Pfeiffer Willich – Turf off the roll
Ajax Amsterdam, Real Madrid –and of course Borussia Mönchengladbach - play on their turf. Prior to the football world cup, Brazil was interested in roll out turf from Willich. Currently the German Sport University Cologne is doing research on behalf of a sports goods manufacturer, which is being carried out on turf provided by Gebrüder Pfeiffer. The object is to determine how the ideal transmission of power between the athlete, shoe and grass functions. On real grass mind you! Several clubs that turned to using an artificial grass surface to save money, reverted back to using real natural grass after players complained of pains in their joints, ligaments or in their backs.
Those who visit the company Gebrüder Pfeiffer in Willich will find themselves right in the middle of the farming community of Knickelsdorf lying between Neersen and Schiefbahn. Although Arnd Pfeiffer, a graduate engineer, is the third generation in his family to work in the company, the production of roll turf is still fairly recent. At the time of the founding of the company by his grandfather Peter Pfeiffer in 1972, the success story of the small horticulture and landscaping gardening business could not be foreseen. As subcontractor for the maintenance of green areas in the city of Düsseldorf, Pfeiffer was given the contract to lay roll turf in a rainwater retention basin. At that time nobody had heard of “roll turf”, so Pfeiffer obtained the turf from the nearest source in Lower Saxony. Since the contract went particularly well their ambition was awakened. In the following year they tried it out themselves in Willich.
A start had been made and it was convincing. Many landscape gardeners soon realised that ready prepared turf in rolls not only looked better in the eyes of the customer, but also brought in fewer complaints and a higher turnover than when simply sewing grass seeds. However, whoever thinks this is a fantastic business idea which anyone can easily earn a lot of money with, they are way off the mark. Turf is not just any turf. For football and golf there are different kinds of turf and every grass used in the roll turf is a mixture of seven to eight kinds of seeds. It was a long road with many setbacks before Pfeiffer reached today’s results.
Roll turf needs time to grow, taking about a year before it is ready. Until then it is mown three times a week and given fertilizer and water as required. Every other day it is cut back a couple of millimetres and if necessary the grass cuttings have to be vacuumed off and the grass groomed. Golf course turf has a very fine leaf structure with up to 100,000 shoots per m , the normal number being around 20,000. In order to minimise the rolling resistance the turf is cut short leaving 4-5 mm standing. Turf on a mown football pitch still has at least a 28 mm blade height. With golf it is all about the speed of the green. The further the ball rolls the better.
The company’s roll turf business developed slowly but has grown steadily. It began with an area covering 2,000 m , increased to 3,000 m and 5,000 m then 1 ha and 2 ha. Today Pfeiffer has reached a total of 2.5 square kilometres under cultivation in different areas spread over the whole of the Niederrhein, not only in Willich but also in Wachtendonk or Weeze. Pfeiffer is even active in the Netherlands near Arcen in Limburg. The soil there is particularly suitable for growing sports turf because of its sandy consistency. On the one hand staff have to travel a lot due to a number of the strips of land being some distance away, but on the other hand the company can offer a wide range of soils. Crop rotation is practiced and the cultivated areas are swapped with the farmers every year.
The turning point for sports turf was brought about by the “rain game”, Germany v. Poland in 1974 in Frankfurt. On that occasion the football pitch was flooded. Thereafter criteria were laid down according to which a pitch must, except in exceptional circumstances, always be fit to be played on. More important still were the 2000s years when modern football stadiums were developed. The prototype is the arena in Amsterdam followed by Arnheim and Schalke. The tribunes in the arenas were built higher and the roofs mostly closed. In the long run turf cannot survive there because no wind blows; it is in a prevailing round the clock damp environment and there is a lack of direct sunlight. In the first year Amsterdam used up six football pitches. The first pitch supplied by Pfeiffer lasted four months, in other words twice as long. When Arnd Pfeiffer, who wrote his degree thesis on turf pitches in modern stadiums, talks about grass, then it becomes a science in itself. At a time when businessmen were in charge of football clubs they always chose the cheapest offer, based on the maxim – any kind of turf will do. It was not until the big clubs employed influential green keepers that a rethink took place. Up till now the furthest away that Willich turf has been delivered has been to Porto and Istanbul. Each rolls ways a ton and provides turf 15 metres long and 1.2 metres wide. A stadium requires 450 such rolls.
Early on FC Porto became a regular customer. After the opening match the turf on the pitch in the new stadium was ruined. New turf was needed for the Champions League game against Manchester United. Following the successful premiere Pfeifffer received a phone call from England, the turf country par excellence. When Manchester ordered turf made in Willich, Celtic Glasgow and Real Madrid followed. The breakthrough was made, but at the same time hardly a stadium in Germany had been supplied. Schalke was the first. Today Pfeiffer is the main supplier for the German Football league. Some clubs play on hybrid turf, in other words natural turf combined with artificial fibres. Pfeifffer is also experimenting in this area. It is difficult to believe that there is only a workforce of 50 behind their success story. However success has not gone to the heads of Arnold Pfeiffer and his two co-managers. They have put the company on a stable two-pronged basis. Apart from roll turf there is still the horticulture and landscape gardening side of the business. There is no grand building with a giant billboard. On their first visit many customers drive past, but nearly all of them are happy to come again because not only the quality and customer service are just right, but also the atmosphere. Many employees have been working for the company for 20 years or more. In the showroom there is a Borussia Mönchengladbach football shirt with autographs of the players testifying to a contented customer. The fact that the Borussians play on turf supplied by Pfeiffer makes Willich fans particularly proud.
Gebr. Peiffer GbR
Tel.: +49 (0)2154 - 955-150
Fax: +49 (0)2154 - 955-064
As at: November 2014