Manchester United Case Study
DHL - This is Your Turf
What was the project?
The idea behind this project was for the football team, Manchester United, to be able to give their fans a piece of history - branded as #thisisyourturf. To do this, we were contacted by the team to create acrylic turf cubes, using turf from Old Trafford to be able to physically connect fans with their team’s history.
This project took shape in three main elements:
- 100+ large blocks of turf
- 4,000-6,000 small blocks of turf
- GPS located points of the Old Trafford pitch
Who was the project for?
The key idea behind the acrylic turf cubes was to celebrate the 10 year old Old Trafford pitch. Each GPS point from the uprooted turf featured the exact location of special moments throughout the recent history of the football club - including great goals, freekicks and tribute matches. Through the creation of these acrylic turf cubes, Manchester United were able to promote their brand while capturing part of a historic club, team, and manager. The project not only promoted its brand and sponsors, but also allowed the team to give fans a part of the club, with history to own and treasure for themselves. The acrylic turf cubes were received by competition winners, box holders, sponsors and season ticket holders.
The project was funded by the club with sponsorship provided by DHL.
Why did they choose to come to Midton?
The client was seeking a British manufacturer that would allow them to be part of the complicated logistics and management involved throughout the project. They needed a company capable of getting the desired results, while producing the work to a high standard, reflecting the brand. Having found our website, and noting that Midton specialised in acrylic encapsulation, Manchester United reached out to us. Initially concerned about our location in Scotland, the client was somewhat hesitant to agree to work with us. Our dedication to the project and willingness to experiment with materials, alongside our specialism helped us win them over and seal the deal.
With a project of this size, and with such a highly esteemed client, the job came with its concerns and potential issues. Before agreeing to the job, we had to prove that it was possible to encapsulate the turf in acrylic cubes, while still maintaining the ‘live’ and colourful appearance of the grass. While a hugely exciting prospect, it was important to not promise results we could not guarantee. The main concern for this was the acrylic casting, requiring a hot curing process. During the curing cycle, we actively heat the material to generate the chemical reaction, meaning the material will generate exothermic heat which often reaches upto 80 degrees.
The initial test casting was very basic, using a lump of turf without preparation. The results of this were hugely unappealing, creating two main issues. There was both browning and burning of the grass and the moisture of the pitch created cloudy marks and curing issues. The moisture was tackled first. We worked out how to preserve the grass and remove the excess moisture without losing the green colour to the pitch. Alterations were made to the acrylic mixture to reduce heat, the size ratio between turf and acrylic volume was refined, and ideal mould sizes were created to maintain low temperatures - keeping the grass fresh. Curing issues led to a halo being created around the grass. This was due to moisture leaking out while curing, creating the shape.
Once the colour, moisture and definition of the grass was fixed, we had to source a fixative to solve the issue of the chalked pitch lines lifting off through casting. For this, we experimented with paints to replicate the design of the pitch.
Caring for the Turf
The acrylic casting, however, was not our only problem. This project brought a new challenge in its need for our gardening skills. Thirty square metres of turf was transferred from Old Trafford to rainy Mid-Argyll. To home the grass that arrived onsite, raised beds and small polytunnels were created. To ensure the best care, we communicated with the Old Trafford groundsman about how to best care for the greenery. We learned from this that tap water was not to be used, and upon dry spells, we were to collect water from the local burn (or stream, if you are outside of Scotland).
Through our excellent gardening skills, the grass continued to thrive and grow, causing visual problems as there was too much stalk and little leaf at the size we required for the design. We found that the grass grew more lush with long periods of shade and began to trim the turf low three times a week to keep it green and fresh.
The preservation of grass developed as we went on. Once a basic preserving process was in place, we started to make improvements. One of these was finding that grass cut and preserved on sunny days was greener than that cut on dull or rainy days. As we are based in an area of lots of rainfall, we found that during long periods of rain, grass due for casting could be brought in and placed under Hydroponic lights for six hours prior to preserving.
It is fair to say that this production required a lot of learning on the job for all of us!
Delivering the Project
Project management played a key role in this job. During the time of the project, it was unusual for Midton to have such a large job that ran on for so long. There were lots of moving parts over a long period of time, meaning that care and enthusiasm had to be maintained.
With batch production, planning had a difficult time with the acrylic turf cubes, as it consumed so much capacity and required long cycles during a busy summer. Turf was at every stage of production whilst maintaining 150 other unique jobs. On any day of the week you could walk round the factory and see grass being trimmed, cubed, cast, milled, sawn polished, etched and packaged.
Once produced, we had several unique engravings from GPS spots and special sponsor batches to complete. Finally, after months of hard work and dedication, the acrylic turf cubes were dispatched by the project sponsor DHL.
Upon reflection, the project provided a lot of learning that enabled Midton to go on and work on similar projects with other premiership teams. We discovered ourselves learning a lot more about grass than anyone ever expected, including different grass breeds casting better than others (a thicker blade is especially good!). Since this project we have worked with a number of premiership teams encapsulating many legendary pitches. Further enhancing our process and adapting our methods to suit rubber impregnated pitches and technical hybrid pitches woven with polyethylene.
Through working with Manchester United, we have pushed forward with what we can provide in terms of range of product for a club. We have since moved onto image framing and awards. This collaboration showed us that by taking on a big challenge, it required a lot of hard work and determination but also helped us branch out and discover more possibilities for projects that we would not have considered before.
Some people say the grass is greener on the other side, but we think it’s greener encapsulated in an acrylic cube!