Watford have torn up their problem pitch for the second time in six months and the third time in four years to create a “true surface” for the players who “like it slickened up”, according to the head groundsman.
Watford ripped up the surface, which had attracted criticism from Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, on January 13 and had it hastily relaid in two and a half weeks on the recommendation of Paul Burgess, the head groundsman at the Bernabeu who was brought in as a consultant to solve the problem. The club purchased 20 artificial light racks to help stimulate growth and recruited Scott Tingley from Arsenal as their new head groundsman.
The cost of relaying a pitch can range from £300,000 to £1m yet Watford, who earned more than £70m in prize money and TV revenue last season, have taken further decisive action and are in the process of relaying the pitch once more this summer.
“We’ve removed the turf that was installed in January and gone back to the Desso surface that was installed a few years ago,” said Tingley. “It’s quite common [to relay it]. We do it to provide a decent surface for the first team next season and remove any weed grasses that grows to give us a true surface. The turf surface we had last season got a bit bumpy and players like it slickened up so the ball moves quickly. A turf pitch enhances the bobbles.”
The Desso surface, which is used at Tingley’s former club Arsenal, was first installed at Vicarage Road in 2012 and sees the grass reinforced by millions of Desso artificial turf fibres.
“With the Desso surface you get a true roll, rather than bobble,” said Tingley.
The head groundsman, who comes from a family of groundsmen – his father Steve spent a decade looking after the pitch at Wembley – says the unseasonable weather this week has “slowed down” the grass growing process. “I don’t want to be standing here in a puffa jacket after putting seeding down.” The pitch was seeded on Sunday after 40m of turf was removed in 15m increments and the pitch stripped back to the previous Desso surface. One hundred and forty tonnes of sand has been brought in down Occupation Road.
Tingley says “he’s looking forward” to seeing the newly-finished surface ready for the opening day of the season, which could be August 13, but that “there is a lot of work to do” between now and then.
Interestingly, Tingley said the head coach and the players have a say over the length of the grass and how heavily the pitch is watered.
“The players have an influence on the height of the cut,” said Tingley. “That normally comes from the manager. We start quite short at the beginning, around 22mm, step it up to 25mm and then around 28mm in the winter to give it protection.
“The players on a matchday [decide] how much water we put on the pitch. I set it up to where I think it’s ready and they might say: ‘Scott, we want the ball to move quicker’ or ‘We want it to hold up.’ It’s tailored to the players depending on the opposition.”