Andrej Kastelic on his career as a top athlete and TC50 trial at the Stozice Stadium

From Olympic handball ability
to managing Slovenia's top facility

Andrej is a former Olympic handball player who is now in charge of Slovenian sports facilities in Ljubljana. We asked him about this unusual career switch.

Andrej Kastelic with SGL TC50 on the pitch of Stozice Stadium

From making the most of his own sports career, Andrej Kastelic is now doing the same for other athletes by taking sports facilities at Sport Ljubljana to a higher level. The former professional Slovenian handball player who participated in the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics is now responsible for the maintenance program of several sports facilities in the City of Ljubljana. Andrej shares his story about his extraordinary career path, his role within Sport Ljubljana and why he decided to participate in the Grass Care Tech contest which eventually led to him winning the TC50 trial.

For more than 17 years, Andrej’s life was devoted to his handball career. He played for the most part in his home country Slovenia and the last four years in Germany’s second division. Andrej has played 148 caps for the national team of Slovenia, in which he experienced many highlights. He competed at the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics and won silver at the 2004 European Championships which was held in his home country. “I never dared to dream that I would have participated in the Olympic Games, it still gives me a fantastic and unreal feeling.”

After his career, Andrej took some time off to find out what his next career step would be. One day he was offered the opportunity to work at Sport Ljubljana as maintenance worker and has worked his way up as facility manager during his eleven years with the company. Andrej still enjoys his work as much as he did on the first day. “The fact that I can still work in a sports environment and work outside, is something I would not want to change.”

Andrej, together with his colleagues, is responsible for the maintenance of the pitch in the Stozice Stadium, home of NK Olimpija Ljubljana and the national football team of Slovenia. To help his team achieve the best grass quality, Andrej is always searching for new techniques and equipment to increase their maintenance standard. “A few years ago, we visited the Feyenoord Stadium (‘De Kuip’) in Rotterdam for a pitch maintenance training, it was also the first time I heard of SGL and saw the grow lighting technology in operation.” Andrej knows from his own experience how essential it is to have a good playing surface: “The quality of the pitch is the most important, it promotes sports performance, reduces the risk of injuries and not least, it contributes to the image of the stadium.”

This summer, the pitch had to be in its best state ever, because the Stozice stadium hosted four matches during the EURO Under-21 tournament, including the final. “For us and Slovenia it was very special to organize such a big event, although the pressure was high, it was a great experience for me and my team. The pitch was in great condition during the tournament and we were delighted to welcome back some supporters in the stadium, so we could enjoy the tournament together.” However, at the beginning of the year it was questionable how good the quality of the pitch would be, because of a disease outbreak. Fortunately, Andrej and his team got control of the disease, but they already knew which threat was coming at them in the summer months: ‘high temperatures’.

To consistently achieve a high grass quality all year round, Sport Ljubljana invested in two MU360 select grow lights ahead of the EURO Under-21 tournament. The pitch played very well and everyone was satisfied, but when the tournament was finished it was time to do the pitch renovation. The main problem then is the lack of air circulation in the stadium. In combination with high temperatures, this causes growth problems and increases the risk of grass diseases. At the time Andrej was looking for a solution. He heard of the Grass Care Tech contest, giving him the chance to win a TC50 trial. “We were already looking for cooling fans like the TC50, so we were delighted with the contest. I didn’t think there was much chance of winning, I decided to give it a shot and it paid off.”

The TC50 has been active in the Stozice Stadium since June and has proven to be of great value. “We had very high temperatures this summer, often above 35 degrees Celsius. After the pitch renovation, we noticed that the grass density was much better in the areas where we used the TC50. We also suffered from Gray leaf spot, but not in the areas where the TC50 provided protection.” Andrej and his team had access to the Cooling advice and growth values from the TurfPod on their SGL Portal account. “With the help of the TurfPod we can decide where to use the TC50 based on the growth conditions of the pitch, such as humidity and air temperature. The Cooling advice shows us exactly for how long we have to use the fan in combination with the cooling mechanism. The fact that we can track all data live on the Portal makes it very user-friendly and effective.”

The trial period is coming to an end and Andrej is already thinking about the future. “Step by step I would like to increase our equipment in order to constantly improve the quality of the pitch. My goal is to get four TC50’s in order to cover the full pitch with a cool layer of mist. If the grass is cooled we can also keep a cool head.”