Secondly, hello! my name is Tom Banks and I’ve been a volunteer groundsman for the last 9 years at Kirkoswald Football Club. Kirkoswald FC is a Step 8 level team based in Cumbria, we play in the Westmorland Football League and were formed in 1946.
Kirkoswald is home to “The Old Showfield” and currently has 2 teams calling it home, following Kirkoswald Reserve team being formed 5 years ago. The pitch was formally used as a grazing meadow for livestock, however over the years the land has been turned into a football pitch, cricket pitch and community play area.
Now with the background of the club and pitch explained, I would like to share with you what it’s like being a volunteer groundsman at grassroots level!
I’ll start with our location, we are just on the edge of The Lake District, meaning we get our fair share and then some of rain! That being said, when good weather comes our way it’s one of the best backdrops to a game of football you could find. I’ve found with experience over the years that the weather is one of the main obstacles to maintain the quality of the ground, especially during the winter.
Limited Grounds Budget
Unlike many of the bigger clubs we don’t have a big budget for pitch maintenance, we have to beg and borrow what we can! In my spare time over the last 5 years I have been researching and implementing what it takes to improve and maintain a football pitch in the short and long term. Before this I just turned up, cut the grass and hoped for the best!
This season has actually been the first time we applied any kind of fertiliser to the ground and we have also had the pitch aerated by NorthEast ProCore Ltd who used a ProCore 648. Before this we had the pitch “professionally” aerated by a local farmer with an agricultural aerator… this didn’t go to plan though as it ripped chunks out of the pitch, lesson learnt on that one!!!
My equipment list is quite basic but I find it’s enough to do most of the maintenance on the pitch:
- John Deere GX355 with a triple rotary cutting deck
- 4ft tow along water filled roller
- 4ft tow along spiker to a depth of 4 inch
- 4ft tow along brush – made by myself
- iGO Advance Line Marking Machine
- 5x forks for replacing divots
As The Old Showfield is essentially a field that we have turned into a football pitch, drainage can be a problem. The only thing in place to help are the land drains that were already there and as the soil make up is mainly clay based, the pitch tends to naturally hold onto a lot of water.
In the past the club rolled the pitch after every game to flatten the surface back down, however this just added to the problem as the compacted ground then stopped any chance of the water draining away.
Knowledge Growth in Turfcare
Over time as my knowledge grew it was obvious to me that compaction was one of the worst things for the pitch. As an alternative the club invested in a tow along 4ft spiking machine, although this doesn’t penetrate the ground anywhere near the depth as the bigger machines, I have noticed a considerable improvement in the drainage and over all condition of the pitch.
Now after every game myself and four or five of the players go out and fork the pitch to replace the divots. Although this usually means we miss out on food after the game at the pub, this is the joys of grassroots football everyone pitches in and helps out. In the days following I normally give the pitch a spike and a brush to further relieve compaction and tidy up the surface.
On the run up to a match day I try to cut the pitch at the start of the week and then again ideally on the day of the game. This all depends on work and family commitments, sometimes a friday night has to do and sometimes my two children become my apprentices on the Saturday morning!!
The cut before the game is when I get creative with the look of the pitch!! I’ve had likes and comments on my Instagram pictures from a few top groundsmen, which pushes me on to go bigger and better with my designs.
I made a brush to run behind the mower (you can buy these for over £150 but I made one for £60!!) which stripes the grass up really well and makes the design and presentation stand out. The brush is also a great tool for removing morning dew and standing the grass up prior to cutting, also helping in grass recovery and preventing disease. I even had a request from another local groundsman to make him one to fit his mower.
I mark out the pitch before every game as there is nothing worse than faint lines on a well-presented pitch. We use an iGO Advance Line Marker along with Rigby Taylor Impact XP line marker paint which gives a super bright line. I’m helped out with the marking out of the lines by former player and committee member Mike Chubb, who does a fantastic job and without his help I would be under pressure.
That leads me on to say that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help, Groundsmen at grassroots level usually do the work as a hobby or a passion and sometimes its easy put too much pressure on yourself to keep up with the demands of the club.
Affects of Covid 19 on The Pitch
As the season has been brought to a premature end due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the end of season renovations have been scaled down. I have been able to topdress and reseed both goalmouths early, which is a nice bonus to have. I started by heavily scarifying the worn area, then I hand aerated the compacted surface due to being unable to hire the usual mechanical aeration machine, all this equalled a happy volunteer groundsman.
I then brushed some sports sand into the core holes, applied some top dressing over the top and built up any low points. I finished by working the grass seed in, covering the whole area with germination sheets and I gave everything a good watering.
It has now been 3 weeks since I did the renovations and with regular watering, I have a good covering of grass coming through. Hopefully the grass should be well established by the time we can resume training/playing.
Support of The Club is Key to a volunteer groundsman
I would like to thank Kirkoswald FC as they have backed me with the funding and desire to try and improve the quality of our pitch to make it the best it can be. I said earlier that being a volunteer groundsman at grassroots level is about begging and borrowing, however it’s not all about spending money and having the best equipment! One of the best things you can do is to seek knowledge from others to improve your skills. If you don’t have a real understanding then no machine around will help you.
You can pick up tips and advice from all forms of social media, and the internet is a great place to see what other people are doing in the same situation as yourself.
Many thanks to Brian of TurfCareBlog for asking me write this to shed some light on what us volunteer groundsman do!
Stay safe and here’s to getting back to some normality soon.
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