Bromsgrove Rovers is a busy football club run on a tight budget. They rely heavily on volunteers to carry out the work in and around the ground, including the maintenance of the pitch. For the past five years the role of head groundsman, albeit unpaid, has been held by Alec Hodgkiss who has devoted thousands of hours of his own time to the cause.
As with many club grounds, the cold weather in May, followed by the hot, dry summer, affected end of season renovations, particularly with the club's water resources being so inadequate. Alec had to make do with just two sprinklers which, during the heatwave, barely kept the turf alive. In addition there were a few plantain weeds that had not been killed by the chemical treatments. Alec was waiting for the contractors to come back for a second application.
Like most Groundsmen, Alec was grateful for the heavy downpours in late August; perfect timing for the start of the season. However, his linesman's runs and some areas of the goalmouths were still sparse in some places and he was overseeding these areas when I arrived on site.
In the time that he has been at Bromsgrove Rovers Alec has significantly improved the condition of the pitch. In recognition of this, he was presented with the FA Groundsman of the Year award for Clubs at Level 3 and below for the North West and Midlands Region.
The pitch is soil-based with a herringbone drainage system. It stands up remarkably well when you consider the equipment Alec has at his disposal - an old Kubota B5100 12hp tractor with mid-mounted rotary and an SCH towed slit tine spiker! A local contractor comes in each week to mark the pitch, using two Kombi spray jet line markers and the whole operation takes less than fifteen minutes. Contractors also carry out overseeding, weed killing and fertilising.
Alec recognises the value of aeration. The pitch was Earthquaked last year, decompacting it to a depth of 200mm. He will ensure it is aerated every fortnight throughout the season to keep it open, along with regular drag matting to restore surface levels.
With more than 130 games played on the pitch each season, Alec's biggest problem is actually finding time to get on the pitch to maintain it. A typical week sees the first team playing on Saturday, a veterans or guest game on Sunday, a reserve team game on Tuesday night and a youth team game on Wednesday. Regular training sessions take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays. With all these fixtures the opportunities to repair and prepare the pitch are limited.
Whilst the pitch itself drains very well, it does suffer from flooding during heavy rain when water from the terraces flows on to the surface. Alec is currently raising funds to tackle this problem by making collection on match days, holding raffles etc.
The pitch is mown 2-3 times a week during the growing season, maintaining a height of cut of around 30mm. As much grass as possible is left on to help cope with the high usage levels, without compromising ball roll and speed.
Alec is well aware of the shortfall with regard to the quality and range of machinery at his disposal but recognises that the club has a limited amount of money available to maintain the ground. In time he hopes to purchase a dedicated 36" cylinder mower which will not only improve the quality of the sward but improve the aesthetic appearance of the pitch.
His other 'wish' is to see the provision of an additional ground to accommodate the ever-increasing fixture list and provide a much-needed training ground.
Like most groundsmen, Alec realises the importance of raising the profile of his profession and of having the appropriate machinery and resources to achieve his goals (excuse the pun).
The chairman of the club, Tom Herbert, has turned the club's fortunes around in the past five years. Alec speaks highly of him and reckons that, without him, the club would have folded. It is now out of debt, regularly attracts between 400-600 fans for each home game and has a committed squad of footballers who enjoy playing for 'The Rovers'. The members can look to the future knowing that the groundstaff are achieving some of the best facilities in the area which, in turn, will attract new players and supporters.
Alec continues to provide Bromsgrove, Rovers with the best possible playing surface he can which, he hopes, will inspire the players to produce the football required to get them back into the Conference League.