Meet Jim Buttar, the man who’s in charge of the holy ground of Twickenham Stadium.
The holy ground of Twickenham needs to be in outstanding condition the entire year. Jim Buttar, head groundsman, and his team are the ones responsible for setting the stage for some of the biggest rugby events of the year at one of the most iconic stadiums in the UK. The goal is simple: create a high quality pitch. The task, however, is a challenge of great magnitude.
Where most people walk into an office every morning, Jim enters the historic Twickenham pitch. Checking the quality with his own critical eyes, just to be absolutely sure everything is in place to facilitate world class rugby from the first to the very last game. It’s a tasks that comes with a lot of pressure. At such times it is all about details, something that Jim Buttar knows better than anyone. Dealing with low temperatures, a lack of sunlight, a tight playing schedule and a high intensity sport: all in all, not an ideal situation for growing grass.
For over 24 years, Jim Buttar has been working in the sports turf industry and since September 2019, he has become head groundsman at the Home of England Rugby. After working his way up at Rushden and Diamonds Football Club as Assistant-Groundsman, he soon made the step to the Premier League to work at Tottenham Hotspur. He would eventually work for over 14 years at White Hart Lane until the club moved to their new stadium. “After I left Tottenham, I went to work as a grounds consultant, for which I flew to all sorts of stadiums around the world. I really enjoyed the work, but when the opportunity came along to apply to Twickenham I knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
With the Autumn Internationals as the first major event of the season and winter on the horizon, the busy period has started again, along with its challenges. Therefore the Twickenham team have already pulled out the first grow lights a while ago. “The light rigs are indispensable to us, without them it would be nearly impossible to achieve the desired quality that meets out standards. Thinking back to the days when there were no grow lights, it was tough job to keep the pitch playable in winter. Fortunately, that is now a thing of the past.” Right now the full arsenal is in place, to give the grass the grass the amount light and heat it needs to grow properly and go into winter strong.
Even though Jim knows the pitch like the back of his hand, he still looks for and discovers new things to improve their pitch maintenance. Every little thing must be considered in order to create perfection. Therefore Jim and the team invested in four TurfPods. “We needed a monitoring tool to help us get a better understanding of the microclimate. Using the TurfPod recently resulted in a change in our irrigation plan for some parts of the pitch, after we discovered a difference in soil moisture. The data we receive is very valuable to see even the smallest change in growth factors, which can have a big impact on the pitch at the end.”
During those massive sport events, such as the Six Nations and Autumn Internationals, the pitch suffers a lot from the intensity of play in a short amount of time: “The way a rugby pitch is used is in many respects different from a football pitch. During football matches, it’s often obvious where the game will mainly take place, while in rugby it is impossible to predict.” Therefore, Jim and his team cannot sit back during the matches. “We have to mark the spots where a lot of activity has taken place. After the match, we immediately use the grow lights on those areas to speed up the recovery. For the heavily damaged areas we use the LU120’s, but we use them also in the south end of the stadium, where we have to deal with the most shade throughout the year.”
The responsibility to deliver the maximum every day and the fact that your work is always looked at critically, calls for nerves of steel. Twickenham gave Jim that extra fire he was looking for at a certain moment in his career. From the moment he applied for the job at midnight in a hotel in Budapest, he never regretted his decision. “It has always been and still is my dream to work at a venue like this. Every morning when I walk down the pitch, I get a special feeling that won’t change very soon. And the buzz of more than 80.000 fans is something that will never get old.”
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