In this latest from the series of blogs on life as a working turfie, we get to know the groundsperson Alex Fitzgerald. Alex shares his passion for the industry, his best and worst parts of the job and his thoughts on the state of the industry.
Name & where do you work?
Alex Fitzgerald and I currently work for St. Helens RFC, the current four times in a row Champions of super league.
Since you started in your new position, what have you learnt that is of most benefit to your career?
It’s a really interesting question and one that I’ve taken a little bit of time to consider. There are different levels to this answer for me, purely due to the number of experiences, lessons and challenges I’ve already been a part of within only a matter of months. But I think the most important thing I’ve learnt is that people will talk. However, the majority of those people, if not all, don’t know your circumstances involved with your input to any given pitch.
Broadly speaking, it could be anything from pest issues to financial issues through the club or even something as basic as poor or lack of machinery impacting the final result. People really have no firm foundation to talk badly about anyone in this industry unless they have seen first hand the cards they’ve been dealt and can talk from that experience. It’s about taking the rough with the smooth really but always levelling their arguments otherwise with the lack of knowledge they have surrounding any given pitch that they’re talking about.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that it’s become a thing for professional sports people and commentators/pundits to get involved in that by mentioning the grounds team in relation to their pitch on live TV. I hear and see it in cricket far too often at all levels, football and pundits love to jump on the bandwagon and Rugby League has started that trend recently too. It’s completely unfair but it does light a fire inside you to want to prove them wrong, even if they’re wrong anyway, I suppose.
When are the best and worst parts of the job?
This is a purely weather-related answer! As professionals with offices 90% of the time outside, it makes it really easy for me to say the worst part or time of the year for this job is the winter. Hands down. Grass has stopped growing, temps are close if not below freezing and there’s a lot of procrastinating when you have caught up on the cleaning up after a busy summer or tidied up a couple of bits of machinery. Things slow down really quick when you hit December for Rugby League, making it a slow run up to Christmas in conditions like we’re all seeing in the last week or two.
The best time of year has to be the opposite season, Summer. Life is back in the grass, it’s multiple shades of green and temps are warm. Those long, light and warm evenings when you could easily (sometimes do!) carry on until 10pm. It really does make the job a dream when the conditions are right.
What is your favourite bit of kit and why?
We have a 40-year-old Iseki TX115 and it’s a right laugh. The clutch is so high that the slightest of movements on the foot and it shoots forward, even in a low gear and on low revs. It’s in need of good service and refurb, which is one of the winter jobs we’re doing currently. The old girl carries around our quadraplay and doesn’t have any issues, it’s a proper classic small tractor. We’ve got the modern mowers etc but I couldn’t pick anything else!
What do you believe it takes to make a top groundsperson?
So easy this one, patience and perseverance. You have to be realistic and see that the majority of professionals in our industry are unfortunately often undervalued or overlooked in some way. Your results with the pitch/es you look after will ultimately be your reputation in their eyes, it takes all that patience and perseverance to keep going in, keep doing the hard work that people don’t see and then produce a result at the end of it that nobody can argue with.
It’s also patience and perseverance from a personal perspective at the minute with working my way up in roles in the industry. I did nearly 11 years purely voluntarily for cricket clubs and football clubs (one football club still ongoing as a voluntary job) before getting to the stage I’m at now. It takes so much patience to grin and bear that struggle at a young age, when all you wanted to do was get a paid start in this industry. Maybe this is an important factor in the industry not having enough young people involved? Who knows?
What would you like to change about the industry?
I’ll write a list!
· Respect towards us as professionals
· The GMA!
· More work-based Education opportunities for young people coming into our industry
· Better, more affordable access to proper qualifications for workers not involved in professional sport.
· A better understanding of our work from everyone outside of the industry (more/better publicity)
· Opportunities for young experienced/qualified people to work their way up in job roles when ready.
· School outreach programs to get children interested in the industry from a younger age.
· A proper workers union for everyone working in our industry.
There’s a fair few more, but those are my main gripes when it relates to the sports turf industry.
Why do you get out of bed in the morning and go to work? What motivates you in your career?
I think my motivation comes from the finished pitch when a matchday comes around. I’d say this even if I was just the groundsman at the amateur football club too. I think ultimately our working week is based around that presentation and performance of the pitch come matchday. We build up to it, we work towards it and really it is the thing that makes me go back for more. On the good days it’s like a drug, the adrenaline rush of seeing people enjoying your work. On the bad days, it’s motivation to do better.
What are your future career aspirations?
Well, I’m currently working for a club I’ve supported since I was a kid. It means a lot to be directly involved with the club, players and other staff. We all share that same buzz as well I think, which makes everyone that little bit more familiar with each other. So based on working for the clubs you support, I’d love to be at Everton one day as head of grounds for Finch Farm or the new stadium Bramley Moore. Just to be involved at Everton would be a tick on the bucket list, so I work towards that goal everyday, everyday becomes a step closer. After then, who knows? But I am quite excited about learning more and going as far and as high as I can in my career.
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