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    Rebuilding of Royal Athletic Park
    for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup

    By Kenneth Hilchey & Gord Smith

    Congratulations to the Victoria and Burnaby (Swangard Stadium) teams of WCTA members who made BC proud by providing top quality soccer pitches for the world to see at this prestigious FIFA world tournament.
    WCTA Board & Members

    Royal Athletic Park

    GOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLL!!!  Cried the announcer as his exuberance echoed throughout the stadium, and out to old AM radio transistors and rabbit-eared television sets around the world.  The FIFA Under 20’s World Cup had begun in Canada.  Six major cities across Canada would host the second largest sporting event in the world (after FIFA World Cup), and this resounding shout from announcers world wide will have come from one city that prides itself with soccer, sorry football history here in Victoria, B.C.

    The first time that FIFA officials came to Victoria and this venue in the heart of the downtown, the organizing committee chairman, after setting foot in the middle of the present soccer pitch at Royal Athletic Park (RAP) looked around and asked, “Where’s the field?” Royal Athletic Park has always been the highlight of Victoria’s outdoor sports facilities. It has held world-class soccer games before.  The once world famous Traveler’s fastball champions played here as well as Canadian Football, Australian rules football and more recently the ever popular Beer Festivals. However, what you really need to appreciate about this field is how it crests abnormally from north to south creating an illusion that one was in a formidable sinking abyss when looked upon from either end.  One fan at a recent exhibition soccer match between Canada and Scotland commented that all he could see looking across to the far sideline were men’s torsos darting up the field towards the opponent’s goal.  Now you begin to understand why the question, “Where’s the field”?

    Well, after much reassurance of what could and would be done to the existing field and the official’s appreciation of the old-fashioned styled stadium atmosphere of Royal Athletic Park, the City of Victoria was granted a pool for the 2007 FIFA Under 20 World Cup (the other cities were Burnaby, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal). Hence, after months of meetings, planning, and around the world communications, work at Royal Athletic Park began in mid-April. As mentioned, RAP was not the most level piece of property that the City Parks.

    Field crews were pleased to be calling their prized jewel.  The elevation numbers in meters ranged from 11.09 to 9.49 from north to south and east to west and because of this huge discrepancy, it made determining the final cut and fill elevation very difficult to determine. However, 10.50 was decided upon as our grade level and because of that depth the surprises were quick to surface after the first excavator load of soil was displaced. Unmarked manholes were discovered. Blue clay, piping, old and new drainage and irrigation lines, concrete, wood, filter fabric and a drain-rock pit, which was the most mystifying discovery of all to everyone involved. This pit presented us with some delay because we needed to remove over 80 cubic meters of it.  Also much of the rock had already been graded and spread over most of the field site.  Therefore a couple of days were spent, with up to 7 people, rock picking the entire layout.

    Just to illustrate just how the optics of the field changed, at the east end, the new field began 18 inches below the original level and at the west end, it rose over one meter. And, to illustrate that even more the original depth of the irrigation lines on this west end of the field went from being16 inches in depth to almost 4 feet.  But AHHA!  The field was now level as level as FIFA had demanded.

    After weeks of excavating, including an addition of over 460 cubic meters of sand being evenly spread over the whole area, the Rotodarion was brought in to blend the sand and soil and to finish the final grooming for sod preparation.  After another week our final grade was met and now it was a matter of eagerly awaiting the sod.

    It was on May 10th and 11th that our turf (10% Creeping Red Fescue, 50% Perennial Ryegrass and 40% Kentucky Bluegrass) arrived in big rolls and the contractor hired to lay the turf was there in full force in their brightly colored vests advertising their company in time for all the media attention that day. The Mayor (Allan Lowe), representatives for the VSOC as well as the representative for the Provincial government (Ida Chong) all played up to the cameras and press rolling out their own piece of soccer history for Victoria.  Indeed it was a great day for everyone involved as another giant positive step was made to the first FIFA soccer match on Vancouver Island.

    Unfortunately too, it was another important journey for the thousands of unwanted hitchhikers wanting to visit the Island from the mainland.  As one driver of the 7 truck and trailers was brushing off his flat deck after all his payload of 60 foot rolls of turf was unloaded, he yelled at the project supervisor and exclaimed: There sure are a lot of worms in those rolls!  Oh yeah! Chuckle!  Chuckle! was the polite reply from the supervisor as he figured the truck driver was just making conversation. However, after thinking about the drivers comment, and actually investigating what he was talking about in disbelief, he took samples knowing full well what the worms really were.  And yet, he had to wait out an agonizing weekend before it was confirmed that we had indeed imported leatherjackets in their larvae stage.  Therefore by the time all 10,000 square meters of turf was all laid out, we were looking at a population of 5 to 7 grubs per square foot.

    Well panic, disbelief, frustration, anger and that awful feeling of what do we do now crept into the hearts of everyone in that small circle of local organizers and field personal.  Rip it out! Send it back! Call their competitor! Just spray it!  Ha!  That last suggestion was actually the one everybody knew would be the least likely solution to consider.  As timing would have it, days prior to this unfortunate discovery, City Council had just endorsed a By-Law banning the use of pesticides within city limits.  So the suggestion to spray it was definitely going to be one option that no one wanted to present to the politicians in City Hall. Well, to the credit of the Mayor and council, and to our IPM Coordinator (Michelle Gorman), and to the relief of City parks staff, the soccer association and the local FIFA representative Jim Plasteras, an exemption for us to use pesticides and deal with the infestation problem was immediately granted.  So after some very positive media coverage, informing the local residents, the local Community Association and beekeepers, the application of Sevin took place one early Saturday morning with no difficulties or setbacks.

