The directors of Altrincham FC are every bit as concerned as supporters about the loss of another fixture to the weather - in this instance, a lucrative Saturday afternoon encounter with league leaders King's Lynn Town - particularly after the generosity shown by so many to facilitate the purchase of pitch covers. These covers can still play a part in combatting the elements, but there are limitations to their use and, in addition, there are other contributory factors to the pitch sometimes being deemed unplayable after heavy and prolonged rain. Here, Alty director BILL WATERSON presents an update on what caused Saturday's game to be postponed and reiterates the club's determination to eradicate a long-standing drainage problem.
On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank you for your patience with regards to yesterday's postponed fixture. It is clear from social media and elsewhere that you are all deeply frustrated by this. We share your frustration. As many of you have pointed out, losing a Saturday fixture costs the club significant lost revenue, and repositioning this one to a midweek slot will not generate anything like the same income.
You ask why we did not use the covers this week? The answer is that the pitch was already sodden due to the significant amount of rainfall over the last few weeks. Throughout the past week, and still on Friday, there was some standing water on the pitch, in the far corner of the Golf Road end. It was not a substantial amount, but, because of the poor drainage, we were unable to deploy the covers, due to the damage they would have caused.
We were still hopeful the match would go ahead, as strong winds had been drying the pitch all week and the work of groundsman Neil Brown and his team (otherwise known as Bryan Ford) was further improving the prospects.
However, heavy overnight rain on Friday (over 1.5cms) left the pitch with significant standing water by Saturday morning. To prevent King's Lynn travelling in vain (as well as London Alty, who were sponsoring the match), we had an early inspection, and the only decision that could be made at that time was to call the game off, especially as more rain was predicted. Ironically, against all expectations, this further downpour did not arrive!
There was little that could have been done about that, unfortunately. It's the vagaries of fortune that we were up against a side from North Norfolk, the best part of four hours away, and an early call had to be made.
As well as helping guard against the effects of frost, the covers work well in protecting the pitch from excessive rainfall, but the fact is they can only be left in place for a maximum of 24 hours before they damage the grass underneath. And, as mentioned, they cannot be deployed if the ground is very wet. The problem we have therefore is with the drainage.
We have been looking at how we can improve the drainage, particularly in the run-offs from the pitch and between the pitch and the terracing. Standing water on the Golf Road and the Popular side can seep back under the pitch and soak the turf. You will recall the postponement of the AFC Telford United game before Christmas, despite the covers being in place. This was, in part, due to the effect of poor drainage.
It is certain we will carry out some drainage improvements in the summer. We have had a couple of proposals, but, to be frank, we were not convinced that the suggested schemes would deliver the required benefits, or that the costs (high five figures) could be justified.
We have a 10-year plan for the ground, but, of course, we are not going to wait until 2030 before we start these improvements. We are evaluating a couple of options for drainage work for the close season and will be announcing more details on the work we will be undertaking during the summer before the season is over.
If we can improve the drainage, then immediately the efficacy of the covers improves – if the pitch is not so wet, the covers can be deployed more often. To solve - or, perhaps more accurately, improve - the pitch situation, we need to address many factors. We now have a better understanding of what these factors are, and we will get to work on sorting them.
Thank you all for your feedback. As a Board, we talk about strengthening on the pitch and off it. This improvement also applies to under and around the pitch as well!