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Cleve West (@clevewest) is a Gold Medal-winning Chelsea Flower Show landscape gardener. He is also an ardent Brentford fan – famous for burying a number of Beesotted fanzines in in gardens that he has landscaped up and down the country over the years. We thought, whilst he was twiddling his incredibly green fingers on the evening of the cancelled Birmingham match, we would get his professional thoughts on Brentford’s dodgy pitch.

With the recent pitch debacle at Griffin Park, Beesotted gave me a call asking me to provide a horticultural angle on the situation they had dubbed Pitch-Gate. Although I have remarkably green fingers, I was quick to remind them that my expertise lies more in landscape design and have had less experience in turf-laying and lawn maintenance.

Saying that, I have laid a few sods in my time and one thing I have learned is that there are many variables when dealing with nature and no two jobs are the same no matter how skillful you are.

I know good turf from not so good turf.

The other thing I know is there is a big difference between a laying a garden lawn and a football pitch.

This was made crystal clear to me after the Wigan game at the end of last season when I reluctantly took part in my very first pitch invasion* after 25 years of being a Bees fan.

Actually it wasn’t quite a ‘pitch-invasion’. More like a ‘pitch-saunter’.

I’m too old to be seen leaping barriers. But the sight of some mates jeering me from the penalty spot at the Ealing Road end and the fact that somewhere around that very spot is where the Griffin Park Memorial Park (something I have been very involved with lately) will be built when the ground is re-developed was enough to make me want to get a feel for the space.

I walked slowly to the open gate where people were filing through in an orderly manner. But when I got there, the steward looked at me and shut the gate.

“Sorry you can’t go on the pitch sir.”

“You’re kidding me?”

“You can’t go on mate’”

“Oh, so it’s ok to leap the barrier but it’s an offence to walk casually through the gate?”

“Sorry mate, rules are rules.”

I looked at the hundreds of people on the pitched that had just streamed happily through the gate then back but he was resolute.

What the steward didn’t know was that I was actually very happy not to go onto the pitch. However, the steward’s behavior was so irrational, it had got me so riled I really had to get on the pitch just to prove a point.

Thankfully it ended peacefully. A small child and his parent walked up to the gate that the steward gracefully opened for them without even a murmur. I just tagged along behind them shaking my head.

All was forgotten when I set foot on the hallowed turf. It was unlike any turf I’d ever set foot on before. It was the lushest, greenest, thickest pile that you could ever imagine.

I was so impressed that instead of giving in to the jeers and joining the photocall on the penalty spot, I took my time to take a picture of the old (but beautiful) sod that had played a part in getting us to the play-offs.

Little did I know that three months later I’d be looking at this very picture with the sort of fondness that you’d give to a photo of a departed loved-one.

My initial thoughts after the Ipswich game was

‘Why on earth re-lay such a stunning pitch in the first place?’

Apparently the pitch needed drainage improvements and the fitting of new cables but if I remember correct, no matches were cancelled last season because of pitch problems.

I then thought

‘Well if that was the case, why opt for seed when turf more or less guarantees you a playing surface within a couple of weeks of laying?’

A groundsman who goes under the pseudonym muchtodonow who once worked at Griffin Park and who is now working abroad (winning an award for best pitch in Europe) has offered some very useful advice on the Griffin Park Grapevine.

The ideal pitch is seed-sown in order to maintain a consistency in terms of soil-type which needs to be free-draining so that water can percolate down quickly to a coarser substrate and whatever drainage channels or pipes laid beneath the surface.

Replacing the existing pitch with new turf will give us a playing surface in the short term. But if the sod used doesn’t have the same free-draining soil qualities as the sub-layer that has been prepared at Griffin Park, it will effectively act as a cap or a seal which will slow drainage potentially causing problems later in the season.

Thankfully turf-suppliers using the same free draining soil do exist (in Slovakia) so aside from the extra cost of importing the ideal turf (approx 50% more), it’s reasonably safe to assume that the situation can be resolved to get the pitch ready for the Reading game at the end of August.

I’ve since learned that modern sports turf (like at Stamford Bridge) is often a mix of artificial and seed-sown grass. This would make a lot of sense as it would give the lighter soil structure a little more stability which would help in the early stages of its growth.

Whilst I have seen turf existing with plastic netting specifically to improve structure in the early stages of growth for garden lawns, I’m not sure whether such turf is available for sports pitches.

As for blaming injuries on poor pitches, I’m wondering whether this is where things can cause us more damage than opposing fans coming up with songs like “championship pitch, you’re having a laugh” or humming the tune to Lawrence of Arabia.

Having worked briefly in the sports industry some years ago, it was generally accepted that more injuries are caused by lack of match-fitness than playing conditions so let’s not be too quick in blaming the pitch for everything.

But then I would say that …. I’m a horticulturalist.

Cleve West