A MANSFIELD firm plays a little known but vital role in the drama which unfolds at every Premier League football match.
Historic Mansfield Sand Company, which has been quarrying in the town for almost two centuries, provides all 20 clubs in the top division with materials for their pitches.
The firm’s experiments to find the most ‘player friendly’ surfaces have also led to the development of the Fibrelastic rootzone - already being used by the likes of Newcastle United, Glasgow Rangers, Fulham and Wolves.
“It is built into the pitch which makes it softer,” Mansfield Sand Company managing director Jon Boulton said.
“This makes it kinder to the players, which is good news for the clubs as it protects their very valuable assets from injury.”
Tests have shown that these ‘second generation’ playing surfaces can reduce injuries to limbs and load bearing joints - avoiding the frustrating lay-offs which annoy the players themselves as well as managers, chairmen and fans.
After playing on a Fibrelastic surface at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium last August, former England and Liverpool striker Michael Owen - himself no stranger to long-term injury - described it as ‘the best pitch he had ever played on’.
Fibrelastic is also good news for groundsmen as the pitch is less prone to divots and scar damage.
“The latest surfaces are durable and last a long time,” Mr Boulton said. “They also look really good and are altogether more resilient.”
Material for sports pitches is only one element of the Sand Company’s overall operation.
Having developed from humble beginnings, the firm now fills more than 1.5 million bags with sand every year.
It also has a long history of producing innovative products which go on to become market leaders, gaining a Gold Medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851 - a celebration of Victorian Britain’s leadership in technology - for its Red Moulding Sand.
Long-term operations in Mansfield include the quarry at Ratcher Hill, and company headquarters and brick works at Sandhurst Avenue.
But it is all change for the firm following plans for a new quarry off Coxmoor Road, near Kirkby, and investment in a £10m state-of-the-art brick production facility at Crown Farm Way in Forest Town.
“The plant is the most modern and technically advanced in Europe,” Mr Boulton said.
“We have spent money to protect the future of the company for many years.”
As well as its work on football pitches, the company has also led the way by inventing and patenting the surface for the first all weather racing track at Southwell, which was installed 22 years ago.
The surface was refurbished in 2007 following floods and in last year’s severe winter weather the track allowed the course to fulfil its fixtures without a single lost race.
Roderick Duncan, the clerk of the course, said: “It certainly proved its worth in December, when a turf surface would have been either frozen solid or covered in snow which would be difficult to move.
“It truly enables Southwell to be an all-year, all-weather racing venue.”
It is likely that many top golfers have had less reason to be charitable about the company however - as it provides bunker sand for more than 400 golf courses across the country, as well as rootzone materials and top dressing.
The firm employs around 50 people locally - two of whom have worked for the company more than 50 years.
Mr Boulton said: “People in Mansfield should be very proud of some of the products which are being produced in the area by Mansfield Sand Company.
“When they turn on the television to watch a football match the chances are they are looking at a pitch which we were involved with.”
For more information about the Fibrelastic technology used in sports pitches visit www.fibrelasticturf.co.uk.