Driving force in ITSUO MATSUMURA's engine

Keeping the turf is his game.
Cerezo Osaka Turf Maintenance Advisor. He began working in the management of sports facilities around 1964 and has been managing the turf of stadiums for over 55 years. A legendary groundskeeper who has supported the Japanese football. In 2015, he was asked to go to Vietnam to improve the training environment for the Vietnam national football team sponsored by Yanmar. His expertise about turf has been behind the team’s recent success in Southeast Asia.

※Interviewed online on January 29, 2021.

Support the performance
of athletes through turf maintenance.

Stepping into a stadium with excitement, you are always greeted by a bright, lush football pitch. You should know that there are professionals who’re working hard to keep the field green. Cerezo Osaka Turf Maintenance Advisor, Itsuo Matsumura is the legend of ground keeping for Japanese football fields for many years, managing the turf of the stadiums used for the J-League and the Japan-Korea World Cup in 2002. We asked Matsumura, who will turn 79 this year, about his driving force, the "engine".
Q:As a turf advisor for Cerezo Osaka, you manage the turf at the home stadium and training ground. Could you tell us what kind of work you do?
My job is to please the spectators by keeping a beautiful, green field that is perfect for football all year round. And also, it is my duty to create an environment where players can show 100% of their performance in the stadium. We the groundskeepers work together to keep the conditions consistent as in the stadium and the training field which have the same kind of grasses and the cut. In Japan, there are four seasons with temperatures varying by almost 30 degrees Celsius, so the living turf can be easily affected by the season. We check the condition of the turf every day and take care of its health and growth throughout the year, just like babies.
Q:In 2015, you gave your expertise to help the Vietnam national football team for their ground maintenance. Could you tell us about that experience?
Yanmar asked me to help improve the training environment for the Vietnam national team and I visited there. Their ground was as rough as our ground in Japan 50 years ago. I told the Vietnam Football Association about our turf maintenance techniques, how to use the machines I had introduced, and other ways to improve the ground condition. Since I was there for short time on business trip, I went into this project with the determination that I would leave all of my expertise to the local staff. Two years later, I was surprised to see the ground had been transformed into a beautiful green pitch; even the Cerezo staff who went with me said that they could hold a J-League game there. I was really happy to see everyone in Vietnam did a great job.
I have received thank-you letters from them. In recent years, the Vietnam national team has been doing very well in Southeast Asia, and I am so proud to think that I was able to play a small part for their success. I am grateful to everyone who helped me in this project.
Former Cerezo players, including Kagawa, Inui, Minamino, and other players all played on the pitch that Matsumura maintained. He doesn’t talk to the players, but he knows how to contribute to the football stars. His work and dedications are all on the turf with his humbleness.

He is always trying to keep
the best turf for everyone.

No matter how long his career has been, he says he is still learning from the turf. It is different every day. He tells us how hard to deal with the nature as his job. We asked what his "engine" that lies deep in his heart is.
Q:What are the difficulties you face as a groundskeeper and when do you find it the most rewarding?
We have to find the best grass from dozens of varieties for each location and environment and sometimes it goes well or not too well. We also need the field to be adaptable to various events other than football games and follow the new technology in football boots and their spikes. It is difficult to make the best pitch with a living turf under variable conditions. Turf is somewhat like my own child. That's why I'm so happy and proud to see the turf fulfills the role very well.
Q:Have you ever made a mistake in your job?
Yes, of course. A lot of things. I still remember the opening game of the Japan League, even before the J-League. I was in charge of the turf maintenance at the stadium where the match between Yanmar Diesel Soccer Club, the predecessor of Cerezo Osaka, and Hiroshima Toyo Kogyo was held. It took two months to replace 8,000 square meters of turf by hand, however, when the players kicked the ball, the turf easily peeled up as the summer grass was not firmly rooted in the soil. Fortunately, none of the players were injured, but I lost words when I saw all the turf got torn up. The disappointment I felt at that time made me study about turf more and I still do today. When a player lost a game, he will try to make up for it at the next game, right? I will try the same way for the next opportunity.
Q:What is your "engine"?
The pitch is a place where the groundskeepers also show their skills. Everyone who comes to the stadium for a game stares at the pitch. I believe that my mission is to ensure the players give 100% performance on a beautiful pitch and the audience enjoy the game. In a way, I challenge the players for the turf's sake. I put all my efforts to keep the turf strong enough to withstand the intense play and keep the pitch safe that the turf doesn't tear or turn when the players kick. That's when the pitch wins. I think the challenging spirit is my driving force.
Turf is something I work with to face challenges. Before a game, I always shiver and stare at the pitch with a strong feeling that nothing can beat us. Anxiety will not help. I will just try. Bring it on to my turf.
Keeping the turf is my game, said Matsumura with a look of a challenger. The beautiful turf must have survived the severe matches. Finally, we ask him who continues to fulfill his responsibilities as a turf advisor to share his thoughts on his work.
Working with a gratitude of heart.
Q:What does your job mean to you?
I have been able to work for so long because of the support that the people gave me. I am full of gratitude to many people, including my seniors when I started the job, the staff at the stadium and the training field, the players, and the audience. I think few people can find the perfect job from the start, but by experiencing and learning a lot from mistakes, you will gradually get a sense of pride in your job. On the other hand, you have to have a strict standard for your job. For me, when it comes to the game pitch, I cannot fail the players on the field because the audiences pay money to watch the football match.
Q:Any advice for people who are going to try for something new?
When things are going well or you are successful, you tend to forget to be grateful, but don't forget that there are many people who worked hard to make you success. Be considerate and grateful to the people who supported you to take on your challenges. You are here because of you and the people who helped you.
The turf he has grown is on the verge of success. The Vietnam national football team qualified for the Asian Cup for the first time after Matsumura taught how to improve it. In 2018, they won the Southeast Asian Football Championship, and in 2019, they became the first team in history to win the Southeast Asian Games with both men's and women's teams. The Vietnam national teams, including men's and women's A-teams and the youth team, have grown dramatically over the past few years to become the best in Southeast Asia. This year, Cerezo Osaka welcomes the Vietnam national team goalkeeper who has played on Matsumura’s pitch. In June, our new home stadium, YODOKO Sakura Stadium, will be unveiled. I am sure that Matsumura must be waiting for the players and spectators. Can't wait for the new season!