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Battling back after the floods to tackle amateur football fixtures backlog
IT was a winter of discontent for footballers across Southampton.
Nearly three months of wet weather saw the football fixture list virtually wiped out as the city’s pitches were transformed from green fields into muddy bogs.
The conditions saw virtually two-and-a-half months of sport wiped out from January, February and March.
At one point the Drew Smith Southampton League was in danger of being abandoned because of the weather and postponements.
It was a trying time for the man leading the fight to get the games on.
Martin Beer, who is in charge of Southampton City Council ground staff, believes the first three months of 2014 saw the worst weather he has ever known in his all his 40 years’ working as a groundsman in Southampton.
He said: “I just have never known a year like it. We have never had these problems with flooding and waterlogged pitches.
“There was just nothing we could do about it at times.
“Some of the pitches at Lordshill Recreation Ground were practically under water, while the sports centre was just an absolute bog.
“I had a crisis thinking about how can we get these games on, but thankfully the football leagues in the city understood our predicament.”
Because the pitches were so wet, ground staff could not use the tractors, line markers and drainage equipment.
Now Southampton City Council is looking at using machines built for use on golf courses to drain the pitches, should this type of weather return next season.
Lordshill Recreation Ground is at the centre of a £170,000 project funded by Southampton City Council and Sport England to sort out its drainage.
Most people only see what the pitches look like when they turn up raring to go on a Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, but for Martin and his team they are a labour of love.
Throughout the week, the team works to maintain each and every one of them – a job that is made harder by decisions they make the week before.
As many footballers in Southampton know, the pitches in the city aren’t of the same standard compared to the plush snooker-table like qualities of St Mary’s or Old Trafford.
Because they have to look after 32 pitches across the city, with just ten staff, the unpredictable weather means they have to gamble on whether a pitch is “playable”.
A pitch can be deemed fit for football on a Thursday, but if it is played on in bad weather over the weekend it could cut up and end up out of action for even longer.
Martin said: “People always want to play every game and they can get upset if they find their match cannot go ahead.
“We have to think about what effect it will have later on.
“We do everything we can to get the matches on but there is no point doing it if there is a chance we will lose all the matches for the rest of the season.”
In 2012, a Daily Echo investigation highlighted the poor state of city council pitches and facilities for amateur footballers.
Players complained of pitches full of holes, others with uneven surfaces and some covered in dog mess, which teams have to pick up before games get under way.
Martin shares these concerns and said his aim was to make pitches perfect.
He said: “For footballers my job is to make sure that they can play all their games and it is vital for them to be able to achieve that.
“The biggest satisfaction is seeing a full weekend of fixtures played.
“I know the problems that footballers have with unfit pitches and we try our best to make sure each game can go ahead.”
Although Martin does not actually work on Saturdays he cannot relax and put his feet up.
Instead he is worrying about what state the pitches will be in on Monday.
He believes this passion is something that all his ground staff share.
He added: “We try our best with the maintenance and I think we have a brilliant team who are very skilled and they are just as passionate about the job as I am.”
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