Europa League preparations underway

West Ham United’s UEFA Europa League participation means an early start to work to relay the Boleyn Ground playing surface
Preparations for West Ham United’s participation in the 2015/16 UEFA Europa League are already well underway at the Boleyn Ground.

With the prospect of a first qualifying round tie at home to kick-off the final season at the Hammers’ historic home, head groundsman Dougie Robertson and his team have begun the six-week process of relaying the pitch.

Robertson explained how the hallowed turf will be replaced and ready for use should West Ham be drawn at home in the first leg, which is scheduled for Thursday 2 July.

“We have had to renovate the pitch early because of the Club’s potential participation in the UEFA Europa League, which has now been confirmed,” said Robertson, who has been part of the Club’s groundstaff for nearly two decades. “This is the earliest that we have started this process since the summer of 2002, when the pitch was rebuilt.

“The first process was to strip the vegetation away from the surface, to help expose the Desso fibres and we then finished that process by the more traditional method of raking it out.

“We then spread sand across the pitch and verti-drained to alleviate compaction and assist water removal – a process which we completed at the end of last week.”

The Boleyn Ground pitch is renovated every summer, with the procedure normally taking six weeks to complete.
This is the earliest that we have started this process since the summer of 2002, when the pitch was rebuilt
Robertson and his team usually begin this activity following the end of the annual pitch events in June, but the Club’s qualification for European competition via the Fair Play League regrettably meant these events had to be cancelled and the pitch renovation brought forward to before the end of the 2014/15 season.

“We always run with a tight schedule because of the pitch events and ideally we would have longer than six weeks, but this time of year provides us with perfect growing conditions and we will be ready for 2 July,” Robertson confirmed.

“The pitch has now been seeded and the next stages of the process will see us cut the new grass for first time at the end of this week, forcing the growth through so that the playing surface is ready for the start of the Europa League.”

Should West Ham progress in the Europa League, the Hammers will play no fewer than three competitive home matches before the start of the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League season on Saturday 8 August.

With a potential ten months of football to be played during the historic final season at the Boleyn Ground, Robertson and his team will be working morning, noon and night to ensure the pitch is fit and ready whenever it is needed.

“It is potentially the longest season I have known since I have been at the Club,” he confirmed. “We were in the UEFA Cup under Alan Pardew in 2006 and that was an exciting time for the fans, but it does make for a very long season!

“I’ve spoken to counterparts at other clubs who are well-versed with the Europa League and Thursday/Sunday fixtures and that obviously means my hard-working staff will be in every weekend for the foreseeable future.”