A Waterlogged Pitch- Why are Games Cancelled and What Can Be Done To Help?
As any groundsman will tell you, maintaining a pitch in perfect playing condition is no easy feat. It requires careful planning, diligent maintenance, and a good dose of luck to ensure that the pitch is in the best possible condition for a game. However, when the weather takes a turn for the worse, even the most skilled groundsmen can struggle to keep their pitches in top shape. This can be as simple as grounds teams not being able to cut ahead of games because of bad weather which affects presentation.
One of the biggest challenges that groundsmen face when it comes to dealing with poor weather is waterlogged pitches. When heavy rain falls, it can be difficult for the water to drain away from the pitch, leaving it sodden and unplayable.If a pitch becomes saturated, meaning that all of the pores in the soil are filled with water, the pitch will be in a poor condition and more prone to damage. This can be particularly frustrating for groundsmen, as it means that games and training sessions have to be cancelled or postponed, leading to disappointment for players and fans alike. No groundsman would ever want to cancel a game so you can be confident that it is the last resort when a game is postponed.
Here are some factors that are involved;
1) Location/amount of rainfall/ water table- It can be as dry as a bone at one club but 5 minutes down the road it's torrential rain. Sometimes it's down to luck on matchday! If the water table is full then there is nowhere for the excess water to go.
2) The quality of drainage- The quality of the drainage system in place on a pitch can have a big impact on its ability to cope with heavy rain. Pitches with good drainage systems are less likely to become waterlogged than those without. Those drainage systems cost a lot of money so you are more likely to see them in the higher leagues.
3) Pitch: The quality of the pitch itself can also play a role in its ability to cope with wet weather. A well-maintained pitch with a strong grass covering is less likely to become waterlogged than one that is poorly maintained which lacks grass. Do you scarify regularly? If not your pitch will develop a thick layer of thatch which is all the organic dead material. This prevents a barrier that stops water, nutrients and fertiliser etc getting through to your grass roots. Any water in a particularly wet spell of weather will have nowhere to go and will just pool on the surface.
4) Staff: The skill and knowledge of the groundsmen and other staff responsible for maintaining the pitch can also make a difference. Those with a deep understanding of how to care for a pitch and keep it in top condition are more likely to be able to prevent water-logging in the first place.
5) Soil type: The type of soil that a pitch is built on can also influence its susceptibility to water-logging. It is important to understand what soil type you have on your pitch, as the ability of the pitch to drain freely and how long it takes for floodwater or surface water to disperse from your pitch will be dictated by the type of soil you have.Some types of soil drain more easily than others, which can make a big difference when it comes to dealing with heavy rain. There are sand based pitches in the English leagues that drain well for example. Other types include clay and loam soils.The pitch will take longer to dry out if the soil is heavy, such as loam or clay. On the other hand, sandy soil is more free-draining and will dry out more quickly.
6) Equipment available- Groundsmen will need to be aerating their pitches regularly especially those with a heavy schedule of games. You may be surprised to know that even the clubs with the biggest budgets for players are careful when it comes to buying equipment however as you would expect the clubs higher up in the leagues have access to the very best equipment.
Tools needed may include;
- Manual aeration tools: These include hand-held tools such as garden forks and spades, which can be used to manually poke holes in the soil
- Motorised aeration equipment: There are various types of motorised aeration equipment that can be used, such as hollow tine aerators, solid tine aerators, and turf plugs. These machines use rotating tines or plugs to create holes in the soil
- Topdressing equipment: This includes tools such as sand spreaders, which are used to evenly distribute a layer of sand or other material over the surface of the pitch.
7) Compaction on the pitch- If the pitch is used regularly it can be highly compacted which reduces and damages pore spaces- the water has nowhere to go. This can also be caused by heavy machinery such as heavy mowers/tractors.
Things you can do to help
1) Keep players off pitches during warmups/ let the pitch rest after
Prevent the pitch from becoming overly muddy and causing more permanent damage to your pitch by asking the players to warm-up off the pitch or at least off certain areas of the pitch. Make sure if you do get a game in you are letting your pitch recover after.
2) Verti-drain/Aerate your pitches regularly. You should be aiming to aerate at least once a month to a depth between 100-200mm. Once a year you should aim to aerate to a greater depth (200-300mm) using a larger, more powerful aerator. Make sure conditions are fit to aerate incase you do more damage than good.
3) Get better drainage installed- Easier said than done! This is highly expensive!
4) Use covers- This is not really an option that clubs choose. As you can imagine there is a huge volume of water you've got to put somewhere for example if there was 20mm of rain since midnight, and every millimetre of rain on that pitch is seven tonnes of water, thats a lot of water! Often if the water tables are full the water is coming up from the ground so covers do not help!
4) Use sand on your pitches/sand based soil - This aids drainage of water. Sand-based soil is more free-draining than other types of soil and is less prone to waterlogging. A minimum of 60 tonnes per pitch after spiking is the recommended amount and a maximum of 100 tonnes.
5) Scarify regularly to keep your pitch free of thatch. Our C34 mower is perfect for football pitches and you can insert a Turf Rake cartridge or Scarifier cartridge to get rid of thatch. The Turf rake is more suited to using throughout the season.
5) Postpone the game
Playing on saturated pitches will bring disastrous results. It is often better to postpone a fixture rather than ruin the playing surface for the rest of the season. It is not the groundsman's decision as to whether a game goes ahead- the officials make this decision based on advice from the groundsmen who know their own pitches and how they drain. The officials are analysing whether the pitch is safe to play on and whether or not conditions are or could turn farcical based on the forecast. Trust the groundsmen! They are experts and are only human. Think twice before you take to social media.
Maybe in years to come football will be moved more towards the summer months to avoid the bad weather?