After a delayed meeting due to the Covid-19 crisis, Lee Williams, finally caught up with Mark Goddard, the club's Head Groundsman and his right-hand man, former Head Groundsman Phil Skelton, on what turned out to be a sunny day in July.
Driffield Town Cricket and Recreation Club is situated in the East Riding market town of Driffield, also known as Great Driffield. The club hosts a variety of sports, but its main attraction is cricket, with the first team playing in the ECB Yorkshire Premier League North. First-class cricketers Andrew Gale, Richard Pyrah, Steven Patterson, Jonny Bairstow, Ishara Amerasinghe and Abid Ali have all played for the club.
The site covers eleven acres and provides a variety of sports for the local area, including two cricket pitches, two bowls greens, six grass tennis courts, three hard tennis courts and a two-lane fully enclosed ECB approved 'tp365' non-turf cricket practice facility.
At the age of fifteen, Mark Goddard was playing cricket for his local village club in Hutton Cranswick. This is where and when he began to take an interest in the maintenance of the square, helping the groundsman look after it. "After leaving school, I took out a motor engineering course for two years, I enjoyed it but, at that time, I started to play golf. With my interest in gardening and now golf, I had a change of heart in what career path I wanted to take. Through Bishop Burton College, I got an apprenticeship at a golf club/caravan park, where I gained experience maintaining both sites. After ten years there, I ended up becoming a plumber for four years, working with one of the wife's relatives. The job wasn't for me working in people's houses all day, and I decided I wanted to get back into the sports turf industry and back out in the fresh air."
"It was 2017, and I was playing cricket for Driffield when I heard that Chris Skelton, who had spent twelve years working alongside his dad Phil as a groundsman, was looking at leaving, which opened up an opportunity."
With his son leaving, Phil was ready to consider retirement. "I was turning sixty-five years old and thought this was a good opportunity to retire as I didn't want to have to go through the whole process of training anyone up," Phil explains.
Fortunately for Mark, this meant the club were now looking for a Head Groundsman, which became a much more attractive proposition for him.
"I applied for the job and started in August; Phil wasn't due to leave until October, so I had two months with him showing me the ropes. Once we had finished the autumn renovations that year, the club asked Phil if he would stay on two days a week to help me out, which I am pleased he agreed to do."
Since lockdown, Mark has been without the help of Phil for over three months as he was furloughed, but a special mention has to go to Ruben Syrett. "Ruben was meant to be our Saturday lad, and we had agreed to employ someone to do two days a week over the summer months, but we were not able to take him on with the Covid-19 situation. Not being at school, and as soon as the government relaxed some of the rules, he volunteered to help me out five days a week. He has been here for the last nine weeks and has really stepped up. Without him, I would have been struggling to maintain the site."
I asked Ruben if he would like to take an apprenticeship in groundsmanship at the club if that was an option? "I have enrolled on an engineering course, but I'm undecided on what career path I want to take. If the opportunity arose to join Mark here, I would seriously consider it as I have enjoyed my time here so far."
Mark tells me he would love the club to provide the opportunity for Ruben to join him as an apprentice and he has already approached the club. "Four weeks ago, I put the idea to the committee. We have looked at the figures, and it is much more beneficial for us to take on an apprentice five days a week full-time than a bloke on the minimum wage for two days a week over the summer. They agree it is a brilliant idea, but we have no income at the minute with the bar only just being able to open. The government have just announced a scheme pushing for apprenticeships. So, fingers crossed, we may be able to give Ruben the option of joining us very soon."
The grass surfaces are constructed out of old farmland and Phil explains that the old furrows still present problems where they run right through what is now the bowling greens and cricket squares. "No matter how much we have topdressed over the years, they just settle again," bemoans Mark. "It is starting to get a lot more obvious on the outfield as well."
The club has two full sets of roll-on covers, lay flat sheets and an irrigation system which they extended out to the square last winter. "We have four old Toro pop-ups around the bowling greens. We have extended this system, adding four new outlets around the main square, and we also took one across to the back square. It makes it much easier to hose down the squares when required, plus it saves time."
In 2018, final plans were put in place to install an ECB approved 'tp365' non-turf cricket practice facility. This project was funded through various organisations, including Sport England, a Tesco Bags of Help grant, the Horace Taylor Trust, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the ECB plus other external sources.
By February, Anthony Burton, Product Development Manager at total-play Ltd, met Club Chairman Mick, Ian Stabler (Secretary, Junior Section) and Mark to discuss final build location and rerouting of power cables to make sure everyone was happy with the design specification. They decided to build the nets on one of the grass tennis courts.
Everything was set to go ahead when there was an unprecedented amount of snow and rainfall, so work eventually got underway in April. The build by total-play was in two phases with their 'construction' team followed by their 'finishing' team who attended the site to complete it with steelwork, netting, shock pads and carpets. This was no small endeavour with 200 tonnes of material shifted, then care and attention given to making sure the natural grass access into the site was remediated, graded out and put back to grass. "It's as if they've never been there," says Mark.
