Advice and From a Grassroots Groundsman Across Sports
In our industry we see some fine examples of the perfect pitches be it cricket, football, rugby, tennis and so on, curated by some of the best professionals around. Behind their work is often a team of hard working people and finances that wouldn’t be seen at grassroots level. Every month I’ll be writing an article from the view point of groundsmen and staff at the bottom of the industries ladder, hoping to give an insight of the things lesser seen and some creative ideas that work when we’re thrown in at the deep end.
Many different factors and situations impact groundsmen at our level in the industry. It’s never straight forward and with it comes a lesson pretty quickly to think on your feet and make the best of every tough situation. But, there are positives to the job and a lot of opportunities for people to get on the ladder to big things above this level in the sports pitch maintenance world.
My experience so far has largely been at a multi-sports club that uses 2 cricket pitches for various different sports over the course or any given 12 months. Along with the 2 grass pitches, the club is home to one top grade astro turf hockey pitch and a utility astro turf used for rentals.
The grass pitch break down is pretty straight forward, but complex within it’s meaning. From April through to September both of the grass pitches are home to cricket. The first and second team play in a high level within their well recognised league. The 3rd, 4th and 5th team use the 2nd cricket pitch on Saturdays and Sundays and although their level isn’t as competitive, the work is still required as the 2nd pitch is rented out throughout the season. Throughout the entirety of the cricket season, both grass pitches are purely inhabited by cricket with no other sports sharing the facilities. However, through from September to April things tend to become as clear as mud! The take over of the winter sports sees both cricket outfields overcome with various pitch markings, which includes; 2x 7v7, 2x 9v9 & 2x 11v11 football pitches. On top of cricket, the winter months also sees Lacrosse take to the pitches, with a women’s pitch (different size to a male pitch) and a senior men’s pitch too.
The cricket squares have 14 wickets (1st pitch) and 8 wickets (2nd pitch) respectively and take the usual carefully calculated work to perform to their best come the season. The effect that the football and lacrosse has on the cricket outfields does fall into the cricket season, as much as we might try to prevent that. The sheer number of football games in particular creates the usual goalmouth ruts along with the well trodden touchline. We try to position the pitch so that these areas are as irrelevant as possible come a cricket season, for example a goal mouth might be at cow corner and deep cover. The touchlines run along the length of the square on the main pitch, so we’ve asked all of the parents, coaches and players involved in a match to stand on the opposite touchline, so again this means the least detrimental damage possible with the touchline being along the long off long on area or fine leg and 3rd man dependant on which way you are batting.
In terms of the majority of each of the football pitches and their subsequent condition at the end of each football season, it is relatively good. With the support of a vertidrain and shockwaving programme we are able to keep the water flowing through in most areas, leaving the muddy areas to a minimum.
The key to having a reasonable condition to the pitches come the start of each cricket season for us is having everyone involved in the winter sports on board and supporting you as a grounds team. It’s absolutely useless if one of the coaches or committee members involved in either of the Football or Lacrosse sections are working against you for whatever reason. They need to understand in simple, simple terms the outcome and the impact of them playing on the pitches across various conditions, whilst understanding where and when it’s appropriate to play and to cancel their games.
The pitches on the back of a weeks worth of torrential rain, whilst it rains all the way up to kick off, is not an appropriate situation to play a junior football game. Often either myself or my colleague will be around on a Saturday or Sunday morning, making the job a 7 day a week effort. As well as you might have someone on side, there is always a coach or a situation whereby they will push their luck and try and play if you are not around.
Our job is absolutely to get games on and to go along with the agreed schedules on the pitches handed to us by the executives, however, there is a line. We have to consider and balance the outcome we’re left with after each game and the subsequent build up of those outcomes leading into a cricket season. We also must consider that if one game is played on the back of heavy rain and during such weather, it could potentially take that particular pitch out of play for a week or two following the game if there is no improvement to the weather. As we know in the industry and regardless of the sport we provide our expertise to, a lot of what we do is reliant, dependant or affected by the weather.
Like most things at amateur sports clubs, you have to work with people that simply have no grasp of the work we do in the industry. That isn’t meant in a rude or condescending way, however it is the truth. With football in particular, we are battling through a generation of people that used to play sport on any football pitch, be it covered by water, muddy, frozen or any kind of unplayable. They don’t understand that if they play in those conditions the likelihood of being able to have the facilities they see on TV drastically diminish. It’s getting them to have a balance of wanting to play their match at that moment, whilst considering the effect and if they can play future matches or have better pitches to play on. To us, it’s certainly our biggest challenge in the winter months and it’s a battle that neither are likely to prevail with any time soon.
The priorities that the coaches/parents have currently in junior football is listed in this order; 1. We want to have a pitch like we see on the TV 2. But, we want ‘ little Tommy’ and his mates to play their games every single week 3. Little Tommy and his mates must play their match at any costs. When you list it like that you can see how contradictory their logic is. This isn’t a criticism of all coaches or parents as there is plenty that understand things a lot better, however we will still have this battle of changing their mentality for a while yet.
When it’s coming up to the cross over, whereby cricket is starting and the football moves off the pitches, it is literally all hands on deck. The football stops the weekend before the cricket starts, so we really don’t have the option to do a renovation of any kind on the outfields. It’s a process we have to drag out throughout the early part of the cricket season, renovating small areas at a time that can be taken out of play when in a state of recovery or growth. Our pre season work on each square will start in Later February early March and providing our end of season renovation from the season prior was done correctly, it usually leaves us in a strong position come late April when the season begins.
The issues that the winter sports throw up can and do effect the pitches going forward, ultimately we are there to provide a damage limitation effect. The funding to do the relevant recovery work if the time was there could probably be mustered up, however that wouldn’t be the case every year. We are balancing a very small grounds maintenance budget which covers everything from mowers, to repairs through to fertiliser and grass seed. Sometimes we just have to close our eyes and go out swinging if you like, knowing that we’re up against it but we have to drive through it. In the grand scheme of things although the amount of work we can do in the winter reduces somewhat, the battle in other departments intensifies.
We work with the upkeep and maintenance of a high level hockey astro turf and the other astro turf pitch too, thrown in with the best recovery and preparation we can on the grass pitches in time for an influx of weekend fixtures across Lacrosse and Football. We are proud of the work that we do, because even with some tough periods where things don’t look perfect and pretty, we always see better days on our pitches. I think from our point of view it’s that fact that keeps us going through winter. Without sounding arrogant we work hard to get things done and the amount of games we lose throughout the year, across all of the sports, is kept to an absolute minimum which indicates we’re doing something right. It must be understood that at grassroots level, teams don’t play the club doesn’t make money it needs to survive or thrive. Ultimately, we’re the ones most responsible for making that flow of funds flowing without too many blockages.