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Ex-Blues Groundsman Ferguson at World Cup Ahead of New FIFA Role
Wednesday, 20th Jun 2018 11:10 by Blair Ferguson

Bartosz Bialkowski and Jonas Knudsen aren’t the only ones with Town links at the World Cup, former Blues groundsman Alan Ferguson is also currently in Russia, having been involved in the preparations for the finals for almost a year, ahead of starting a prestigious new job with FIFA. Blair Ferguson, Alan’s son, caught up with him for TWTD.

“I have been coming to Russia for one week per month since September last year as consultant groundsman with SIS Pitches,” Ferguson (pictured above with Germany manager Joachim Löw), who currently runs his own consultancy, Premier Sports Turf Maintenance, explained.

“My role is to oversee the maintenance through the grow-in of the six pitches built by the company. These are at Saransk, Samara, Kaliningrad, Rostov, Spartak and the Luzhniki Stadium [where Town played Torpedo Moscow in the UEFA Cup 2001, Knudsen's Denmark face France next Tuesday and where the final will be staged]. The company also built the pitch at Krasnodar which was a reserve stadium.

“The main challenge was the Russian winter which at times was down to minus 20 for several weeks.

“The pitches are all heated with SISAir on two. This, in conjunction with covers, helped keep a spring-like root zone allowing a fast take-off into the spring in 2018.

“Now, having handed four of the six back to the Russian Ministry of Sport, my role is to deliver the pitch and training pitches at the Luzhniki and support Spartak with advice.

“The Luzhniki has added challenges of the opening ceremony and closing ceremony which put quite a bit of additional stress on the pitch.

“In the run up to start of the World Cup we had 20 hours of use on the pitch, 16 of which were for the opening show with Robbie Williams. I also attend meetings with FIFA getting feedback and helping to plan rehearsals for the opening and closing ceremonies.”

Ferguson, 58, joined Town from Rangers in his native Scotland in 1996 before departing to work for ex-Blues chairman David Sheepshanks at St George’s Park in 2011.

Groundsman of the Year on seven occasions during his spell at Portman Road, Ferguson continued to work for the FA until setting up Premier Sports Turf Maintenance a year ago.

“I left my role as head of grounds and estate at the FA in June last year after a second restructure," he recalled.

“I joined the FA to bring the pitches at St George’s Park to life which was completed in 2012 and in 2015 I took on Wembley as well.

“The first restructure was not well planned over the whole organisation and a second was inevitable. This happened last year.

“Having had the turf manager’s role duelled with Wembley, which was the right thing to do but needed better execution, the new management team split the role out again in 2017.

“While disappointing to leave with the job not finished, I have been fortunate with the business getting off to a great start.

“My game plan was to be consulting 100 per cent by the time I was 60. The restructure brought this forward a bit.

“I was already a natural turf expert for UEFA and this, combined with SIS Pitches, has kept me really busy with quite a bit of travelling.

“I currently have UEFA projects going on in Kosovo and Croatia with a busy renovation season with SISGrass coming to an end across Europe and beyond.

“There are currently 85 pitches on the ground with more being confirmed every month. The travelling has been extensive but enjoyable.”

But from September he will start a new full-time job with FIFA, a position he is flattered to have been offered.

“Well, what can I say,” he added. “If I thought the FA joint-role was off the scale this is off the planet.

"From September 1st this year I will become the first senior pitch management manager in-house at FIFA.

“The organisation has undergone a huge transformation in the last two years with FIFA Congress and advisors recommending that pitch management comes in-house.

“My role will be to oversee all the pitch building activity for pitches to be used in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and now 2026 in USA, Canada and Mexico. I will also support all other FIFA World Cups.

The Luzhniki pitch

“I underwent a rigorous selection process which started last December. I will relocate to Zurich but will be on the road for much of the year.

“It is a huge privilege to have been selected to head up this global operation. I have many partners around the world who will help me deliver this for FIFA.

“The Royal Navy have an advert on TV, ‘Born in Carlisle, made in the Royal Navy’. For me it is born in Scotland and made at Portman Road.

“I owe the club a great deal for giving me the chance to further my experience and much of what I cut my teeth on at Portman Road and Playford Road forms the base from which I work now.”

On which note, the surface at Portman Road left a lot to be desired during the second half of last season after a wet January in which games at various levels came thick and fast.

