Being revered as keeper of one of the finest pitches in the lower leagues is not enough for The Shots’ Head Groundsman Andy Nunn. For Nunn and his hardy team of volunteers, there is always room for improvement.
Work began this week to make a fine playing surface even better but, as Nunn explains, this year is more about cosmetic enhancement than the major transplant surgery carried out last summer.
“I’ve never seen the pitch looking as good at the end of a season,” he admits. “It’s very firm and there are no divots or major holes. Over the course of a season obviously it does need a bit of care and attention but this year they are minor details. I’m so pleased with how it’s looking – a lot of people would want this pitch, and say it looks like the start of the season.
“The pitch has settled, and the renovation now it just to go over a couple of areas that are a little bit low, to level it out and make it even better.”
Once the Monday morning rain had eased, the scarification process – to mechanically rake and comb away dead fibres – commenced. “It cleans the surface up to give the new seed a good base to grow in. We’re putting down 40 tonnes of sand and then they’ll be seeding it and fertilising it, and away we go. The seed should be up within six or seven days, and then we let it establish, before giving it a light cut in two-to-three weeks.
“The amount of grass that’s on there at the moment is fantastic, to give us a start for next season, and the extra seed will help it to bind again.”
All of which sounds simple enough, but Andy still recognises the potential for growth of another kind. “It’s been a bit of a learning curve this year, for myself and the volunteers,” he states. “We’ve had to feed it more and use more water but on a matchday it’s very firm and you don’t get the divots.
“I can’t believe the amount of water that we throw on the pitch. Before a game it may have been raining but you still need a bit more moisture to keep the ball moving and to help keep the pitch binding together.”
But – to put it bluntly – how much can be done to enhance something already this good? “I think things have gone very well. You always have a dodgy period over Christmas when you’re fighting against the weather – and in February we had a bit of a problem with surface water at a couple of games – but apart from that the pitch has done really well. I’m really pleased.”
Barry Smith has been quick to highlight the potential benefits of a good playing surface, conducive to passing football, and Andy is equally swift to recognise his role within the team. “You have to work with the manager – whatever he asks for, you have to try to supply. I’m 100% committed to getting the pitch right. Aldershot has always been renowned for having a good pitch, a big pitch and a decent playing surface, so hopefully Barry will bring the players in that can play football on it.”
Praise – and pressure – has come not just from within the Vanarama Conference but also The Electrical Services Stadium’s exalted tenants. “I speak to (senior Chelsea groundstaff) Kevin (Fowler) and Jason (Griffin) on a regular basis, to get more advice, because the pitch has got to be right for them to play on too,” relates Nunn. “They’ve told us that the pitch is excellent, and it’s with their help and guidance that we can get the pitch that we’ve got. The Chelsea Academy managers have told us that they love playing here, and long may it continue. Hopefully we’ll have an even better surface next year.”
Such acclaim is immediately passed from Andy to his own groundstaff team, whose time and commitment are given in abundance. “You can’t give enough praise to the volunteers,” concludes Nunn. “They’re in in all weathers, and sometimes we couldn’t get games on without them. They turn out whenever we need them, at short notice. It’s fantastic and they are a great team to work with.”