Teamwork makes Goodison Park special
Each department of stadium operations co-operates closely to ensure that every spectator has a memorable visit to Everton Football Club’s Goodison Park, as head groundsman Bob Lennon explains
Bob Lennon innocently thought that grass “was simply just one small part of horticulture alongside flowers, shrubs and water features”, when he started his working career 40 years ago in the amenity sector. But after joining Everton Football Club (FC) in 1988, he immediately realised that an “advanced and intensive level of work” is constantly needed to keep a football pitch in pristine condition. And not just for Premier League football.
“Life at Goodison Park is always at 100 miles an hour – and that includes a myriad of non-Premiership football activities. There’s always something on,” he says. “That could be Everton in the Community games or corporate events. We even had Sylvester Stallone here this year for some Hollywood filming. But the pitch and the stadium is geared up for it all. We have a Desso Grassmaster [installed three years ago] which is very resilient, and as a team everyone involved in every aspect of stadium operations communicates regularly and works closely together to ensure no stone in left unturned to make every occasion a success.”
Each week Alan Bowen, Goodison Park’s head of stadium operations, hosts a meeting of all heads of department – including representatives from the police, car parking/traffic, safety, security and ticketing, as well as Bob – to discuss all coming events and to set schedules for each day. The schedule for an event usually has a start time of 6am and will embrace all activities until the stadium closes on each day.
The extraordinary level of thoroughness that surrounds the organisation of every event has deservedly brought the club widespread recognition off the field, not least in being awarded the 2014 GMA National Governing Bodies’ Professional Spectator Sports Ground of the Year Award and, for the past six years, it has headed the Premier League’s fans’ survey for stewarding.
In addition, the club’s Fan Zone sees hundreds of fans gather ahead of every home game to enjoy the build-up to kick-off with music, special guests, refreshments and competitions. There’s also plenty of giveaways and for the junior Blues who are in the stadium to watch the warm-up, there’s the chance to get onto the pitch at half-time for a coaching session with Everton in the Community. The Blues’ official charity aims to use the power of sport to motivate, educate and inspire people to improve their life chances, and it has earned a reputation for delivering best practice in the sporting charity sector. It provides opportunities for thousands of participants each year through its varied programmes including disability football teams, social inclusion schemes and work with young offenders.
Goodison Park is not a new stadium – the Bullens Road stand was built in 1928, the Gwladys Street stand in 1933, the main stand in 1971/72 and Park End in 1994.
But the club certainly has a modern approach to spectator customer care and it’s no surprise that a recent ‘hospitality review’ scored Everton highly.
Bob and his 12-strong team have at their disposal all the machinery and consumables needed to ensure a first-class playing surface – coupled with adequate and appropriate levels of training (the minimum across the team is Level 3; mainly via Myerscough College) to manage and maintain all the pitches. They are also responsible for the Finch Farm training ground pitches as well as its surrounding areas including rockeries, herbaceous borders and shrubberies. In addition, they have created and landscaped a Word War II memorial garden area at Finch Farm.
A former 55-acres strawberry farm, the training ground boasts ten full-size grass pitches – including a replica Goodison Park Desso surface – as well as a synthetic pitch plus specialist training areas. In addition to the first team and Under 21 squads, the training ground also supports a large number of teams, including two academy teams (Under 18s and Under 16s) and teams at age groups from Under 7s to Under 14s.
Quick pitch renovation
This summer’s renovation of the Goodison Park pitch, in a five-week window, actually began before the season ended with the pitch receiving a spraying of glysophate herbicide. “Despite the fact that the sward was beginning to die, we managed to accommodate two weeks of corporate and community football before we started the major renovations,” says Bob. “We Koroed then topdressed with 120 tonnes of sand and 1,000 kgs of limestone, then applied pre-seeding fertilisers including Rigby Taylor’s Premier HG 18.3.18 (NPK fertiliser with methylene urea for strong root growth) and Microlite Activ8 12.0.12 (granular, six-/eight-week release pattern, with magnesium and iron), as well as Scotts’ Greenmaster NK 12.0.12 (mini granule) and Sierrablen. We overseeded on June 6, using a ‘new mixture’ and are very pleased with the results.”
“ Life at Goodison Park is always at 100 miles an hour – and that includes a myriad of non-Premiership football activities. There’s always something on,” Bob says. “That could be Everton in the Community games or corporate events. We even had Sylvester Stallone here this year for some filming. “
My favourite meal: Chinese
My favourite car: Ferrari Dino
My interests outside of work: Running, fishing, golf and mountain climbing (including Mount Kilimanjaro)
The most challenging part of my career: During my first year at Everton FC having to reconstruct/resurface the Goodison Park pitch within five weeks – when the technology available then was not what it’s like today
The best piece of advice I can give to GMA members: Enjoy the job.