Kicking Off!

Dave Saltmanin Industry News

DaveSaltman-Aug09.jpgWell, it's all kicked off in the past few weeks, hasn't it. And I am not talking about Carlos Tevez throwing his toys out of the pram at Manchester City - there's a story that you could have written months ago in readiness for the event!

No, I am referring to various posts on our message board. It began with Peter Britton's review of this year's Saltex - a decent bit of honesty, in my view - that sparked all manner of views, both for and against the idea of one industry show; but let's not go there again.

This was followed by a situations vacant advert, for a groundsman at a school, that appeared to offer a paltry wage. I confess I had some sympathy with the original postee until I had delved further.

It turns out that it was not a full-time position, and the little primary school was, in truth, looking for a semi-retired person who wanted some decent pin money. Of course, legally, they are not allowed to put that in the advert - ageism, or some such nonsense - so it came across as an advert for a full-time professional.

What the advert did do was spark an interesting debate, not only about wages but also, about the role of the volunteer groundsman devaluing that of the professional groundsman, and then headed off into youngsters not joining the industry because of the poor remuneration.

The first point is an interesting one. Perhaps the two sports that benefit most from volunteer groundsmen or greenkeepers are cricket and bowls, those two quintessentially British sports. Clubs are generally run on a shoestring budget, at best, with ageing machinery being nursed through every season, until they finally give up the ghost (the machines, not the groundsman!). And, of course, the players of both sports expect, nay demand, quality playing surfaces, yet are not prepared to foot the bill via increased membership fees.

In many cases, the bowls greenkeeper will be a retired person who does the job out of affection for 'his' club. It is generally the same in lower level cricket. Often, though, cricket groundsmen work within the industry at a higher level - golf course, football club or similar - and tend the square in their spare time. So, are they devaluing their profession by doing this?

My personal view is that all volunteer groundsmen or greenkeepers perform a valuable service for their community, and it would be a sad state of affairs if we lost these clubs. The setting up of Pitchcare was, in part, to help just these folk with advice freely given by professionals and experienced amateurs alike. You may well say that even a professional giving advice to a volunteer devalues the profession. I sincerely hope that is not the case, rather that they wish to see playing surfaces improve across the board.

In the latest issue of our magazine, our cover story concerns a student at Reaseheath College, with an intro by his lecturer, James Grundy. It is well worth a read, and may dispel some of the concerns about youngsters coming into our industry.

We also talk to two septuagenarian groundsmen about the work they undertake and the passion they still have for the job.

We feature turfcare professionals of all ages, and the one common factor is their passion and dedication.

But, passion and dedication does not pay the mortgage or put food on the table.

The subject of wages is, I confess, a conundrum. Wages in this industry, certainly at the lower levels, are considered poor and, whilst the two associations publish pay scales, they are largely ignored by most employers.

There is also the 'lucky to have a job' mentality, in these economically difficult times, that affects both employers and employees, the latter often reluctant to push their claims for better pay and conditions.

It is a typical scenario for a trade union to get involved in. Pitchcare did try, a few years ago, to instigate a trade union for our industry, but the response was, at best, one of disinterest, apart from the vocal few.

Maybe the time is now right to consider that option again? I'd be interested in your views.

Dave Saltman

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