To fans of Crystal Palace football club, Dougie Freedman is a legend. In the 1995-96 season, his goals helped to promote the club to the Premier League, while a single goal at the end of the 2000-01 season prevented Palace from being relegated to the third tier of English football.
But on a cold Saturday afternoon, this legend is barking at me for not working hard enough to get the club's pitch ready for a home game against Doncaster Rovers.
I'm at Selhurst Park in south London, shadowing Palace's head groundsman Mark Perrin as he prepares the pitch for another game. Freedman is the assistant manager, and while preparing the players for the day's fixture, he clearly thinks I and other ground staff should be doing more to ensure the turf is at its most playable.
"Everyone has an opinion on the state of the pitch, from managers and players to fans and pundits," Perrin says. "No one says anything when the pitch is great, but as soon as a divot makes a player miss the ball, everyone likes to criticise."
He has been here since 7.30am. On the morning of a game he will cut the grass, roll it, water it if the pitch is dry (in summer it might need 15,000 litres, equivalent to 2mm of rain) or take the frost covers off in winter. He will also remove fences that are put in place to stop foxes getting on to the pitch. "I didn't realise I'd be stepping over fox shit when I took the job," he jokes.
Winter is a problematic time for groundsmen, especially those at the less affluent football clubs. Richer teams can afford ultraviolet grow lights and under-soil heating, but the likes of Crystal Palace (only recently out of administration, having nearly gone belly-up last summer) can only afford frost covers in their battle to maintain a playable surface throughout cold spells. Grow lights cost £50,000 per rig and Tottenham Hotspur have six, according to Perrin. "Aston Villa's pitch cost at least £800,000, ours cost £80,000," he says
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