LED technology makes significant impact for Hull City

Head Groundsman Aaron Tong implements the newest pitch management technologies at MKM Stadium

The SGL LED440, LED50 and BU10 grow lighting systems on the pitch of the MKM Stadium, home of Hull City Football Club.

It’s never dull at Hull

The Tigers from Hull City and its supporters have had quite the decade. With three relegations and two promotions, they have spent time in the Premier League, Championship and League One. This season they just missed out on the playoffs for promotion to the Premier League, but you could certainly say that it’s never dull at Hull.

We spoke to Hull City’s Head Groundsman Aaron Tong, who has gone through these turbulent years with the club. Aaron tells us about his work and the challenges that he faces, the growing topic of sustainability, and how everybody at the club got convinced about LED lighting units.

Aaron joined Hull City in 2016 and has worked his way up to Head Groundsman, a position he has held for three years now. His team consists of eight members in total. This gives them some flexibility to have staff at the stadium and the training ground at the same time.

The challenges that come with the job

And they really need all this manpower, because there are two sports being played in the MKM stadium. The stadium hosts not only football club Hull City A.F.C., but also rugby club Hull F.C. The schedule does not always favor Aaron and his team: “It varies, to be honest. The Championship has a very busy season with 23 home matches, sometimes they play twice a week. It happens a lot that there are two matches in the stadium in the same week, for example, on Thursday and Saturday. But it has also happened that there was a football match on Saturday night and a rugby match on Sunday afternoon. The windows are very short to recover the pitch.”.

And that is not the only challenge that Aaron faces with his team. The MKM Stadium is what he calls a ‘fishbowl stadium’. Aaron explains to us: “The stadium is quite closed in and that means a lot of shade. Our largest stand is the West Stand, this side prevents a lot of sunlight from September onwards. It would almost be impossible to grow the grass in that part without the lights. We can probably use them all year round.”.

Another challenging factor, beyond anyone’s control, is the weather. Aaron notices a trend in weather conditions: “The weather is becoming a lot more unpredictable. Winters seem to be getting wetter, and we’re having fewer sunny days in the summer. These changing circumstances encourage diseases and organic accumulation on the pitch, especially during periods with a short recovery time. This is very challenging.”.

It helps to share universal challenges and experiences with like-minded people. Aaron met many other passionate groundsman from all over the world at the SGL Masterclass in Scotland last March: “It was fantastic! I found it really insightful. It’s great to see and hear from other clubs, managers, and greenkeepers about how they’re dealing with the same struggles and problems that we have. It’s interesting to see how other people think. You never stop learning in this trade.”.

Making sustainable steps

One of the before mentioned challenges that Aaron and his team are dealing with are grass diseases. This is no wonder with their stressed-out pitch, an intense schedule, and a short recovery time between matches. The grounds team now has the UVC180 available to treat diseases in an eco-friendly manner and reduce the application of fungicides. Aaron thinks this is a great green step: “Many chemicals are taken off the market, and I think that they are soon to be banned completely in the UK. It’s good to have the UVC180 already in house as a good and sustainable alternative.”.

Sustainability is a big topic at Hull City: “The club is always striving to be greener and more sustainable. We previously got electric mowers, and now also the UVC180 and the LED lights. We make really good steps in saving energy and a sustainable way of thinking.”.

Convinced by trial

The pitch at MKM Stadium is obviously under a lot of pressure, and they found their solution in LED grow lighting technology. But Aaron is not the only one making that decision; there are more people within the club who must be convinced. Aaron explains to us: “We liked the idea, and we discussed the benefits of the lighting rigs. What helped massively was the LED50 as a demo for a period. That way all the decision-makers in the club could notice the results with their own eyes.”.

And obviously, they got convinced because Aaron now has the lighting rigs available: “Everybody noticed the impressive difference that it made in such a short time. Reaching such great results in the winter months January and February, which are the worst months in terms of rainfall and a heavy fixture period, says something about the results it could give us year-round. It was amazing to see the difference it made in such a short time. You can throw facts and figures all you want, but if you can really show it, then the case is made.

Aaron and his team now have 6 LED440’s, 2 LED120’s and 2 LED50’s available which are a great help: “The short windows between the matches mean we got a short recovery time for the pitch. That’s why we got the new LED lights. We got them at the worst time this season to grow grass, and we still managed to get a really good recovery with the lighting rigs. The lighting really helps in the recovery of the pitch. It’s nice to have the option to use the smaller units because if you have two matches in one weekend you can easily ride them on the pitch. Obviously, more units help in preparing the pitch for the next fixture.”.

Aaron is looking forward to next season and is confident that it will be successful: “Next year it will be great to see the new pitch reconstruction that we’re now working on. Also, a full season with the LED units and the UVC180. I think we will be in a completely different space next year!”.