For pitch expert Jonathan Teo, the green is indeed greener on the other side. To say that the former prison warden loves his job is an understatement.
“I eat, sleep, and breathe grass,” said the 55-year-old pitch architect at Kallang Alive Sports Management (KASM), who made the bold decision to switch careers 30 years ago.
Toiling under the hot sun, in a job that "easily clocks 22,000 steps daily" and requires one to get their hands dirty may not seem like an ideal occupation for many. But Teo would not have it any other way.
"I can even smell cut grass from a mile away," said Teo with a laugh, about his obsession with grass. "By looking at it (the turf), I know whether it has been maintained and cut. It is almost like second nature already, because it's been so long."
It is Teo’s 30-year dedication and passion to the field of pitch management that has seen the National Stadium gain a reputation for having one of the best-turfed sports facilities in the region.
The National Stadium's playing surface drew praise from Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp when Liverpool visited during the Festival of Football in June 2023. The pitch was also in pristine condition for Singapore's FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Guam in October and Thailand in November.
The National Stadium pitch has come a long way from when the stadium first opened in 2014. The main challenge then was centred around growing turf at the stadium, due to different climate conditions.
The solution was to grow the turf off-site and then lay it at the stadium to ensure an optimal playing surface.
That the National Stadium is a multi-use facility, home to rugby, athletics, concerts and community events during various times of the year, meant that Teo and his team constantly have think of how to optimally lay and remove the turf to suit the different needs of events.
Said Teo: "Our lay-and-play strategy involves cutting the pitch into 10 by 1 meter turf rolls, each weighing about 1.1 tons. "We install and remove these rolls to ensure a perfect pitch for various events, consisting of approximately 700 rolls."
Teo's expertise is rooted in a certified turf grass professional diploma from the University of Georgia. But it is his knack for solving complex challenges that truly sets him apart. "I've spent almost three decades with turf grass, but what I excel at is recognising challenges and applying solutions, turning projects from negative to positive," he said.
Teo's journey began at the Laguna National Golf and Country Club where he started as a golf course manager. He would spend close to a decade working at golf courses in Singapore before venturing overseas. He spent another 10 years working in North Africa, Hong Kong, China, and Indonesia, managing golf resorts and also delving into hotel management.
However, his heart remained rooted in turf management.
To maintain pitch excellence, Teo stresses the importance of proactive maintenance. Collecting and analysing data, staying informed about weather conditions, and addressing issues promptly are key.
"Every day is different," he emphasized. "Proactivity ensures we know our pitches inside out, allowing us to address potential problems before they worsen. "Simple details such as today's rain, how much was recorded, how much sunlight did we get, all this you need to be proactive in collecting all this data, in understanding your pitch.
"By being proactive, you tend to know your pitches at your fingertips. Only then will you be able to pick up and react to any disease, outbreak, insect infestation, very, very quickly."
To stay at the forefront of his field, he keeps himself informed about best practices globally. He maintains close ties with grounds men from renowned football clubs like Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, and Bayern Munich. These connections help him provide high-quality pitches that the world's best athletes can appreciate.
Regionally, Teo was a consultant for top Malaysia club Johor Darul Takzim's stadium and projects in South Korea. His approach to challenges is akin to an adventure.
"When you remove boundaries, challenges become opportunities," he explains. "By forming strong relationships with my team and carefully analysing data, we tackle challenges collaboratively, using our combined 50 years of experience."
Teo will next lend his expertise to the upcoming Kallang Football Hub. The hub, which includes both natural and artificial pitches, as well as sheltered pitches, will be home to Singapore top youth teams under the Unleash The Roar! project and the various national football teams.
"Pitch architecture is not just a job, it's a lifelong journey," said Teo. "Every day brings new discoveries and challenges, and I'm excited to see what the future holds. The unpredictability of this profession is what keeps me going."
(This story by was written by Mashidayat Maszeniand first published on Unleash The Roar!)