The Netherlands women’s soccer team was welcomed at the Bay Oval with a põhiri. Photo / Alex Cairns
More than 200 tons of sand, 350-400 kg of grass seed sown, then cut to a height of 24 millimeters and up to 500 working hours.
That’s what it took to transform the Bay Oval international cricket ground into a FIFA Women’s World Cup training ground for the Netherlands soccer team.
Tauranga hosts the Oranje Leeuwinnen (Orange Lionesses) as they prepare for the tournament, which is the biggest women’s sporting event in the world. The event is co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia and starts tomorrow in Auckland.
The Dutch team were welcomed to Mount Maunganui today by tangata whenua with a pōhiri with dozens of children and their families invited to watch the footballers’ first training session at Bay Oval.
The team will train at Bay Oval but will play their games in other cities. Their group matches will be against Portugal and Vietnam in Dunedin and the United States in Wellington.
Tauranga City Council received $240,000 from the Department of Home Affairs’ Hine te Hiringa fund to celebrate and empower women in conjunction with the event. The city was eligible to apply to the fund as the team’s base camp.
To prepare for the team’s arrival, the Bay Oval field team has been working to convert the international cricket ground into a football ground.
Bay Oval turf manager Jared Carter said they began the transformation around August and September of last year.
The “renovations” included coring and sanding.
“A lot of sand was used to firm it up. Throughout the summer more than 200 tons have been produced”.
The couch grass was underneath to help make the soil “strong and resilient.”
Carter said that in April he and his team of gardeners covered the 1.7ha oval with ryegrass, which was more suitable for a soccer field. Between 350 kg and 400 kg of grass seed would have been used, he said.
Staff worked through the summer, spending up to 500 hours transforming the court, he said.
“We were mowing every day, when normally at this time of year we wouldn’t be mowing at all.”
The grass was cut to 24mm, he said.
The biggest challenge, he said, was getting enough – “but not too much” – ryegrass and timing planting correctly.
“It was a balancing act.”
Carter called the project “very special.”
“There is great pride for us and for the city to be able to host this [team]. I am very proud of my staff.”
“We want to offer a product that fits with the World Cup. Our great objective is that they can train in the best possible facilities…”
He said the next challenge was to maintain the training grounds for the Dutch team.
“The important thing is not knowing how many repairs we will do overnight.”
His top three tips for growing a good winter lawn were: mow regularly, fertilize, and use the right grass to start with.
Carter said that once the cup event was over, they would almost have to reverse the process to prepare the Bay Oval ground for the international cricket calendar at Christmas.
“That will be another three to four month process.”
Bay Oval general manager Kelvin Jones said the ground had undergone “a major transformation”.
“It’s unique and something we would never expect to see.”
Jones said an “extensive” amount of time and money had gone into the change.
“Is very good. We are involved in two or three major world cups, which is a really big thing for a Tauranga facility. We truly are one of the premier facilities in the region and this is a testament to that.”
Dutch soccer star Lieke Martens said the pitch looked “incredible”.
“It’s a very good pitch. It is a very good area to prepare for the first game”.
Martens said it was a great experience to be welcomed at the Bay Oval with a traditional pōhiri.
“We feel really welcome. It was a good experience. It was nice to see a different culture. It feels so good to be here.”
His message to the young fans was to “have fun.” “Enjoy doing the things you like, be free and enjoy playing football.”
Dutch-born Nicky Plomp and his 10-year-old son Morris Plomp were at the training session.
Morris, who played for Tauranga City AFC, said he had come to watch the team train. ”I always wanted to become a Dutch soccer player. I really wanted to see how they play.”
His father, Nicky Plomp, said he helped the council win the bid to host Dutch footballers in Tauranga and wanted to come and show his support.
“It’s incredible, two months later we can see it in good condition,” he said. “I think it [the Mount] It is one of the best places in New Zealand to live and is a good base for the team, and a world class facility. I’m excited.
Plomp said the Netherlands team was “hungry” for victory this year.
Tauranga City Council Commission Chair Anne Tolley said it was a privilege to host the Oranje Leeuwinnen in Tauranga for their World Cup campaign.
“We are proud to be able to welcome you to our beautiful city. This is an opportunity for our community to feel connected to one of the biggest sporting tournaments on the planet and showcase Tauranga Moana on the world stage.”
The first game of the tournament starts in Auckland tomorrow night.
Zoe Hunter is deputy news director and covers business and property news for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has worked for NZME since 2017.