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Some players seem to think the new pitch is worth kneeling down forImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Tending the Green, Green Grass of Berlin

Nick Amies interviewed Alan Cairncross
June 6, 2006

Alan Cairncross is responsible for making the World Cup final run smoothly. Whoever takes to the field on July 9 will know he and his team of greenkeepers have done everything to provide a pristine playing surface.

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Alan Cairncross is the head greenkeeper at Berlin's Olympiastadion, the venue for the 2006 World Cup final on July 9. The Scotsman has been tending the pitches and surrounding areas there for 20 years.

DW-WORLD.DE: What do you do on a typical day at the Olympiastadion?

We have around 10 to 20 training fields around the stadium which all need to be looked after every day. These are not just football pitches but rugby fields, tennis courts, American football fields etc. Then there are the other green areas such as the surrounding gardens and hedges.

Does this change as an important game approaches?

During the Bundesliga season, we have Hertha Berlin training on the practice pitches every day and every other Saturday they're in the stadium on the pitch, so our routine doesn't really change because we have to maintain a constant quality both outside and inside the stadium. We work to make the training pitches and the stadium pitch perfect, that it's the same surface. So when Hertha, and the Germany team at the World Cup, take to the pitch inside the stadium, they are playing on the exact same pitch as they've been training on.

Would you do anything different to the pitch in terms of preparation for games such as the World Cup final?

No. Of course we have to do different things to the grass during different seasons of the year but in terms of pitch preparation we try and keep everything exactly the same. We do the cutting, watering, airing and damage repair all year round regardless of the coming match. When you start doing things differently, that's when mistakes are made.

Fußball-WM 2006 Olympiastadion Berlin
The turf for the final has been kept at a secret locationImage: dpa

Is there anything special about the pitch which will be used for the World Cup final?

I wouldn't say special is the right word but it certainly is a different type of pitch. It is a blended mix of different seeds which have been combined to maintain a high quality and color of grass. It has been grown to be a durable surface for the whole World Cup, one which will look good on the television and one which will look good live in the stadium. It will provide a quick surface for good attacking football. We'll see how good it is after the first two games and what damage is sustained.

Do players and coaches who blame a pitch after losing a game have a point? Can the pitch really decide the game?

I have heard this so many times that teams and players complain about the pitch and that the surface lost them the game. This is rubbish. If it rains heavily before the game then of course the surface will get churned up but we will be out there at half time to repair the pitch as much as we can. If it has rained for days, then what can I do as a greenkeeper? I am at the mercy of Mother Nature, it is out of my control. What I will do is work as hard as I can to have that pitch in perfect condition. If I can't get it that way, then I am disappointed. But if it is flat and in good shape and you lose, then it's your fault, not mine.

Did you have any say in the decision to cancel the World Cup opening gala in Berlin? There were concerns that the pitch would not recover in time for the first game there on June 13.

No, I had no say in the process. I am the last in a long line of decision makers and that one was decided long before it came down to me. What I will say though is that common sense prevailed.

You seem to be getting a lot of media attention as the World Cup gets closer. Do you think this puts increased pressure on you to get the conditions at the Olympiastadion spot-on for the final?

Rückklick Beckham Euro 2004
Beckham blamed the pitch for his Euro 2004 penalty missImage: AP

Of course there is pressure. Without the media interest, it is a question of pride as a greenkeeper. Some of the guys on the team have been here for 20 years. They've seen it all and done it all. But they still want this to be the best World Cup and for this to be the best pitch. That's what we all want; not just for Berlin to perfect but all the stadiums to be perfect, to have wonderful grass and well prepared grounds so that it looks good and gives the teams the best chance to play. That's where the pressure is.

Who is your tip for the World Cup and why?

Ah, the million-dollar question. You have to say that Brazil is the favorite but it gets boring to always talk about the favorite. I think England is very strong and that England will surprise. They may not win it but they could get to the final. The ideal final would be England against Germany and then of course I would want England to win.

Really? And you're a Scotsman. So you won't be joining with a large number of your compatriots in following Trinidad and Tobago rather than giving England your support?

I have to follow a team from our island and that team is England. We're all from the one island and we're all part of the United Kingdom. I say we should always follow the team from our island in all sports. Some Scots are up in arms about others supporting the 'Auld Enemy' but I say Scotland didn't qualify, so let's all stand behind England.

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