Perfect pitch

If you have stayed at the West Ham United Hotel at the Boleyn Ground any time over the past seven years, you may have noticed that the sun never sets.

At least it seems that way, as the pitch is bathed in a bright yellow glow when everywhere around is shrouded in darkness.

If you peel back your curtains and take a peek, you will see rows of hi-tech 'artificial sun' lighting rigs shining directly down at the playing surface.

Head groundsman Dougie Robertson explained that the Stadium Grow Lighting (SGL) system that originated in the Netherlands, where it was used by horticulturist Nico van Vuuren to aid the growth of roses.

Founded in 2002, SGL Concept has grown rapidly and now provides lighting rigs for virtually every leading club in Europe - including the Hammers - as well as stadia in Africa, Asia, Australia and North and South America.

"We have stadium grow lights, which is a Dutch idea that came into the country a few years ago," Robertson confirmed. "We have had them for six years now after successful trials were held at Sunderland and Arsenal, who were the first clubs to invest heavily in a full set.

"Each unit covers around 250 square metres of grass and it's just to try to help the grass stand back up after a match."

Despite the name, Robertson said the system benefits the playing surface by making the grass point up towards the artificial 'sun', rather than to exclusively make it grow.

"It is to make the grass stand back up and react to the light by photosynthesis, so the players are always playing on a grass surface.

"If you leave the light on for too long, you will do damage, so we move the units daily to prevent any imprint from the wheels or cables. We therefore keep the grass the same colour all over."

The grow lights are not the only tool Robertson and his team use to make sure that the Boleyn Ground pitch is in top-class condition.

The use of a revolutionary hybrid grass system has seen artificial grass fibres woven into the pitch which intertwine with the real grass roots, stabilising the surface.

"Our pitch at the Boleyn Ground is not 100 per cent grass. As a result of another Dutch idea, we have around five per cent of artificial fibre which is called Desso Grassmaster and inter-tangles with the grass construction."

While temperatures have stayed above freezing in the main so far this winter, the large amount of rain and recent snow and sleet showers have posed yet another challenge.

"We have had the undersoil heating on for much of the past week, trying to keep the pitch at a steady temperature throughout.

"We have a unique system at the Boleyn Ground where we can draw water out of the pitch at four-and-a-half times gravitational rate - only us and the Emirates have this right now. It works, so we shouldn't ever suffer a waterlogged pitch."

While the stadium possesses all the mod-cons to keep the pitch looking pristine, Robertson and his team do not have the same luxuries at Chadwell Heath, Little Heath or Rush Green.

"The training grounds have struggled this year with the weather. Chadwell Heath has performed better than it has done in recent years, but we have struggled like the rest of the country.

"We have had a hosepipe ban since last April, which has made things difficult."

Regardless of the restrictions and come rain, wind, snow or shine, Robertson and his team will be back at work at 7.30am tomorrow, as they are every day, ensuring West Ham United's players can enjoy a perfect pitch every time they pull their boots on.