The art of creating perfect pitches for Liverpool FC

Behind the BadgeThe art of creating perfect pitches for Liverpool FC

Published 1st July 2022
By Chris Shaw

It's a moment when Warren Scott allows himself a brief smile of satisfaction.

Among the wide-ranging responsibilities for Liverpool FC’s senior grounds manager is, of course, the care and cultivation of Anfield’s pitch; custody of ensuring a perfect rectangle of turf for each season of elite football.

And hearing the awestruck reactions of fans seeing the lush green pitch in pristine glory, glistening under the sunlight or floodlights, is a major part of what makes the hard work required of his team to create it so worthwhile.

“It’s always nice of a matchday when you come in, people are walking around and you hear the odd person go, ‘Look at that pitch, imagine you played on that.’ They’re the nice things,” Warren, who has been a member of the club’s grounds staff since March 1999, tells Liverpoolfc.com.

“But I always evaluate it at the end of the year and see how well we’ve done.

“I think the biggest part of the role is to always evolve, always try to be better, always look at better ways of doing things, always train your team to be better; a massive thing for me is teamwork in our job, it has to be a team effort all the time. I always work like that as a groundsman anyway.

“I always want the best pitch in the world – not just a good pitch or an excellent pitch, the best pitch. I’m always looking and always looking to evolve.”

Which makes this a particularly pertinent time for us to check in with Warren.

When supporters get a first glimpse of the Anfield pitch for 2022-23 – at the friendly against RC Strasbourg Alsace on July 31 – to the naked eye it won’t look any different to last season.

Underneath the surface, however, a significant transformation will have taken place.

Reds install new hybrid carpet pitch at Anfield
1st July 2022

NewsReds install new hybrid carpet pitch at AnfieldAhead of the 2022-23 season, Liverpool FC is installing a new hybrid carpet pitch at Anfield.

Following the conclusion of the last campaign, which included 30 men’s fixtures at Anfield, and three summer concerts in June, the process of installing a new pitch inside the stadium is now under way.

The old pitch has been removed and will be swiftly replaced by a hybrid carpet pitch, a high-quality playing surface composed of 95 per cent grass and five per cent artificial fibres that will be in-filled with sand, ensuring excellent performance and stability, and optimal drainage.

Grown off-site at a turf nursery in Lincoln, where it was tended by Warren’s grounds team, the pitch is to be harvested, transported and laid at Anfield in the weeks ahead.

“The playability and the concept is really the same,” he explains. “The great thing for us is, we still could keep the whole construction apart from 50ml at the top of the surface.

“So, our asset was a 10-year asset that we bought when we built the new pitch at Anfield in 2017. That asset remains, we just remove the top 60ml of the layer, then we take out the Desso fibres, we add some fresh rootzone and we cultivate the surface – which we currently can’t do in a Desso pitch.

“We just bring the fully turfed area into the stadium and our only process then is getting it visually looking perfect for the players.”

A key element of the change is the reduced time needed to implement the hybrid carpet pitch as compared to its predecessor, with completion possible within a twice-as-quick four weeks.

Warren and his staff can therefore simultaneously fulfil the wishes and requirements of Jürgen Klopp – both in terms of the surface’s performance and its use – and the club’s event planning at the stadium during summer months.

“The manager can have a pre-season friendly game, or two. That’s probably the most important factor, I would say, in terms of football,” says Warren.

“The most important thing is we’re a football club and we need to provide for everyone in football, they need to get the best they can, every little thing matters. That’s what I always get from Pep [Lijnders]: it’s the little things that make the difference.

“The main thing for us with the carpet is it gives us a lot more options; it makes us a multi-purpose stadium.”

A visualisation of the new hybrid carpet pitch. Credit: Hewitt Sportsturf
A visualisation of the new hybrid carpet pitch. Credit: Hewitt Sportsturf

The work won’t stop once the new pitch is fully installed, though, with a raft of analytical data available to be monitored throughout the season – “I love the data!” Warren beams.

