The Young GMA Board recently gained an interesting insight into groundsmanship in France, writes Young Board vice chair and groundsman at Tottenham Hotspur FC Anthony Facey
Thanks to TORO sponsorship, members of the Young GMA Board recently visited Paris and put a number of questions to Tony Stones, head groundsman at the Stade de France, Jonathan Calderwood, grounds manager at Paris Saint-Germain and Alain Belsoeur, chairman of the Stadia Strategic Committee for the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), France’s equivalent to The Premier League
Is there a representative body in France that covers the turf care profession?
No. The nearest is the LFP which four years ago created the Stadia Strategic Committee in order to improve the situation in terms of stadia and playing surfaces. Their main objectives are to help clubs attract larger crowds, and to help them become more sustainable and generate more income. They recognise that the pitches play a big part in this so they also try to ensure that the pitches in the top two divisions are of an adequate standard.
The French football association (FFF) also has an infrastructures committee which helps ensure pitches meet the standards but it does not interfere with pitch quality (or lack of it).
One recent implementation has been a pitch scoring/league table system, and this is proving successful because clubs are embarrassed when their pitch is identified for being poor. This in turn helps to generate more investment in pitches.
What training and education options are available to young turf professionals? Is there a shortage of young people entering the industry?
TECOMAH is a specialised school based near Paris where both young people and adults are trained in turf pitch maintenance. There are lots of young people going to college to study but they only have the option of a greenkeeping course – an in-depth course covering irrigation, drainage, weed/plant identification, disease identification and machinery use and maintenance. Students spend a month in college then a month in a work placement, which rolls on until course completion. Once qualified, it’s largely expected that a career in golf follows – very few turf professionals head to stadia or other sports.
What is the perception of the turf care industry in France?
The industry is quite new to France. One amazing fact is that there is no French word for groundsman, so they are called gardeners!
Only a few years ago, most (99 per cent) of football and rugby stadia were owned by their local municipality. The pitches were maintained by the municipality sports departments or contractors, all very keen to do a good job but unfortunately with knowledge and skill gaps. Things are, however, improving with more clubs operating their own stadia and looking after their own stadium and training ground pitches.
What general problems and challenges have you (Tony and Jonathan) faced?
Two of the biggest challenges are temperature and the language barrier. Jonathan explained that temperatures every summer since he has taken charge have reached 40C and it is similar for Tony’s stadium which, designed for athletics, has no pitch-side air flow.
Both work closely with their deputies (who speak good English) to communicate instructions to the team members, who speak little or no English.
Another problem is spraying. English certification isn’t recognised in France and chemicals need to have French labels, so that means French-speaking staff have to interpret them. There are less [chemical] products available in France than in England.
Both Tony and Jonathan did comment on how well the staff have reacted to the changes they have implemented, with both saying that the key is not to force change but rather to ‘suggest’ trying a new way and to see how they got on with it. As a result there is now a more methodical, organised and productive way of working.
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