The High School of Glasgow is Scotland’s oldest independent school. Set among the playing fields of Old Anniesland, it has a history rich in sporting achievements. The 27-acre grounds are owned by the Glasgow High School Club Limited.
“Glasgow High School Club is responsible for the maintenance and operation of Old Anniesland and all of its sports sections,” Estate Manager Keith Hodgson explains. “Playing under the name GHK, teams include rugby, hockey, cricket, triathlon training and lacrosse. We also have active golf and angling sections, but rugby is our core sport and we’re home to Scottish Premier Division club Glasgow Hawks and a host of community teams.”
In short, the Old Anniesland pitches see plenty of action – week in, week out. The site is mainly used by the school in the week, and by various clubs during evenings and weekends. “We are essentially a community sports hub, and we reckon we have about 2,000 users,” Keith explains.
When Keith joined the team two years ago, the High School were having problems with the condition of the ground during winter. “They’d lose the grass, rendering the pitches useless for school sports and jeopardising weekend games for the clubs. We consulted with Sports Turf Research Institute, who diagnosed the problem as thatch build-up. The ground was acting like a giant sponge, not allowing water to drain away and leaving us with flooded pitches.
Convincing the governing stakeholders at the club to agree to a full renovation was a difficult prospect: instead, Keith and his team picked up all the pipe drains and moved them from 10 to five metres apart, effectively doubling the amount of drainage.
“Unfortunately, we still lost all five pitches because of the massive amount of rain during a very wet winter. But we persevered and, miraculously, managed to host an international match in March last year. It was Scotland versus France – not easily rescheduled, so we borrowed extra equipment and undertook additional work, just to get one of the five pitches playable. Thankfully the weather was kind to us, but we still had the underlying problem of the thatch layer.”
Keith managed to persuade the club’s governors that removing the whole pitch surface was the only option. The next challenge was fitting the refurb in around bookings – and here specialists Greentech Sportsturf were able to advise. “We couldn’t start until 30 June because we had a televised Shinty Celtic Cup booked. It didn’t leave us much time but Greentech assured us that the pitch would be ready for play in just ten weeks. We were sceptical, but on the Monday straight after the match we used the Koro Field Top Maker to shave about 65 mm of surface across the entire pitch and remove all vegetation.
“Having removed topsoil, grass and thatch, we levelled out undulations, regrafted the drains to the surfaces and installed additional gravel and sand. This ‘sand banding’ helps water run between drains. The whole process took ten days.”
Once the ground was good, Keith seeded at 40g/m2 with Barenbrug BAR 7 RPR grass, one of the most innovative and highly-rated grass mixtures for renovating and repairing sports fields. BAR 7 RPR blends four cultivars including the revolutionary stoloniferous ryegrass Barclay II for an unprecedented, fast-growing turf that can recover from extreme wear. The team started irrigating and sowed the first seed on the Friday. By the following Wednesday grass was growing.
“The grass was still very dry at this point, but Greentech provided us with a mobile irrigation system which helped hugely. By day ten the whole area was lush, and we kept irrigating and brought the pitch back into play in early September.”
The changes haven’t gone unnoticed by the people that count – the players. “The Hawks tell me that this is one of the best pitches in the whole Premier Division now. It’s really satisfying to see what a difference all this hard work has made.”