In a new feature for 2018/19, we introduce you to a key member of staff from behind the scenes at St Mary's, starting with long-serving Grounds Manager Andy Gray...
Name Andy Gray
Job title Grounds Manager
Year joined 10th August 1998 to be precise, so it’s been 20 years!
Wow, congratulations! How has your job changed over time?
I went from apprentice, to assistant, to deputy, to head groundsman, to Grounds Manager, where I’ve been for seven years now. The whole club has changed – the stadium, the training ground… you name it. To have the same employer for 20 years, you might think it’s a bit boring, but everything’s evolved so much that the job is constantly changing.
The summer is always a busy time for your team. How has this one compared to previous years?
The stadium was built in 2001, and this summer has been by far and away the busiest we’ve had since it opened. We’ve not just reconstructed the pitch, but we’ve ripped up the rubber track around the pitch, which was there from when it was built. On top of that, we’ve had new floodlights going in. Since June 4th, which is when we started after the corporate events, it has been 12-hour days every day right through to the Celta Vigo game. I was waiting for the season to start so I could have a rest!
How does the new hybrid pitch work?
It’s like a big sewing machine with a row of needles across it. The needles push plastic string into the pitch at 2cm intervals 18cm deep, with 2cm sticking out the top. Then you sow your grass seed, and your grass grows through it. Once the grass has grown, it sits about 5mm above the plastic, so you can’t see the plastic and the pitch looks green. It means our new pitch gives us a level of stability we’ve never had before.
Is there a lot of dialogue with the coaching staff about how the pitch needs to be kept?
More so the players, I would say, because they’re the ones who are playing on it. After the Celta Vigo game, we spoke to quite a few of them and they were all really happy with it, saying how much better it was than previous years. We also have regular dialogue with the medical department, regarding firmness of the pitches for the impact and the load on the players’ joints.
Away from St Mary’s, there’s also the site at Staplewood. How many pitches are there in total?
There are nine grass pitches at Staplewood, two artificial ones and two that have been reconstructed the same as St Mary’s this season – the first-team training pitch and the Under-18/Under-23 match pitch.
How many people are in your team?
There are 14 of us altogether. Three people work at St Mary’s, nine at Staplewood, one gardener, who works on the landscaping at Staplewood, and obviously myself. When I started there were only five of us, but back then the training ground was only three and a half pitches!