Shay pitch should be fine for the week ahead, says groundsman Graham

MBI Shay Stadium Head groundsman Graham Osbourne.
MBI Shay Stadium Head groundsman Graham Osbourne.

Groundsman Graham Osbourne is confident the Shay pitch will take the strain of four games in eight days - starting with FC Halifax Town’s clash with Solihull on Saturday.

Town’s home game with Ebbsfleet on Saturday, March 9 was postponed due to the pitch being waterlogged, but Fax’s home match with Dewsbury Rams went ahead the day after, leaving the surface in a dreadful condition.

Muddy, waterlogged pitch at The MBI Shay Stadium, Halifax.

Muddy, waterlogged pitch at The MBI Shay Stadium, Halifax.

But it has since recovered sufficiently for Osbourne to be hopeful of staging Town’s next three home games - against Solihull on Saturday, the rearranged Ebbsfleet clash on Tuesday and then Maidenhead next Saturday - as well as Fax’s home fixture with Toronto on Sunday.

He said: “A verti-drain machine has been booked in tomorrow (Thursday).

“That spikes down about 18 inches and lifts the surface a bit.

“We haven’t been able to do that while it’s been so wet, so now it’s dried out quite a lot we can go on with it.

“It’ll probably squeeze a bit of water to the top, but hopefully it’ll go down the holes it’s just made.

“Then I’ll go round and fill any undulations in with sand, and then roll it to get it as good as I can for the weekend.

“Looking at the weather forecast, we should be fine.

“I’m not saying it’s going to be great to play on, especially for football, but there’s no rain forecast.

“I can see myself watering it a bit. Once you’ve lost all the grass and it starts drying out, it becomes unstable so you water it a bit to dampen the top down.

“If the weather stays as it’s forecast, there should be no problem.

“It’s just if it changes again and we have wet weather, then it’s going to struggle.”

Osbourne said a cumulative effect of issues contributed to the Shay surface falling into such a poor condition.

“We had four games in December which were all on the verge of being waterlogged,” he said.

“When it happens in December you’re always going to struggle getting it back again with the sunlight problems we have.

“Then having potentially four games in a week where the first of the four (the pitch was) very heavy, we just about got the second one on, the third was postponed and the fourth one, Halifax v Dewsbury, it was basically like a lake to be honest.

“After they played the first one, it’s capped a lot of the surface off, and then you fight to get the second one on.

“When you’ve got dual use and you’re playing games in a short amount of time, all you’re doing is repairing, and getting it ready for the next game.

“There isn’t enough time to spike it, or get machines on it to open it up. You physically can’t do it.”

Graham says he would ideally have no games at The Shay over the next eight days rather than four.

“It’s drier than it was before. Hopefully once we get the verti-drainer on it, it’ll bring a lot of moisture to the top, which will hopefully then dry out, and then I can hopefully roll it on Friday.

“We’ve got a game Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Saturday.

“It’s not perfect. This is the third double-header weekend in five weeks I think.

“The way they do the fixtures isn’t ideal. When we’ve had no games on a weekend, why isn’t there one in that weekend?

“The rugby fixtures come after the football’s, and supposedly the rugby league get given the football’s fixture list to try and avoid fixtures when they can.

“But it doesn’t seem to work very well.”

“When you get two in two days, and they’re different sports, it’s hard.

“It’s not just the pitch - you’ve got to clean the stands, clean the toilets, change the advertising boards round.

“We’ve got to do all that as well.”

Graham explained the underlying issues with the Shay pitch.

“They didn’t dig the old speedway track out, they just put the pitch on top of it.

“Where it used to be was on the edge of the penalty area (in-front of the South Stand), so you’ve probably got eight yards of thick-set clay, in some places two or three inches below the surface, some about a foot, so that corresponds with why we have a problem from the edge of the penalty area all the way down.

“When they built the East Stand, the pitch has been put on top of the old speedway track.

“We’ve got a main culvert which runs diagonally all the way under the pitch.

“We’ve found there’s a flat slab of concrete only six inches below the pitch near the six-yard box (in-front of the South Stand).

“So once it rains a lot, it’s going to just come back up again.”

Graham says the long-term solution would be to dig the clay out, but estimates that, if money were no object, solving the Shay’s pitch problems permanently would cost around £750,000.

Failing that, Graham says the situation has to be managed as best it can.

But he reckons the renovation work due to take place this summer, at an estimated cost of £10,000 will help improve things, “probably for a year or so”.

“It’s nothing major drainage-wise, it’s just taking the top off, putting some sand on, rotate it all in, re-seed it and fertilize it,” he said.

“Due to what we’ve got under the pitch, unless you spent a lot of money on it, you’re always going to struggle when you hit the bad weather.

“Once you take the top off, it gets you started again. It gets rid of all the rubbish grasses, the stagnant bits and gives you a clean slate.

“The first year of that should be great, depending on how they use it.

“But when it starts getting waterlogged and stagnant again, it starts being a problem.

“We had it koro top drained in, I think, 2015, which takes soil out every half-a-metre. It goes down about 12 inches by 3 inches, and the machine goes width-ways, makes all these channels in the ground, digs all the rubbish out and fills it with pure sand, so you’ve got these nice drainage channels every half-a-metre.

“In an ideal world, you’d do that every couple of years at different angles, taking more and more rubbish out, so over time, you’re taking more clay out.

“But it’s (having the) time and money.

“People who say ‘have it 3G’ - you’ve still got to sort the drainage out underneath.

“When the water’s got nowhere to go, it’s only going to come up and then all the rubber and sand that’s in the plastic will start floating off the pitch with the puddles.

“If you’ve got a draining pitch, that’s your problem solved.

“When it doesn’t drain, it goes stagnant, and nothing wants to grow when it’s stagnant.”