Grounds Week: Q&A with Grounds and Technical Operations Lead

It's #GroundsWeek 2024 and we have got a fascinating Q&A with Grounds and Technical Operations Lead, Jim Buttar to learn more about what his job involves.

How do you go about growing the grass?

We have to consider many aspects when maintaining the pitch. The grass needs air, water, light, and nutrients. I manage all of the available resources to grow the grass to deliver a pitch fit for international rugby demands and whoever else may play rugby at Twickenham.

How many people do you have in your team?

There are currently five of us that work full time, including myself. We have Grounds Manager Ian Ayling, who has been at Twickenham for 26 years and Assistant Groundsman Andy Muir who has done a similar time. They are both great, hard-working people who are a pleasure to work with. Phil McLean, who had been helping the team out casually and has been a member of the match day team for 15 years, joined us full time in 2021. Dan Hill, arrived in 2022 and is Ian's Deputy Grounds Manager and assists with the operational planning and technical work. We have quite a large site to look after as it goes beyond just maintaining the pitch, so we punch above our weight in that regard.

We see the team mowing the pitch every single day, do you know how many steps you do on average in a day/week?

It is definitely one of those jobs where you will keep fit! On average we will walk 10 miles every day, the main reason we all fall asleep every evening in front of the TV...

What is your job role on a match day?

On a match day we will begin our day at around 6:30-7am, where we carry out a quick pitch inspection to see how everything is - making sure there isn't any fox damage (we have many overnight visitors!) and then we will do final prep on the pitch.

The final prep entails a double cut of the pitch lengthways and widthways and a final mark out of the white lines. After this, we put out the post pads and flags, and I will supervise the logos that need applying on the pitch for the game. We will then support/assist the competitions/match team and ensure that all the little details behind the scenes will successfully deliver a rugby game.

Post-match, we will remove all the flags and post pads and then use rotary mowers with brushes to hoover up all the debris and loose grass from the surface. Doing this ensures that we have a nice clean surface. We have light rigs which produce artificial light for the turf to recover from the games and we deploy these once everyone has gone home. Our day will generally be 12-14hrs depending on the kick-off time-long but very satisfying days.

How do you maintain the pitch in the winter months?

We are very fortunate at Twickenham because the RFU invested in artificial grow lights from Holland, which helps us close the gap of the grass being dormant. We also have undersoil heating which will prevent the pitch from freezing solid and might use it to warm the ground to germinate the seed in winter and keep the grass growing a little. Rugby being a winter sport means the pitch is used most during these months when the grass isn't growing as quickly as it would in the summer. The team always has a challenge with keeping the pitch in good condition, and the weather is a huge factor in how we can do that.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face?

The biggest challenge is the environment we are trying to grow and maintain grass in. The stadium stands cast shade across the entire pitch in winter, and as mentioned at the start, light is a crucial requirement for grass. The artificial light rigs help, but it is only a substitute for the sun. At times we can treat the pitch as two separate pitches. The North end and the East tend to have the lion's share of sunshine, so manage to do well. The South end and the West flank (tunnel side) has limited sunlight all year round. The sun might not set until 8pm in June, but the West flank will be in the shade from 1pm, and the South will not see the sun at all.

We continuously plan and adapt to the weather - even the best forecasting services are not always accurate. I should know, I have nine of them on my phone, and invariably, it's a mixed bag with their offerings!

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