Mark talks me through the maintenance of all the grass surfaces, starting with the cricket square. "The squares are cut at 12mm all summer, raked out every two weeks, and we will verti-cut as well now as we have just purchased a verti-cut unit for our Allett C20. To prepare a wicket normally two weeks out we will water if needed, thin out using the verti-cutter or the SISIS rake on the back of the tractor. We cut out the debris with a John Deere 2653A triple mower on its lowest setting until we stop getting anything in the boxes. From there, we will soak it if needed and commence rolling depending on how quick it dries out. These factors determine how frequently we roll. A lot of people control their drying by sheeting, but we have cricket every night, so there is no way we could leave sheets on to stop it drying out. So, the wicket is determined a lot by the weather conditions, even though we do have the roll-on covers and sheets available."
"The outfields are cut at 12mm with the triple, keeping it at the same height as the square so it can all be cut in one hit. We box off the main outfield twice a week and the back outfield is double cut on a Thursday without the boxes attached."
"We cut one bowling green a day with the Allett C20 set at 5mm. Then we would normally have a 3-week rolling programme of works - we verticut one week, spike with pencil tines the next and cut the following week."
"Tennis courts are cut twice a week with the John Deere triple at a height of 10mm with the boxes on and the headlands at 12mm. Then they are marked out once a week."
Fertiliser programmes on the grass playing surfaces are basic, which comes down to the budgets available to Mark at the time. "On the outfields, we will use a 20:5:8+Mg0+Ca once a year. The square normally gets a feed in spring and autumn with a 4:0:8 at 70g/m2, but this year we have also used Evolution Micro 14:4:8 from Agrovista Amenity. Phil and I have been impressed with the results. To give it a boost through the season, we will use some liquid products from Yara which are cheap and cheerful."
One slight advantage Mark has is the club's chairman works for Complete Weed Control, so every so often he will spray the outfields with a selective weedkiller and will also apply some liquid iron.
"The bowling greens in autumn will get a dose of 4:0:8 and, in winter, they will also be sprayed with a winter package to harden the turf. In the summer, once a month we will apply a wetting agent, and two weeks later we will go on with a feed of chelated iron, maintain and nitrogen. The tennis courts will get one application of 20:5:8 per season, and that's it."
Where possible, most of the renovations on the grass surfaces are carried out in-house. "The square will be scarified four ways with the Huxley TV36 scarifier at 5mm depth, then we will go over with the brush to clear out all of the grooves we have got. We will then go over with the spiker fitted with 3/8" solid tines at a depth of half an inch. We will brush in as much seed as we can and then put down ten bags of Ongar loam on each of the twelve main wickets - the rest will get seven bags a wicket. It is dragmatted in and a feed applied. The outfields will be scarified as much as we can at the back end of the season."
"Bowling greens are cut down to 4mm and then scarified two to three ways depending on how the surface holds together. Then we will spike, overseed and apply topdressing if the budget can stretch that far. We have a large Sisis Trulute, which is six metres wide, to help disburse the dressing and get the levels back."
Since Mark has been at the club, they have purchased a new Allett C20 cylinder mower outright, plus a second-hand spiker, but this had to go through the executive committee which includes the cricket, tennis, and bowls sections of the club. "If they agree, each section has to pay towards the purchase of the machine. The club runs hand to mouth and, with the pandemic, this has only worsened our situation. So, if we needed to replace the tractor or the triple, which are our biggest expenses, we would have to look at grants. We do have someone looking for grant money all the time and, if they are successful, that's when we will get a new piece of kit."
As much as is possible, Mark and Phil will carry out servicing and maintenance of the machines to keep the costs down. "We do the oil, air filter, fuel filter changes, replace bottom blades, backlapping and will fix what we can ourselves. Anything we cannot fix, along with the cylinder regrinds, we send to F G Adamson & Son who are our local machinery dealer."
Phil has spent over forty years working at the club and has seen many changes over the years. I asked him what he thought the future of clubs like Driffield were when funds are so hard to come by? "Tennis is a dwindling sector, and they are taking up a lot of land. And bowls is hardly thriving, unlike cricket. There is always talk of clubs having to sell off land to keep some revenue coming in, which is something that has been mentioned here in the past. Clubs may have to look at ways of diversifying that may include accommodating other sports such as football. This would help drive people towards the bar facilities in winter when cricket isn't being played. Or investing in artificial surfaces which can be used day and night, if floodlit, to provide that much needed extra income."
What's in the shed?
John Deere 2653a triple mower
Iseki TXG 23 tractor
Allett C20 cylinder mowers x 2
Honda rotary mowers x 2
Supaturf EvenSprey Club pedestrian sprayer
Huxley TV36 Scarifier