Viewpoint - Forking around!

Jim Hannahin Football

"There's a load of us out there struggling on with old machinery, lack of funds and a bunch of suits that don't know the difference between a verticut and a vertidrain"

I was having a chat with the guys from Pitchcare earlier in the summer, and was just passing comment on how undervalued we felt we were as groundsmen at our club, and described a few incidents where we had performed above the call of duty. They said we were not unique amongst Football League groundsmen, and it was a common theme they heard as they travelled around the country. It was suggested I put my thoughts down on paper. So, here they are.

As you have probably already deduced, I am employed by a professional football club - professional, at times, in the loosest possible terms.

Our machinery store and brew room is stuck away as far as possible from the main stand and offices at our stadium, which is fine with us. If any of the suits wish to make contact they have to physically walk over to "our" side, as we can never hear our phones for the noise of an engine and, anyway, if they do want us, it's generally nothing to do with the football club.

The most common request is; "have you got anything to make my grass green". We always oblige with half a bag of fertiliser, and tell them to make sure they put it on when the weather is warm and that, once they have put it on, to keep watering the grass. Two weeks later you see them and they moan at how they have to cut the grass daily since putting the fertiliser on. "Welcome to my world", is my general reply.

During a rare visit to the offices to pick some mail up, I got into a conversation with one of the desk bound members of staff about the football club. Halfway through the conversation she came out with the classic line, "well you're only a groundsman". In her eyes all I did was cut the grass.

I think that is the general view of the public - a groundsman is someone who cuts the grass. Here is another case.

I was lucky enough to get away abroad on holiday for a couple of weeks at the beginning of June, where I struck up a conversation with a fellow Brit by the pool one day. He got round to asking me what I did for a living, and was most impressed when I told him. "It must be great getting most of May and all of June and July off," he suggested to me. I then spent fifteen minutes explaining that most of May is taken up with renovations at the training ground and stadium, and that the players are back for pre-season training at the end of June ... and the grass still needs cutting. "I never thought of it like that, tell you what there's a lot more to your job than meets the eye", was his reply.

That seems to be a general theme. The public, and even people employed by football clubs, have no idea what a groundsman's job entails. We always seem to get the rough end of the stick.

How many times have you heard a manager put his side's victory down to the excellent surface prepared by the groundstaff? I bet you can count them on one hand. Whereas, after a defeat, excuse no. 2 in the football manager's handbook is the pitch (excuse no. 1, as you are probably aware, is the officials). Every week during the season, without fail, it will get trotted out. "Well, the pitch was a bit bobbly; the lads just couldn't get the passing game going". This, despite the fact they have played route one football all season!

I just wish the interviewer would have the balls to say; "surely it's the same for both teams", but they never do.

I must say, I do chuckle whenever there is high profile pitch problem in the news - usually Wembley stadium - and, nine times out of ten, the perceptive managing director of Pitchcare is quoted. In fact, it became an in-house joke with Hawksbee and Jacobs on talkSPORT a few years ago, "... if it's a Wembley pitch problem it's Dave Saltman of"

In fairness to Dave, he comes across really well and does the industry proud, not just Wembley but all other aspects of groundsmanship that he is often quoted on.

As groundsmen, we need to get our views and points over to the general public and educate them in the way the industry works.

For those of you who get the chance, make sure you get your perspective and opinions known. Some of us are lucky in that respect. The club I work for are happy to print in the programme, or put up on the website, any article I may write concerning all things grass, and it's very gratifying when supporters come up to you and mention something you have written and how they see things differently now concerning my work.

At times, especially in the middle of winter, a football groundsman's job can be a thankless task at any level. But I know all the groundstaff at our club are always determined to do their best, whatever the circumstances, and on the odd occasion thanks and gratitude will be handed out. This always makes the job that much more enjoyable.

So, however depressed you may feel in your work, always remember the grass is not always greener on the other side. There are loads of us out there struggling on with old machinery, lack of funds and a bunch of suits that don't know the difference between a verticut and a vertidrain.

Keep the faith and keep cutting the grass, after all, that's all you do.

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