Feyenoord's pitch n°1 in the Netherlands by Erwin Beltman

By December 07, 2015

Feyenoord has been an active ESSMA member for quite some time now. To get a better understanding about how they deal with pitch management at De Kuip, we had an interview with Erwin Beltman, head groundsman and two-time winner of the VVSC Pitch competition in the Netherlands. 


Could you introduce yourself to the ESSMA members

My name is Erwin Beltman and I am the Head Groundsman of Feyenoord. I am a happily married man with three beautiful children.

Which career path did you follow to hold your current position?

Before I started at Feyenoord, I had been working at golf courts in the Netherlands for 22 years of which I spend 18 years at the ‘Koninklijke Haagsche Golf & Country Club’. However, in September 2013 I decided to head in another direction, since then I have been responsible for the maintenance and improvements of all grounds of Feyenoord Stadium, which currently exist out of five pitches.


The VVSC Pitch-competition originated in 2008 to place pitch managers in the picture and show gratitude for their performances. All pitches of the Netherlands’ first division clubs take part in this competition. After every game the pitch gets a rating from 1 until 5 by the visitor's captain. Erwin Beltman and his team won the prize for the second time in a row.

Do you feel recognition by receiving this prize?

It is something we have in the back of our minds constantly, it is a team effort. By this I do not only refer to the people who are actually on the field but also those higher up. My manager, mr Rico Salomons, has been key for communicating with the directors for delivering the right materials and machines. This job requires a lot of patience and time, so if you get acknowledged for the work you deliver it is always rewarding. This price brings prestige and appearance along with it. At the moment we are also leading the charts for this year's competition, so we are very happy at this instance.

Pitch management is a team effort, by this I do not only refer to the people who are actually on the field but also those higher up. My manager, mister Rico Salomons, has been key for communicating with the directors for delivering the right materials and machines.


Erwin Beltman - Head Groundsman at De Kuip Feyenoord


Other teams in the Netherlands are also beginning to invest in better pitches and maintenance. How do you see this evolution towards more awareness for qualitative pitches, where Feyenoord is somewhat a leader?

When you invest in real grass you will get better results. You have some clubs in the Dutch League who use artificial turf and it is my opinion that you don’t experience the same quality as natural pitches. Especially when we look at other top-countries, we see that Netherland is falling behind.

The most important thing is that we keep communicating with each other. We learn new things every day and every day brings different experiences,  different types of weather, different events, new problems, etc. We try to strive for the best possible pitch so we learn from our mistakes and try to improve day by day. It is important for all groundsmen in the Netherlands and even in Europe to try and achieve the best possible pitch. You can only play top football if you have a top playing field.


How do you keep the grass in perfect condition throughout the season?

The most important thing in my opinion is communication, where you make all the arrangements with the team and management to receive the best materials. Also the communication with the coach, captain of the team, warm-up trainer and goalkeeping coach to ask them if they want to take several aspects into consideration when training on the stadium grounds. That is why we have been the best in the Netherlands for two years, because we listen and communicate with one another. Ever since day one I have felt respected at the club and feel like we all strive for the same thing. Respect is very important in this business.




What types of grass do you use and when do you use them?

The last three years the stadium has been used during the summer for certain events like business parties, small festivals, Monster-Jam, etc. and  we got a new pitch every year. That pitch exists out of meadow grass and RPR (Regenerating Perennial Ryegrass), which is an English grass type that quickly repairs itself. Once the pitch is put into place we continue seeding with RPR only. During the winter we switch to SOS (Super Over Seeding) this is a type of grass that starts to sprout at 6°C, this grass type looks good for the cameras.


How many people are in your team and what are their daily responsibilities?

I am the Head Groundsman and I also have a colleague who I took with me from the golf course industry. He is more focused on the training fields but to be honest our current group is very compact so we do everything together. Although I have to keep oversight, I do like being on the pitch along with my team. Our team consists out of three full-timers and one person with a contract for a fixed term. The important thing is to be creative with all your equipment and machinery to maintain all five pitches.


Describe how a match day looks like for you?

We start with the entire group, the Feyenoord-team but also volunteers, in the morning at 7 o’clock in the morning. The first thing we do is remove the six lighting systems delivered to us by SGL. Afterwards we start mowing the grass (double to create the chequered pattern you see on TV) and we take care of the line marking. During the game we rely on volunteers who have a passion for everything that is green and they help us to remove the extra goals and repair the turf, we also do this during the break. After the game we take of the goals, mow the grass once more and get the lighting up and running again. All and all we are busy until 12 at night.



How has the pitch industry evolved in the last 10 years and what innovations has it brought along?

I originated from the golf-industry, the damage there is quite alright but when I first saw a training session inside the stadium at Feyenoord I was startled. The situation was really dreadful. The pitches, as well as the players were in serious risk of being harmed. I started to investigate and specialise myself in the football industry. In the Netherlands a lot of clubs use artificial grass and although artificial pitches try to be more like natural grass, I still believe it will never be able to deliver the same quality. I am very motivated to give players and fans the pitches they deserve. With all innovations like the Hybrid pitches from Desso Sports, as one of our training grounds, and new lighting systems, like the new lightweights from SGL but also machinery, fertilizers and seeds this should be able to achieve. Mankind always invents new things and we will always improve.


What will be the biggest challenges for groundsmen in the coming years?

I have been doing this for three years now, and not a single year has been the same. Especially with global warming, the weather will change even more. What all groundsmen in the Netherlands and even Europe should do is unite. Not only the groundsmen but also the companies that make the equipment and machinery to make it available for those clubs who do not have huge budgets. We need to step away from the idea that every club only works for its own gain. If you want to deliver top football you have to make sure every pitch in the division is as good as it can be.


How has ESSMA helped you during your years as Head Groundsman?

When I just started here at Feyenoord I got the chance to join one of ESSMA's workshops in Porto. This overall experience has been very important for me to interact and learn from fellow groundsmen. You have to know that I was still very inexperienced back then. I met the people from Arsenal and was invited there with my second groundsman to come and look at their systems and follow them for four days. I took all this information with me to Feyenoord and applied it to the grounds here.


What is the most important thing for future groundsmen?

The most important thing you need to have when stepping into the pitch industry is passion. You work an entire week to get the pitch into perfect shape and then you see it being destroyed by the players. Every week we have to start over again so if you aren’t in it with heart and soul, you will not be able to keep it up.

When I just started here at Feyenoord I got the chance to join one of ESSMA's workshops in Porto. This overall experience has been very important for me to interact and learn from fellow groundsmen.

Erwin Beltman - Head Groundsman at De Kuip Feyenoord


Do you want to meet people like Erwin Beltman who are specialized in Pitch Management? Check out our Pitch Management Expertise Area on the ESSMA website.


ESSMA offers a platform to stadium professionals where they can share, learn and discuss topics related to ESSMA’s areas of expertise: Stadium Development, Operations & Ticketing, Sustainability & SMART, Safety & Security, Fan Experience & Hospitality and Pitch Management.