From National League to the Premier League - a #GroundsWeek story

James Kimmingsin Football

As #GroundsWeek gets underway, we spoke to Shawn Bishton, Grounds Team Leader at Wolverhampton Wanderers FC about his passion for the industry. Shawn talked us through his journey which has seen him go from Kidderminster Harriers in the National League North, to preparing pitches on a Europa League night for his boyhood club at Wolves.

Shawn rolled back the clock and started by highlighting his early years in the industry: "My first step was when I left school and went to Kidderminster College where I got my first apprenticeship at Kidderminster Harriers. That opportunity gave me the foundations to develop my skills and undertake my level 2. I was running the training ground on a daily basis. This involved talking to the coaches and players to determine what was required from us as grounds staff and this was my first real experience of hands-on work within the industry. I was at Kidderminster for three seasons."

Shawn pays tribute to his current boss and head groundsman at Wolves, Wayne Lumbard to how he got his foot in the door at the Premier League team. "A job came up at Wolves and Wayne helped me out massively by speaking to the powers above to recommend me for the job. I joined as an apprentice, completing my level three. I have been at Wolves for five seasons and was promoted to a team leader role this year."

He summarised the experience simply: "I went from non-league to Europe League within a season. It was one extreme to another. You go from working at the local club down the road, to then work on pitches viewed by however many thousands on a Europa League night." He continued: "When I was completing my level 3, I needed a bit more structure and that is exactly what I got here at Wolves. For example, I needed irrigation systems to complete my level three at Kidderminster but we didn't have that, so joining Wolves definitely helped my development. Kidderminster was a great general overview of what it is like working as a groundsman, but Wolves helped me to develop the more scientific and technical aspects of the job. Being in a team leader role, I have more responsibility and that is certainly something I like."

Molineux and Compton Park Training Ground

Shawn told us about what he loves most about the job: "It has to be when you cut the pitch and then look out and see how nice it looks. You see the stripes and squares, the sun shining on it and it has to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing jobs to work in."

Shawn on his aspirations for the future: "I think I was lucky in a way, I got to where I wanted to be quite early. Working with Wolves was a dream quite early on and I have achieved that. Now, I think I just want to keep learning my trade and moving forward. I have always had a dream about working in America as I love the culture over there. And, of course, one of the main draws is the weather. When it's warm all the time, I can imagine it makes life easier."

The issue of gratification in the industry is evident and Shawn shares the same view as many others; changes need to be made to pay structures in order to show the value of those individuals working in the industry. "Our industry is classed as a skill, but I don't think that it is recognised in the same way as other jobs in different sectors. It is moving forward, but it's a slow process. Money talks and many are changing industries to get paid more."

"You can't have football and pitches at the standards they are, without groundspersons. Without us, you can't play football to the level that it is at now. All the pitches in England are quality and that is something that needs to be recognised. This industry is one of the only industries where you can interact with Premier League players without a degree or very advanced education." He summarised, "If you love football, then I would always recommend this job."

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