DETAILED: Portsmouth's race against time to ensure Fratton Park's ready for Championship

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Pompey are taking on the battle to ensure Fratton Park’s pitch is ready for their Championship return.

And that means a fight against both the weather and the clock, amid the continuing £15m stadium renovations at the Blues’ home.

The club’s grounds staff are facing the challenge of readying the surface on a much tighter timetable this summer, after a 30-tonne crane was required on the pitch as the new South Stand TV gantry was installed.

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That means no home pre-season friendly, with Pompey also requesting for their first game in the Championship to be on the road on August 10.

Grounds manager, Neil Stephenson, and his hard-working staff were able to last week carry out a renovation of the club’s Mixto carpet pitch after the crane’s removal.

Now it’s a race against time for the team, with the volatile weather this summer providing another obstacle to overcome.

It’s another issue Pompey’s ground staff are tackling head on, however.

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Stephenson said: ‘We did a renovation on the 22nd (of April) after the last home game and cleaned out the carpet. That took five days.

‘Then the flooring came on the pitch with the crane for about six weeks. We managed to get the crane off five days early, though, which gave us a jump start, but because of the weather with a lot of rain some of what was in the carpet regrew. 

‘So we needed to do another renovation last week to clean the carpet again, and we had to be really aggressive with that.

‘The whole time the crane was on we couldn’t do anything, that meant the training ground became a priority.

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‘In this closed season we’re trying to grow the pitch back in an eight to 10-week period, when ideally you’d want at least 10 to 12 weeks to grow a pitch back in.

‘That’s reliant on having good weather and good temperatures, which we’ve struggled with this year.

‘Overnight temperatures have been about seven or eight degrees. Ideally we’d want it not to drop below 13, so we’re sitting five degrees below what we’d want it to be. That slows the establishment, because we’re basically creating brand-new from-seed pitches every year.

‘We’ve used a good contractor, White Horse Contractors, who’ve done a great job at the training ground and an exceptional job at Fratton on a challenging project, though.

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‘We put seed in the ground last Thursday and you can see the shoots coming through already. Now we’ve not got eight weeks to grow the pitch in.’

A renovation of Pompey’s existing pitch entails ‘scratching out’ sand and taking out the grass 1mm at a time, to guard against the carpet base which provides stability becoming damaged by the flail mowers used.

Images of the pitch shocked some supporters not familiar with the process, which takes place each summer.

The existing pitch is reaching the end of its lifespan, however, after its installation in 2019. That’s the same for the drainage system installed a decade ago, while Fratton Park has no undersoil heating.

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The ideal scenario would be to install a hybrid construction pitch seen at Premier League level and across much of the Championship, which mixes natural grass with synthetic fibres.

That was never an option on the timetable being worked to this summer but would allow a heavier volume of games, opening the door to more Pompey Women fixtures at PO4.

Additionally, it could conceivably allow Fratton Park to hold concerts or other sports events, with hybrid pitches more capable of handling heavy footfall.

That is with an eye on the future, though, with Stephenson and his team having a more immediate focus.

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He added: ‘It’s been a big project and one we’ve had to manage carefully.

‘We were aware of the work going on, so it’s something we’ve needed to adapt to in order for it to be ready for the new season.

‘Portsmouth is an island with clay-based soil, so it needs a lot of careful management.

‘But we’re striving to produce the pitches wanted and deserved by the club in challenging circumstances around the crane this year.

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‘We understand the work is a necessity and ongoing. Somewhere along the line that will then hopefully factor in a pitch that is ready and available for both the men’s and women’s teams. That would be brilliant.’

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