How an English groundsman ended up at Danish football club Brøndby IF and fell in love with the club and its fans.
Winning the Danish League title after sixteen years and being awarded with the title of best pitch of the season: this is in short the successful season of grounds consultant Chris Hague at Brøndby IF, a football club that Chris believes is still truly owned by its fans of which he became one. Chris shares his story about how an English groundsman from Preston ended up at Brøndby IF and decided to stay.
Like nearly every young English lad, Chris had the dream to become a professional footballer playing on Wembley’s hallowed turf one day. For a long time it was his main goal in life. In the meantime, Chris helped his parents in their local pub in Preston, but at one point his mother urged him to pursue a “real” career. Like every good son, he listened and started a one year practical course in Sports Turf. After a surprisingly great year, Chris decided to take it to the next level and started a three year Turf Science training. As part of the training, he had to find a placement to gain the experience in working on a pitch. As you might guess Wembley, the home of English football, was Chris’ only destination: “To my great joy, they were eager to have me. When I walked in on my first day, I looked around the stadium, saw the big Twin Towers and said to myself: ‘Finally, I made it!'”
A childhood dream came true by setting foot on Wembley’s pitch. Not the way he’d initially intended, but a new ambition was found. Chris absolutely loved his time at Wembley and the life of a groundsman suited him well. Preparing the stage for big games like FA Cup finals and hosting events like Bon Jovi is what he enjoyed doing most; not surprising for someone who grew up with the work mentality from Northern England. After spending five years at Wembley, the stadium had plans for reconstruction, which meant that Chris had to find a place elsewhere to continue his career. He was given the opportunity to join the national stadion in Denmark and as one of the first English groundsmen he crossed the North sea to work abroad. “I thought let’s give it a try and if things don’t turn out as we hope we”ll go back. It did not take long before I realised Denmark is a good place to live and work and to this day it still is.”
Chris’s career path is impressive. While working in Denmark, he also travelled the world to assist in many big tournaments, such as the UEFA Champions League and Europe League including the final, the FIFA World Cup, European championships and the African Cup of Nations. In total he managed in excess of 100 pitch based events from concerts to monster trucks and even ice hockey, and presented globally on his experiences and innovative methods. One of which was the introduction of 1000 Watt light fixtures to stadiums, but also the concept of establishing a pitch from seed during the non-growing season using lighting rigs, the latter of which was used successfully in Russia for the world cup in 2018.
In 2013, Chris established his own grounds management consultancy business and was asked by Brøndby IF if he could advise with the pitch at Brøndby Stadion. “Brøndby is a true fans football club, as football clubs should be. For a renovation project a few years ago we had over 50 supporters showing up to help us. The fans not only support the footballers but also the ground staff and we regularly have help from the Brøndby supporters.”
A few weeks ago, Chris and his team won the award for ‘Best pitch of the season’ in Denmark. So, what’s the secret formula? “The secret of this year’s success isn’t based on just one thing, there are multiple challenges every year. We are in the business of stress management, doing the right things at the right time. It’s about ensuring that all the important growth factors, such as water, air, light and temperature, are in balance.”
Creating that balance is not easy. Limited budgets, a harsh winter and an 25 plus year old pitch construction made life challenging. “This year’s winter was tough and long with temperatures dropping to minus 10 degrees. We had to work extra hard to give the grass the resources it needed to enter the spring with strongly and steadily. The key is to use common sense and adapt to the constantly changing circumstances. We have six MU360 Select units at our disposal to keep the pitch in good condition throughout the year. They were a great asset, because in our stadium we face shade almost all year round and the cold season in Denmark often starts early. Keeping all that in mind, it was a massive achievement from everyone involved.”
At the end of the season, everything fell into place for Chris, his team and in the very end also the club. While the grounds team already had its own competition title in the pocket, the players had to fight until the last game for theirs. Chris: “I wasn’t extremely nervous during the match, I enjoyed every minute of it. The fans cheering from the stands was definitely the icing on the cake and really made it a collective success in which everyone had their share.”
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