Clarence Park pitch keeps promotion bid alive

Clarence Park

Clarence Park - Credit: Archant

“We haven’t had a home game called off this season. In fact, we haven’t had a game called off in ages.”

Those were the words of St Albans City’s club secretary Steve Eames this week after Monday night’s win over Chippenham Town – a game that could have been in doubt had it not be played at Clarence Park.

Unlike the majority of other teams in the division and across Hertfordshire, the Saints have been able to play every home match this season.

“Clubs must be struggling with cash flow because football is the income but because of the investment from John and Lawrence we don’t have that problem at St Albans City,” said Eames.

Other clubs have not been so lucky. SSML Premier Division clubs Colney Heath and London Colney have barely played since Christmas and Stevenage FC have been forced to call of League One matches because the Lamex Stadium pitch has been waterlogged. And Hertford Town’s plight has been covered nationally; the club’s ground has been completely flooded and it could be months before another game is played at Hertingfordbury Park.

It led the joint manager James Gray calling the Clarence Park pitch in the best in the league, and better than many in the Conference. And while Eames, who has also been the club’s groundsman for the past 14 years, receives most of the credit, he believes it should be directed at the owners, Lawrence Levy and John McGowan.

“The pitch has helped us maintain a promotion challenge because we were miles behind [in games] but now we’ve caught up and we’re into third place,” said Eames.

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“It’s down to the investment of the owners; they have allowed me to spent money wisely on the pitch and bring in good contractors.”

Eames explained that the drainage system at Clarence Park was put in at the end of the 1983/84 season. And while it’s still effective, he said the close-season routine is what keeps the pitch in great shape.

As soon as the season ends the club has contractors in who drain the surface by punching eight-inch deep holes in the pitch before layering speciality top soil and sports amenity grass seeds on top.

It is then up to the Eames to cut it, which he does almost every day for six weeks, and it keep it watered.

“If you don’t get it right then, you don’t get it right at all,” he said before adding that Gray, fellow joint manager Graham Golds and first team coach Harry Wheeler were integral to keeping the playing surface in its immaculate condition.

“They help out by training on different parts of the pitch each week to allow it to grow. There is pressure, though, because everyone expects the game to be on,” he joked.

“Paul Fairclough, the England C manager, lives around the corner and he’s told me that’s every week his fall back game is St Albans City because he knows it will be on.”

As well as the pressure of getting games on, which carries a financial reward for the club, Eames said the excellent up-keep of the pitch allows the club to host penalty shoot-outs for youth players, an important part of St Albans City’s community portfolio.

“Kids are the future of the club; you can see that in the initiatives Lawrence has started such as giving assemblies. The feedback from them has been brilliant and the penalty shoot-outs on the pitch are part of that out-reach.”