That Was The Year That Was!

Peter Brittonin Editorial

To borrow from the sixties satirical TV show TW3 (That Was The Week That Was), 2020 proved to be one hell of a year.

Who would have thought, back at the end January when the industry was lubricating itself at Harrogate, that a pandemic virus was already in our midst, leading to a National lockdown that closed golf courses, stopped the Premier League in its tracks and affected all major sports and events.

BIGGA took the sad but inevitable step to cancel BTME 2021, in part due to the Harrogate Centre being used as a Nightingale hospital. Similarly, SALTEX 2020 was postponed until March 2021 by the IOG - later to be rebranded as the GMA (Grounds Management Association) - and then subsequently postponed again to November 2021 at the NEC.

Two iconic world sporting events - Wimbledon and The Open - fell victim to the pandemic, whilst other winter sports made the effort to finish one season and start another; all behind closed doors.

Staff across all sectors were furloughed and, in some cases, made redundant, leading to mental health issues for many, including amongst those still working through the grass growing season. Remember, it is good to talk.

Businesses across the UK, from the bespoke cheese maker in Devon to the High Street multinationals, struggled to survive the first lockdown, only to see a return to some sort of 'normal' once it had ended.

Summer sports returned in a heavily revamped format, with the Bob Willis Trophy proving a more than acceptable replacement for the County Cricket Championship. A bonus for true cricket fans was that the One Hundred got cancelled!

Golf courses reopened, with many reporting a surge in membership as people realised the true value of open spaces or simply just being outside. Bowls and tennis were also allowable pursuits under the government guidelines.

People took holidays; packing onto beaches, swarming into our national parks, visiting national treasures (no, not Billy Connolly) or flying off to not always warmer climes as the UK enjoyed a proper summer (at least weather-wise!) Somehow, a second spike seemed inevitable, and so it has transpired.

A second lockdown, followed by the tier system, will result in businesses struggling at what should have been one of their most busy time of the year. The 2,000 lucky fans allowed into football matches will be turned away again in tier 3 - something of a bonus if you are an Arsenal fan!

Through all this mayhem, the grass kept growing but, as some of the Pitchcare articles will testify, often the bare minimum was being done to keep surfaces in some sort of respectable condition.

Budgets were cut, renovation work reduced or, in some cases, cancelled altogether. As one rugby head groundsmen commented; "when they [the management] want to save money, the first place they look is the groundstaff!" It will be interesting to see how those decision affect the playing surfaces moving forward.

From a Pitchcare perspective, we have been able to publish our magazine thanks to the ongoing support of many of our advertisers, along with excellent support from the groundsmen and greenkeepers that we have featured within its pages. We have often had to conduct interviews over the phone or via Zoom (a new feature for 2020) whilst we worked from home, and technical and training articles have been supplied by the experts in their particular field. For the record, we published 157 feature articles this year. No mean feat given the circumstances and I offer a personal thank you to you all.

As we move towards 2021, it would appear that the end is not yet in sight, even with a Covid-19 vaccine now available. There is at least a few more months of restrictions to go through, I believe.

Has it all been doom and gloom? The short answer is probably yes, it feels like that, but this industry has proved itself to be very resilient. I am in the privileged position of being able to gather feedback from both the 'hands-on' end of the industry - groundsmen and greenkeepers - and the manufacturers and suppliers. Without exception, all have shown a positiveness and indeed stubbornness that has, quite frankly, been remarkable.

So, for everyone that has come through, what has been, a tumultuous year, I wish you a merry Christmas and, hopefully, a happy and prosperous new year.

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