Head groundsman Benito González on managing the Nuevo Mirandilla stadium pitch.
While Cadiz’s football team successfully avoided relegation, the Cadiz grounds team fought their own battle to maintain a perfect stadium pitch all year long. And that’s no easy job. Although Cadiz CF’s home ground is located near the ‘Costa de la Luz’ (the coast of light), ironically, it’s the lack of light on the stadium pitch that makes managing a perfect playing surface so difficult. Benito explains, “The conditions here at Cadiz are very tough, but overall, the pitch was an eight out of ten.”
The unique location of the stadium at Cádiz CF presents both opportunities and challenges for pitch management at Estadio Nuevo Mirandilla. Benito elaborates, “Our stadium is enclosed by the sea on one side and land on the other, which creates a unique microclimate. With the wind blowing from the south, we experience a lot of cloudy days, and consequently, a significant amount of shade on the stadium pitch. In the winter, we only get about two sunny days per week. Additionally, the main stadium stand is approximately 65 meters high and casts a permanent shadow on a large part of the pitch. This shadow is a major problem as it slows down the grass’s recovery.
Although Spain might be known as the country of the sun, unfortunately, maintaining a consistently high-quality stadium pitch at Cádiz is not as simple. While the temperatures are high enough since we’re in the south of Spain, there’s an abundance of shade. To resolve this issue, we needed an additional light source.”
The need for light without heat makes traditional HPS grow lighting technology less beneficial. LED technology, with its ability to radiate light and infrared independently, on the other hand…
“Two years ago, we conducted a trial with SGL LED technology, and it was a very positive experience. The ability to independently adjust light and heat made a huge difference. Last year, after presenting the agronomical and financial benefits to the club, we decided to invest in nine LED50 grow lighting units. The compact size of the LED50’s make them very user-friendly and easy to store. We started using the units in February, and within a month, the results were remarkable. The grass responded as if it were summer, displaying incredible density. Most importantly, during games with players sprinting and turning, the grass showed impressive resilience.”
And Benito is not the only one who has noticed the difference LED technology makes. “I spoke with Vicente Alpuente, the head groundsman of Villarreal CF. They have been using the LED440 grow lighting units for a while now and have seen the same positive results. Villarreal was one of the first clubs in Spain to adopt LED technology, and like us, they are very satisfied with it. I also had a conversation with Pedro Fernández-Bolaños, the grounds quality manager for LaLiga, and he had nothing but positive comments about LED technology.
The greatest benefit comes from the independent control of light and heat. We plan to switch on the infrared in December, January, and February and keep it off for the rest of the season. The LED units will be especially helpful during the transition period in November and December when we switch from warm-season grass to cool-season grass and need the grass to grow quickly.”
Like any industry, pitch management faces increasing demands. The playing surface not only needs to be perfect year-round, but achieving that quality should also be done in the most energy-efficient way possible. This brings us to an important issue: sustainability, which is highly regarded at Cádiz.
“The responsible use of resources is a major focus for the club,” Benito confirms. “Whether it’s conserving energy by keeping the infrared on our lighting system off for as long as possible, using solar panels for green energy, or recycling and reusing rainwater, sustainability is of utmost importance. When it comes to disease control, we try to minimize the use of chemicals as much as possible. This is particularly challenging in November and December when we transition from warm-season grass to cool-season grass, and the pitch becomes susceptible to diseases. Instead of using chemicals, we attempt to control grass diseases through plant friendly measures, which is also encouraged by LaLiga.”
One way to align resource use with the needs of the playing surface is through the use of data. Data provides the groundsman with insights into pitch values such as PAR light, air temperature, and salinity, helping to verify gut feelings.
“I would like to incorporate the use of data into my daily work so I can monitor the grass more effectively. When I visited Vicente in Villarreal, he showed me the TurfPod. This data monitoring tool allows you to track pitch values in real-time via your mobile phone. It provides updates on the current state of the pitch and offers advice on appropriate measures to take. For instance, the device notifies you when there’s a risk of grass diseases and suggests preventive actions. While observing and physically examining the pitch is valuable, having a sensor that detects potential threats is even better. The human factor is important, but I believe data can significantly assist us.”
Data is one way to gain new insights, but sharing ideas among colleagues is equally important, as Benito agrees.
“I had the opportunity to work for the Royal Spanish Golf Federation, and one of the most crucial aspects was learning about the methods used by other superintendents. They showed me alternative ways to maintain the grass. Similarly, networking and learning from other groundsmen are vital in football pitch management. Events like the SGL Showcase at Villarreal facilitate knowledge sharing and help me gain different perspectives. They provide me with ideas to grow and improve as a groundsman.
Last season, the stadium pitch received a rating of eight out of ten. There were times when the pitch quality was a six, and there were times when it was a ten. The LED grow lights will help us achieve consistent pitch quality throughout the season, whether it’s May or December. The club is growing, and so is our grounds team. Next season, we aim for a ten out of ten rating every match!”
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