SportsA day with the lawn inspectors

A day with the lawn inspectors


The agronomist Javier Gutiérrez enters El Toralín, the SD Ponferradina stadium, loaded with a heavy metal trunk that he deposits relieved next to the grass. He opens the lid and from there he begins to remove a dozen devices, each one more unusual than the other, whose usefulness is uncertain at first glance. One more day begins for some of those responsible for auditing the playing fields of the LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank teams so that they are at the height of the show. In this case, Gutiérrez will analyze whether the lawn receives the required amount of water quality and quantity. And that is not done with the naked eye.

Pedro Fernández-Bolaños, responsible for the quality of the LaLiga pitch, is also in El Toralín. “We are aware that the state of the grass when the referee whistles the start of each match is not a coincidence and is the result of a lot of effort and knowledge put at the service of that moment,” he says. Its mission is that in the 842 games that are played each season, no one has to worry about the surface that the players walk on. The irrigation audit is one of the last steps they invented to guarantee the objective.

Gutiérrez chooses one of the ends of the field opposite the benches to start. With an instrument that has spikes on one side and handles with a digital display on the other, it records the moisture in the soil. It will do it no less than 500 times while moving around the field to see if the humidity is uniform and with them decipher where to water more or less.

Roberto Cordero, SD Ponferradina’s field manager, and Javier Gutiérrez, from Acttua, LaLiga’s field irrigation auditor, examine the El Toralín pitch.PVR

Then it is the turn of the sampler, a wedge with which it will extract small stratigraphic samples from the soil to see in detail how far the water penetrates. You are also interested in how long it takes for the ground to absorb the water. To do this, he uses a container with a buoy over which he pours water to see how much it disappears. He uses something very similar to an endoscope, which helps him know the pressure of each of the 35 sprinklers in the field. And with a kind of digital thermometer, it checks the pH and conductivity of the water to rule out any possible transmission of fungi or other diseases to plants.

With all the tests, which can be followed in the video that opens this information, Gutiérrez prepares a meticulous audit, which is part of LaLiga’s plan to continue raising the quality of the playing fields, a task that has been perfecting in the last five years , respecting three unalterable premises: favoring the game, avoiding player injuries and taking care of the quality of the television product.

Javier Gutiérrez, from Acttua, LaLiga's field irrigation auditor, organizes his tools before examining the playing field at El Toralín, the SD Ponferradina stadium.
Javier Gutiérrez, from Acttua, LaLiga’s field irrigation auditor, organizes his tools before examining the playing field at El Toralín, the SD Ponferradina stadium.PVR

“In the end, I have managed to ensure that our work is highly respected in the clubs. They await us with open arms and always ready to improve ”, says Fernández-Bolaños

“The objectives now are to be more sustainable, for this we must be able to irrigate a football field in just three minutes.” To do this, Fernández-Bolaños contacted Acttua, Gutiérrez’s company, which, among other things, also designs large golf courses. “Most of the irrigation systems work well for the day to day, to cover the needs of the field. Our ideal is to be able to improve work at peak times, on match days, ”adds Gutiérrez.

Javier Gutiérrez, from Acttua, irrigation auditor for LaLiga fields, on the El Toralín pitch.
Javier Gutiérrez, from Acttua, irrigation auditor for LaLiga fields, on the El Toralín pitch.PVR

El Toralín is 21 years old and since then it has not modified its irrigation system, with which it has managed to consolidate itself in LaLiga SmartBank, with the demands of lawn care that this entails. Seven of the last ten seasons have featured the El Bierzo team in the silver category.

The inspection of the water also includes what is not seen. And in El Toralín what is not seen is in the subsoil: a cistern that stores the water, and that serves as a precaution in case there are cuts in the supply network. The pump that feeds the sprinkler system with water is located in a small basement, 35 hidden spots around the field every approximately seventeen meters.

Roberto Cordero, head of the SD Ponferradina pitch, examines the grass at El Toralín.
Roberto Cordero, head of the SD Ponferradina pitch, examines the grass at El Toralín.PVR

“During the audit we reviewed the entire water irrigation cycle. Its reservoir, its flow, its pressure and then everything that happens on the lawn: the operation of the sprinklers, the humidity of the ground, the infiltration capacity… ”, explains Gutiérrez. Now he has to deploy around thirty plastic cones, “rain gauges”, he says, all over the field. Then he will start the irrigation and see if everyone receives the same contribution.

A third person observes without losing detail. It is Roberto Cordero, responsible for the club’s playing field since five years ago the president, José Fernández Nieto, proposed that he leave the gardens of the urbanizations to take care of that of El Toralín. Cordero appreciates the visits of the engineers because he can continue learning from them. He believes that the control imposed by LaLiga is also a way for clubs to care even more about their plot and become aware of the possible improvements that can be made. Fernández-Bolaños agrees: “Many teams are beginning to call us to see when we will visit them.”

Gutiérrez begins to collect. It takes him a good few minutes to do it. You need two trips to get to the car to drop off all your gadgets. The next day he has to be at the Anxo Carro stadium, of CD Lugo, to repeat the day.

The sprinklers of El Toralín, the stadium of SD Ponferradina, in operation during a LaLiga irrigation audit.
The sprinklers of El Toralín, the stadium of SD Ponferradina, in operation during a LaLiga irrigation audit.