''We are always among the top three. That's what drives us on,'' says Borussia Dortmund's leading groundskeeper Willi Droste as he discusses his ambition to ensure that the pitch at SIGNAL IDUNA PARK is one of the best in the Bundesliga. Droste is clearly doing something right: this season, after a second-place finish the year before, the groundskeeper's efforts were enough to see BVB's home turf awarded the Bundesliga's ''Pitch of the Year'' prize.
However, if you were to have a look at the pitch in SIGNAL IDUNA PARK just now, you would find it hard to believe that it's one of the best in the Bundesliga; not much remains of the attractive green turf we're all used to. Since 2015, Borussia Dortmund have used a hybrid grass, with 16% synthetic content, which must be renovated every summer.
Just two days after the season finale against TSG Hoffenheim, the machines came in to remove the grass. "We are no longer talking about a change, that's not possible now," explains Droste. "I had to cut the grass. It's important to do this with a hybrid type, so that we can get the algae and the remaining cuttings out again. The milling machine performs a similar function to equipment used in the construction of roads, when the tar has to be milled off." Once the machine had done its job, all that was left were the plastic blades, which then had to be put back in place. Next, the site was filled with sand, then sown, covered with a tarpaulin, and kept moist to let the seeds germinate. "If the lawn gets sick then there's not much I can do. I can't work with UV light at the moment because the grass won't be able to tolerate it yet," says Droste.
After a week, the first blades are visible. After ten days, the tarpaulin comes down again. Once the new grass is finally ready to be mowed for the first time, Droste and his team will proceed with caution: instead of the usual 2.7 cm, the fresh grass will be cut to a length of at least 5 cm, using hand mowers of the type normally used in domestic gardens.
Work on the pitch could not start in May this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic and was pushed back until the end of June. ''Our entire schedule has been thrown out of sync,'' says the groundskeeper. As soon as it became clear back in March that the Bundesliga would be forced to go on hiatus, Droste ''left the grass almost entirely alone. Normally we cut it just about every day.'' Once the resumption of the Bundesliga was announced, the pitch was soon put back into working order.