My Story as a Grassroots Volunteer Groundsman, is a story of the unfolding journey of a volunteer groundsman.
My cricket club is part of a recreation club that has bowls section, cricket section and football pitch, though currently no football section of the club but to begin with my story starts with cricket
I became a volunteer groundsman for the last two cricket games of my club’s 2019 season, a case of putting your money where your mouth is after feeling that our pitch could be so much better than it currently was.
I inherited an old Ransome Super Certes, set at 3mm cutting height that cut both the square and the match stripe. A 1984 Bomag roller, an old transfer wheel line marker for the boundary and a brush and length of wood for marking up the popping creases on the match strip.
My first move was to get some training on how to look after a cricket pitch, so I took a GMA course on cricket pitches that would consist of online sections followed by a practical section one day in the summer of 2020.
The online stuff was eye opening, I never realised that to prepare a pitch you needed to know so much but it was worth it and I passed the online section and looked forward to the practical bit, then Covid hit and the practical never happened and sadly no refund was received from the GMA for the fact that the practical section was no longer, not great when the course cost £162. However, I thought I’d learnt enough to take on the job with gusto.
2020 started and I started looking for mowers that could cut the square so that the Ransome could just look after the match strip and a mower for the outfield as our outfield was cut once a week by an external company, normally on a Tuesday or Wednesday depending when they were in the area and I managed to find a couple of half decent Atco’s on e-bay that should do the job.
March came and pre-season work starter ready for the 2020 season, only it didn’t start, just as we started to get nice hot weather, now the priority was to find the right hose and water irrigation product to keep the square watered and ready for when the season would finally start, 2 attempts later I got the right products I needed. Finally, the season started and we had 11 weeks of cricket but the work I’d put in based on what I’d learnt saw a little bit of improvement on the playing surface.
End of season and with the help of one of our juniors father (who is head groundsman at a local golf club), we managed to scarify the square for the first time in I don’t know how long and the amount of thatch that came out was unbelievable, we then seeded and loamed all with the use of equipment begged and borrowed from people he knew thankfully and with that another list of requirements started to form in my head.
End of season is literally that at my club, the square is put to bed and forgotten about until March the following year, so again another list forms in my head.
A Groundsman’s Machinery Wish List
By the time 2021 has come round and having bought an original John Deere 2653, yep not a 2653a or 2653b, a 2653 to be renovated over a 24-month period, I’d spent approx. £3k of my own money, not the club’s money, my own money to try and make what we played on so much better than it was. My advice is don’t do this, you may be doing it for the right reasons but really you need to get your club to buy into your ideas and find grants to purchase what you need.
However, you could see the improvement on the pitch surface with me putting in at least 20 hours a week on the pitch and still playing on a Saturday. We started to get a regular bounce and carry, no more, a ball around your head, then your ankles all off the same length but still the list of kit required grew along with the complaints from the club along the lines of “where was all this kit going to go” and “do we really need it” as the space under the clubhouse began to fill up with equipment we had not had before.
Meanwhile, either due to a medical issue or a lapse in concentration I somehow volunteered to start to look after the Recreation clubs football pitch as an u13 football team moved to the club for the 2020/21 football season. I managed to get the Recreation Club to purchase a cheap spray line marker to move up from the transfer wheel as this always needed 2 goes round the field to put a proper mark down, I say cheap it still cost £550 and even that purchase was questioned on the lines of do we really need it?
With string lines that had more knots than you can count, I managed with help from friends to mark-up both an U13 pitch and an U10 pitch but with no other equipment that’s all I could do.
And the list of kit wanted keeps growing.
2021 cricket season came and went with good comments on the state of the pitch and how it played. End of Season Renovations done with a slight change, the recreation club bought an old Sisis scarifier from the Bowls groundsman after he’d bought a brand new one, so we had a good scarifier to rip up the thatch and we now put fertiliser down as part of the renovations and continued to fertilise through the winter but still need to find a way to aerate. 2021/22 football season came and went and no further equipment purchased, just lines marked for what was now an u14 team.
The 2653 was stripped down and restoration work started at which point the Cricket club started to buy the equipment I’d bought off me for the club to the point only a 3rd of the money I’d spent is left outstanding.
Into the 2022 cricket season and the request for a Combirake to help with match strip preparation. The usual questions arise, “what do you want it for?”, “what use is it?”, “How much?”. All questions answered but due to the cost, it would have to wait until we, in the meantime the cost goes up from £595 ex vat and delivery to £775 ex vat and delivery. Hoping I’ll get one this winter ready for 2023.
The Bowls groundsman left and with it left a pedestrian engine driven sorrel roller which due to his kind donation suddenly became mine. This would come in useful for end of season renovations but still the questions come with the “do we need it?” and “Can we scrap it?”, “Can we sell it”. Thankfully my “know it can’t” was listened to but not taken that well by some.
The square continues to improve, the third EOS is the best yet, scarified day 1 with a half rate seed, Day 2 Sorrel rolled to get some aeration into the surface (Told you it would come in useful), full rate seed, loamed and fertilised. Still the list of kit required grows but with the cricket section in a good place and beginning to understand what I’m trying to do; all we need now is a pitch inspection and access to grants to show we are going in the right direction and can now start getting the kit we require without skimping. We are still waiting on the Combirake but now have a rotary mower for the square to cut the grass during the off season.
Into the 2022/23 football season and the realisation that the paint we use and the spray machine are not up to the task as the Recreation club moves forward and rents out the football pitch to the incumbent (now) U15 team and a U11 girls’ team, the request go’s in for an upgrade, not just for the line marker and paint but what is needed to mark out a pitch, so line, reel, pins, etc.
Communication is Key
Wanting the recreation club to understand the need to improve, I tried to get across that I don’t want the club to pay me just to invest in getting the kit, if they can’t do that then I wouldn’t be able to continue to work on the football side of stuff, an ultimatum? Yes definitely, there’s a point when you think enough is enough.
A discussion follows where I’m told the club can’t afford what I’m asking for, that it has always been done on a shoestring budget until now and why is the change needed? Why can’t we keep doing what we are doing?
Explanations follow explaining the strings we use has run its course, the paint although cheap washes away easily but also block up the spray machine, even though it can be used in spray machines, you have to use more of the paint so over time it costs more money than buying a better paint and the paint doesn’t mix while you spray the line.
The new machine has a lithium battery so it holds its charge better, it has a 25-litre capacity as well as a separate clean water section. It can also be used to spray liquid Fertiliser and liquid weedkiller which would be useful for both the cricket and Bowls section (as long as you buy the right accessory).
In the end, we can move to better paint, in time we can get the new line and reel and lastly, we can get the spray machine in time.
Not the result I wanted but a start.
So What Now?
So, what now as we try to improve the playing facilities without skimping the club? Well first step is to look into Pitch Power from the Football foundation, see what can be done there, get the pitch inspected so we can go to the recreation club with the results, find grants that can buy us the equipment we need to improve the pitch and build a garage to store it all, as under the clubhouse just isn’t big enough.
Continue the learning, I’ve done a level 1 football course for groundsman via the GMA so if we can start getting the equipment to improve the pitch then I need to continue to improve my understanding of how to look after said pitch and get the best out of the equipment Not only that but continue teaching the recreation club on why I’m doing what I’m doing and bring them along on the journey.
As for the cricket side very similar to the football side, let’s find the grants to improve the equipment we have available, updating old equipment with new and bringing in equipment we don’t have to continue the improvements we have already started to see. The Cricket club is on the journey now but we will need that garage.
And still the list grows.
Andrew Walsh (Groundsman) at Denby Grange Colleries Athletic Club
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