Ferguson believes the pitch, which was recently given its annual renovation by current groundsman Ben Connell, needed significant investment even back in his time in charge with MD Ian Milne recently saying all the work ideally required, which has long been pencilled in to be carried out following promotion, would cost up to £1.5 million.

“It is sad to see the pitch struggle,” Ferguson reflected. “I last spoke to the club over a year ago. The pitch is the oldest in the top two divisions and probably one of the oldest in the professional pyramid.

“It should have been rebuilt when I was there but budget was an issue. Now it is a real issue for the players and coaching staff from the mid-season on.

“The groundstaff do a great job keeping it going but adverse comments from visiting managers and Mick McCarthy last year tell their own story.

“I am happy to help point the club in the right direction when they get round to doing the pitch but it really needs to happen now.

“Good players need good pitches and the passing game Town were renowned for can't happen on this pitch. It has become a leveller.”

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MarkP1 added 11:27 - Jun 20
Given what Alan has said about our pitch perhaps the best use of some of our budget will be to complete the work required on the pitch, too late for this year but surely a must for next summer.

OldClactonBlue added 11:29 - Jun 20
Great news for Alan.
Obviously the investment in the pitch needs to be a greate priority for ITFC. We were always renowned for the quality of our playing surface and it is sad to hear that this is not the case now.
He is right of course, "Good players need good pitches".

Steve_M added 11:45 - Jun 20
Really good for Alan Ferguson, that's an exceptionally good role for him

The article is a bit of a reminder of the days when there was pride in Portman Road rather than an owner trying to do everything on the cheap. We'll no doubt see the stands going the same way if the club avoid basic maintenance.

Suffolkboy added 11:52 - Jun 20
Nothing that Mr F has to said about PR pitch should surprise anybody; let alone our 'non dynamic ' MD who seems completely unable to effectively prioritise and exceptionally dilatory where pitch replacenpment is the topic .It seems pretty clear we've a clear headed owner ,but his abilities and powers of communication sadly aren't matched or mirrored by IM: when will he be the next item to 'go ' ?
Rather than lame excuses let's see some action , £1 m is not a lot to find ,so Mr Mikne ,stop the self delusion and authorise action, please( no more hiding behind explanatory excuse ) .There's lots else that could do with brushing up ai ITFC ,let's make a real start !

Bergholtblue added 12:15 - Jun 20
Our pitch has declined a lot since Joe Royle moaned that other teams loved playing at Portman Road because it was so good.

Another sad example of the decline of the club due to the lack of proper investment.

Time for a new lick of paint on the turnstiles?

blueboy1981 added 12:27 - Jun 20
Simply - The Best.

Pendejo added 12:28 - Jun 20
Well done Mr. Ferguson. ITFC proves to be a spring board to success again.

Getting paid to go to World Cup... priceless

Steelmonkey added 12:39 - Jun 20
The passing game was never a problem when McCarthy was in charge, I hope it will become an issue this season.

Cakeman added 12:51 - Jun 20
A very interesting read and very well done to Alan who must be highly sought after in his trade.
Certainly need some work done at Portman Road. When we finally have it done I would also like to think we could have undersoil heating installed instead of the inflatable balloon we have now.
It all costs a lot of money though so cannot see any change unless we receive a promotion windfall.

BlueandTruesince82 added 12:58 - Jun 20
Love to have Alan back.

You could putt on that surface in his day

TJS added 13:01 - Jun 20
Hats off to him.
Great to someone from ITFC going on to have a career at a world-class level.

hoppy added 14:35 - Jun 20
"Bartosz Bialkowski and Jonas Knudsen aren’t the only ones with Town links at the World Cup..."

Not forgetting former fairly successful loanee, Gio dos Santos too, of course...

PhilTWTD added 15:00 - Jun 20

And Massimo Luongo! And Nick Pope if we're getting slightly more tenuous!

hoppy added 15:46 - Jun 20
Can never be too tenuous, Phil.

Barty added 16:04 - Jun 20
Well done Alan. We certainly need you back to sort out our field [ sorry I meant pitch !!!! ]

Ian Milne is a total knob head - sack him and use his salary towards pitch / ground improvements

CalmoreBlue added 16:39 - Jun 20
Why is Janet Street Porter there?

BlueandTruesince82 added 17:09 - Jun 20
Good question Calmore but that explains the Germans first match

Warkys_Tash added 22:04 - Jun 20
Alan, its a good job we don't have any good players then! :-)

blueboy1981 added 20:31 - Jun 22
Any guesses why he left ....... ???

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