Pete’s PNE pitch battle

Pete Ashworth pictured at Deepdale (photo: PNE/Dave Kendall)
Pete Ashworth pictured at Deepdale (photo: PNE/Dave Kendall)
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In the grand scheme of things, sodden football pitches and sport fields pale into insignificance compared to some of the flood damage caused by the wettest December on record.

But the heavy rain of the past few weeks has been a huge test of the skills of groundsmen country-wide to make sure sporting events go ahead.

Pete Ashworth, PNE’s head groundsman, has had a busy time of late.

He and his staff made sure Deepdale’s playing surface was in mint condition for five games in December and early January.

North End featured in four of those, with the ground also lent out to Carlisle last month after their Brunton Park home was left under several feet of flood water.

The Springfields training base has also needed some tender loving care too, flooding on Boxing Day leaving it under water.

Amazingly, one of the pitches was back in use inside 24 hours to ensure the North End squad could train in between the Huddersfield and Hull City games.

“We had something like 257mm of rain in December, usually it is less than 100mm,” Ashworth told the Evening Post.

“Before the Reading game on December 12, it rained heavily for hours and hours but thankfully stopped bang on kick-off.

“I have a rain gauge which I can stick into the pitch but it only goes up to 50mm.

“That has been no use, so I have been getting rain measurements from the green keeper at Ashton and Lea Golf Club which is next door to the training ground –the gauge there can measure a lot more.

“We are fortunate that the Deepdale pitch drains very well and that has helped us this last month.

“It is a sand-based pitch with a full drainage system of pipes and gravel.

“Springfields is different, it is soil and clay content, which holds the water a lot more.

“What has also helped us at Deepdale is a piece of machinery which puts two million holes in the surface, something which couldn’t be done with a fork.

“Usually we use that once a month to aid drainage but recently we have been doing it ahead of each game.

“The holes close up during a game and that is why we were fortunate the rain stopped just before the Reading match.

“Some of the worst weather was on Boxing Day when North End played away at Huddersfield.

“One of our staff popped in at Deepdale that lunchtime and the pitch was perfect, we would have been able to play if we’d been at home.

“Things were different at the training ground, the water gathers there like it does around a bath plughole .

“Early afternoon on Boxing Day, the Springfields pitches were under water.

“Yet the next morning, the players were able to use a section of one of the pitches to do a training session.

“It helps that Simon Grayson isn’t the kind of manager to kick up a fuss.

“He understands that sometimes you are up against nature with the pitches.”

The mild temperatures which have accompanied the heavy rain, have at least helped out Ashworth.

Warmer conditions have enabled some grass growth, something not often seen at this time of the year.

“The grass has kept growing, which is a positive thing for Deepdale,” said Ashworth.

“We have been able to get the mower on the pitch to tidy it up a bit.

“The weather which we find difficult to cope with at Deepdale is frost.

“In a cold snap, you have to put the covers down, which causes some damage when you take them back up.

“There is colder weather forecast for next week but at the moment we don’t have a game scheduled here until Brentford on January 23.

“Hopefully the lads can beat Peterborough in the FA Cup and avoid a replay!”