"Create a plan and stick to it"

As Head Groundsman at Sweden’s national football stadium, Friends Arena, Simeon Liljenberg knows what he’s talking about. It’s all about having a game plan, to borrow an expression from the world of sports. “To begin with, it’s important to create a thorough maintenance plan with continuous improvements – and then make sure you stick to it,” he says. Here are Liljenberg’s five top tips for creating the best possible football turf.

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1. Study the grass thoroughly

To be able to create a plan, it’s important to really study and get to know your pitch. Don’t underestimate the value of looking at and touching the grass. Define the worst areas and actively work with these spots by comparing them to the really excellent ones. “The areas in front of the goals are normally more worn. Other areas can also be vulnerable, for example, they might by shaded by a stand. In these cases, you might for example have to choose grass seeds that can withstand more shade.
”Of course, a plan is just a plan. You could be faced with an unexpectedly dry or wet season, or more matches than expected…a lot can happen which can affect the condition of the pitch. “It’s important to be flexible and adapt to all kinds of changes.”
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2. Apply vital nutrients

Are there any brown, dead spots? Is the grass growing tightly or sparsely? This could mean that you need to fertilize the pitch more often to make sure the grass gets all the important nutrients it needs to grow strong and healthy. “One thing I’ve noticed is that many football clubs fertilize far too rarely and that they don’t know what kind of fertilizer they’re using”, Simeon says. In addition to increased fertilizing, he thinks that more groundsmen should take the time to learn what fertilizer to use, based on what the football pitch looks like and what effect they are looking for.
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3. Overseed continuously

Do you have any exposed damaged areas that need some extra care? A smart way of putting down new grass seeds it to spread them just before a training session or a match, and simply let the players ‘plant them’ while they’re playing. Besides fixing exposed areas, it's extremely important to work preventively. “You should preferably sow grass seeds three times a year. Replacing the grass gradually is the key to success. It makes your pitch more water resistant, and stronger. These are just some of the benefits.”
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4. Aerate the pitch more often

It really could make a big difference. “In my opinion, this is neglected in many football clubs. I’ve seen and heard that some pitches are only aerated a couple of times per season. That’s far from good enough. You should aerate at least 7–10 times per season: or more, if you got the time.” Aerating lets water disappear from the surface, and it also releases gases into the soil and creates a better climate for the roots, letting them penetrate down through the aeration ducts. “You can never aerate a football pitch too much,” Simeon emphasises.
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5. Repair damages immediately

Firstly, take care of all damaged spots. It’s really worth it. Don’t just leave them to recover by themselves, because they often won’t. Secondly, repair them immediately. The longer you wait, the longer it’ll take for the grass to recover. And just don’t pop a loose divot back to its place, Simeon points out and explains why: “When putting a divot back, make sure to press it properly into the ground to prevent the formation of an air pocket, which might cause the grass to dry out.”
Automower 550 football field

"The Automower® effect"

Last but not least: could robotic mowing somehow help to create a championship pitch? As a matter of fact, Automower® Club Solution is a new feature that facilitates aeration (thanks to fewer boundary wires over a larger area) which, as we’ve seen, is very important for a healthy pitch. Furthermore, several studies (for instance, one carried out by The University of Pisa) shows that the use of Automower® makes grass roots grow deeper, which make the grass stronger and more resistant to wear. It also reduces moss and decreases leaf width, which means overall improvements in grass quality.
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About Simeon Lilienberg

Lives: In the small town of Nossebro northeast of Gothenburg in Sweden, with his wife and two children.
Education: Turf Grass Management at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
Occupation: Sports grass expert. Special assignments: Simeon works as Head Groundsman at the Swedish national football stadium, Friends Arena. He’s also pitch consultant for the Swedish Football Federation, inspecting and approving pitches used for Sweden’s highest football league.
Favourite football team: Tottenham Hotspur FC, London, UK.