 7 RPR sports regenerating perennial ryegrass mixture is faring.



But training ground head groundsman Lee Metcalfe is presented with a challenge – a film crew is shooting on a pitch earmarked for tomorrow’s first-team training session. A great illustration of life for a grounds team at the very top of the Premier League. 


Extra pressures

“People think that a groundsman’s job is just cutting grass, but it’s so many different things,” says Metcalfe. “This filming is a good example of the extra pressures for Premier League club grounds teams. The job moves at 100 miles an hour, but many people would give their right arm to work here.” 


Fortunately, Metcalfe reckons that grass cover is better than ever, which will help with the recovery ahead of tomorrow’s first full training session before the new season kicks off. “We’ve got grass cover everywhere,” he continues. “Normally we don’t have any around the perimeters. When you think how much water we’ve had, what with the bad weather and all the hard work that’s brought, it’s just amazing how much grass we’ve got.”


Permanent fixture

The winner of last season’s Premier League title agreed to field test Barenbrug’s RPR mixture last year as part of the company’s extensive product trial period ahead of its commercial launch. Trial pitches were sown at both Carrington and Platt Lane training grounds, with the most impressive result at Carrington where Metcalfe saw the pitch subjected to over 200 hours of play – equal to two years’ play in just five months. 


Following on from this, RPR has now replaced the original BAR 7 sports perennial ryegrass mixture the club used. Earlier this summer BAR 7 RPR was sown across five of the six training pitches at Carrington, plus Platt Lane’s pitch is now a permanent fixture. Better yet, the main stadium has also been sown with the mixture – a great thumbs up for Barenbrug’s latest breeding breakthrough.


“The RPR established really rapidly this year,” Metcalfe says. “It came through quicker than last year. You’d think it would be the exact opposite after the record low sunlight coupled with the hellish amount of water we’ve had. Because of the weather, we have struggled a bit with leaf spot. But the combination of the grass seed and our first year using Primo MAXX [grass growth regulator] has given us the coverage. We’re hopeful the pitches will perform as well as last year.”


Rely on products

With the team having won Professional Football Training Ground of the Year at the 2011 Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) Industry Awards, not to mention Professional Sports Grounds Management Team of the Year, Metcalfe says the pressure is on to keep the training ground in award-winning condition.


“This club never rests on its laurels. So my team’s job now is to keep the training ground looking good and I’m certainly very happy with how the RPR pitches are looking at the moment. Once we get some sun on them they’ll look even better. With the pressures of this job, you’ve got to be able to rely on the products you use as well as your suppliers. It’s been great to have the commitment from Barenbrug in terms of research and development, and the pitches are looking good as a result of that.”


Strong establishment

Williams moves on to the Etihad Stadium pitch, which was overseeded with BAR 7 RPR on 28 June just after the last concert of the summer. Both Williams and stadium head groundsman Lee Jackson are impressed. 


“It’s looking really good,” Jackson enthuses. “Of course the real test will be how it performs in the middle of winter. But overall it’s about 30 percent better than I would have expected BAR 7 to perform. Which is surprising given that this is without doubt one of the wettest summers we can remember. We’ve also had to cope with the lack of sunlight.”


As well as the RPR, Jackson attributes the strong establishment to his use of germination sheets for the first time this year. “We used the sheets after seeing how well they worked for Aston Villa – they’ve performed very well. Grass cover-wise we’re actually a little bit ahead of where we thought we’d be, but we want it to strengthen up a bit more. But, based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m extremely happy with the RPR.” 


Best it’s ever looked

Williams agrees that the RPR is looking “fantastic”. As he comments: “The pitch is the best it’s ever looked in my opinion. Both the stadium and the training grounds needed hard-wearing, disease resistant surfaces and that’s exactly what the BAR 7 RPR has delivered. The club is very well prepared for the new season and I’m confident the mixture will do the business.”


Before Williams leaves, there’s one last treat in store – a photo opportunity with the real Premier League cup. It’s clear the buzz of winning still hasn’t worn off as the team huddle together for a group shot. And, as Jackson takes us through the rabbit-warren of corridors to the very top of the stadium so the photographer can get elevated shots, it seems the whole building is abuzz with activity as post-concert renovations near completion. Finally, we get the lowdown on the plans for the new academy and elite training ground facility, to be located next-door to the stadium.


With so much development underway, it’s no wonder Metcalfe said many would give their right arm to work here.


Source: Pitchcare October/November 2012