This includes details on pitch drainage, nutrient input, soil analysis, leaf tissue analysis, and reduction of fertiliser and fungicide use in favour of natural stimulants for the grass – as well as regular feedback from the manager, coaches and players.

Each statistic can then inform how the turf can be tweaked and improved further, with the aim of providing those incremental advantages craved by Klopp and co.

“From a looking after the pitch point of view and playability, we use various data tools and have various equipment to be able to match up the pitches at the AXA with Anfield,” says Warren.

“That’s what we do regularly now with a Desso pitch, that’s what we’ll do with the hybrid carpet pitch. So, in terms of compaction, in terms of traction, in terms of how much water we put on, moisture – we have the tools and the data to constantly measure this and look at it across the AXA pitches. They do exactly the same there.

“So from a players’ feel point of view – how the ball rolls, height of cut, everything like that – we have all the equipment to make them look, feel and play exactly the same as the Desso pitch we had before and the AXA Desso pitches.”

This summer’s pitch overhaul was at the top of Warren’s to-do list when he was appointed to the senior grounds manager role last December.

Related

It was a task he was able to take in his stride having contributed to multiple major projects across Anfield, the Academy, Melwood and more recently the AXA Training Centre during his 23 years and counting with the club.

His career in the industry began with a summer job supporting his father’s head groundsman post at a school in West Derby, before he succeeded with an application for an opening at the Reds’ youth base.

“I remember it went in the Echo in those days so a lot of people applied for it, because it was Liverpool Football Club,” he recalls. “I ended up getting the job.”

From there, Warren enhanced his skillset by gaining a series of qualifications in the field, progressing to become head groundsman at Anfield in 2005.

After six years focusing on the club’s home pitch, he moved to Melwood to help with the implementation of Desso pitches at Liverpool’s former training complex.

He and his team were then heavily involved in the creation of, and transfer to, the sprawling, modern AXA Training Centre – a process that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a really tough time through COVID, it was difficult and the stuff that my team did in that time was just unbelievable,” he notes. “We did it, we got the AXA ready.”

In his current position, Warren now holds overall responsibility for the grounds at three club sites: Anfield, the AXA Training Centre and the Academy in Kirkby.

But a theme that emerges repeatedly throughout our interview is the value he places on the collective work ethic, commitment and pride of the entire grounds staff at LFC.

“It’s just about supporting all the sites,” he says of his role. “We have grounds team managers – one at the AXA, one at Anfield, one at the Academy. My role is just supporting that, making sure the teams are all set up and supporting them along the way.

“I’ve worked at every site, so I was at the Academy for six years, Anfield six years, the training ground; I think over 50 per cent of the staff I’ve worked with or trained or been with. So the transition for me, really, isn’t a big change – I work at Anfield on matchdays.

“The difficult bit is getting around the sites all the time, where you want to be at the right times. But, for me, it wasn’t a big step up or a different position or different job; I’ve worked at all the sites, I work around the sites. It was a natural progression, to be honest.

“I always think it’s about a team, that’s a big thing for me. Especially over the last three years, what the team have done through COVID, through moving to the AXA Training Centre, through the amount of games at Anfield this year, which was a really tough year, and then we move into concerts.

“It’s a big thing for me how much the team have done and hopefully continue to do.”

There is one other important item on that aforementioned to-do list, too; with Warren hoping greater awareness of grounds work can inspire a new generation into a profession that offers so much more than mowing grass.

“I want to get it on the map more,” he adds. “There has been a big push right across the industry, trying to get it to school leavers, to try to entice people into college and into the industry.

“I think the best way to do that is to give people a better understanding of what we do and how interesting it can be and that you can have a good career in it.

“We have had some A-Level students come in and we have done talks to them, given them walks around the pitch, explaining what we do. If we can give it to a bigger audience, I think it’s a good thing.”

Published 1st July 2022