    Thereafter, it was now a matter of watering, fertilizing, and literally watching the grass grow. There was also the task of replacing divots constantly every morning because of the feeding frenzy upon the grubs by the crows and two pesky raccoons.  Not only were these two raccoons lifting up tufts of turf looking for an easy meal, but they were also using our new field as their washroom facilities.  Yes, we did hire a trapper and he had his marshmallow filled cages at all suspecting routes of travel, but for all the weeks the traps were out, they consistently ignored them. We even chased these two pests off the field one morning as they scampered past these traps without even a glance at the delicious smorgasbord of fatty white puffs of sugar inside. (By the way, we never did catch them, and we continue to clean up after them to this day.)

    However not everything was happening on the field.  Royal Athletic Park off the field was a buzz of activity.  New stadium lights around the field were being installed, miles and miles of power cords, telephone and television cables were being laid.  The 8,200 seat bleachers were being set-up on the north end.  Meanwhile the VIP tents along with the press area, and media tents were being set-up on the south and east end.  There were also the added players dressing rooms, concession tents, and souvenir tents being put together, all the while the field was being closely guarded by staff like the perimeter of a high security prison.  No one but no one, apart from a selected few were going to as much as, smell the grass without being bounced upon and berated for trespassing on sacred ground.

    For the next 6 weeks the newly transformed field was being pampered better than most people, with regular feeding, nourishing and tender loving care.  A regimented fertilizing program was scheduled which included 13-26-6 (Quick Start) to 21-0-0 to 23-3-23, and two applications of Knife, an iron compound.  All this brightened the grass blades to near perfect and glimmering green, while at the same time, invigorating it to grow centimeter by centimeter almost hourly.

    Watering proved to be our most frustrating cultural practice, as many parts of the field had little filtration once the water leached past the first 4-8 inches of soil.  So because of that, we were left with standing water in these particular areas.  It even got to the point where all we could do was syringe the field with water, instead of long periods of deep watering. Also, to assist in the drainage, twice on the west end and parts of the east end, we deep-tined these portions using 1/2 inch tines on the Verti-Drain. Yet because of the compaction under our main growing medium many of the tines were bent so bad they were turned into metal boomerangs, and not very good ones at that.  And of course, our two most problematic areas were in the goalmouths. Hence, several times we had to re-patch sections of these areas, using sod from our temporary turf farm at our main yard.

    At this time too, we took on a very extensive top-dressing program to hide the many seams between the newly laid turf.   Days were then spent by our staff taking wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow loads of soil and a ryegrass seed mix, and carefully spreading it, hoping for quick germination in those small crevices of unsightly space.  We also top-dressed the entire field later, covering it with a 1/2 inch layer of top-dressing sand.

    The grass cutting finally began using at first a Toro rear bagger, cut at 2 1/2 inches. Eventually, we got it down to the 1.1 inches or 28 mm as stipulated by FIFA, using a Toro Reelmaster tri-plex mower.  Once we established that height, the field was cut daily, by two of our staff switching off every second day. Their most difficult task was cutting in straight lines, and not dozing off under the hot sun.  We did eventually, two days prior to the July 1st matches, end up string lining the field for mowing accuracy, striping it north to south at 18-foot widths.

    Our greatest worries though came from FIFA itself.  Using the Pitch Management Manual from the World Cup in Germany last year, the regulations demanded following exactly what was outlined concerning the goals and their set up, the grass height, divot replacement, the field marking line density and width, the amount of field staff on site on game day, and how the communications would filter down to the field boss (Gord Smith) and his staff. Also on each game day the field had to be game ready five hours before each match.  Therefore, for 2 days of the tournament we had mornings when we began at 5:00 a.m., finished by 9:15 a.m. for the matches that began at 2:15 p.m. These were long days, but on Saturday July 1st, 2007, under blue skies, before 11,800 extremely excited spectators, the first kick-off by the Japanese team against the Scottish on our field left us with our hearts in our throats knowing that the world was watching our field.  Okay, maybe they weren’t watching the field but as everyone always said throughout the preparations no field, no Soccer.  So guess what?  That is our field the world is watching.

    Admittedly, the field crew did get to watch each and every game, but our rants, shouts and bantering weren’t directed at the players, linesmen or referee, but for every bit of turf that flew for a few meters in the air after a sliding check or a goalies left to right dive.  Even the “streaker” during the second game got our attention for the wrong reasons.  The thought of this naked man on our pristine groomed field made us all groan in utter disgust.  Oh!  And by the way, the football was pretty good too.

    Throughout the tournament though, the field was being constantly hailed as one of the best in the world.  We heard that from FIFA officials, the fans, and   politicians, our fellow workmates and our peers in the industry.  Whether it was really that good or not, we all took great pride in what we had accomplished and the end result is a world-class soccer pitch.

    We also had great support from our employer, the City, and the positive feedback from the local media, just added to our pride for what was accomplished in just 6 weeks.  Despite our water problems, the leatherjackets, the record setting 35-Celsius degree weather, the raccoons, and some unsightly areas (to us anyways), the soccer gods were very good to us.  The field looked great especially on TV. The playability on it was outstanding and the reviews received were almost embarrassing. In the end 7 games were played on the 68m x 105m soccer pitch, including one exhibition game between the stadium crew and the much older field crew.  And just to reiterate just how favorable the gods were the field crews victory over the under 24 stadium crew by a score of 7- 4 just cemented how well the whole experience went for us. As Gord Smith, supervisor for the whole project prophesied before our friendly game, “We will not lose!” and we indeed did not lose anything at all.  From the first official FIFA ball to cross the goal line to the last unofficial torn and half deflated ball to cross a goal line we were able to put the City of Victoria and Royal Athletic Park on the World Cup Soccer map for at least 2 weeks during the summer of 2007.

    Kenneth Hilchey & Gord Smith are with Victoria Parks.

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