0 Andy Fogarty - A full trophy cabinet

Andy Fogarty, Head Groundsman at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, has a trophy cabinet full of accolades including ECB 'Groundsman of the Year' four times; runner-up four times; runner-up six times for his one-day pitches, plus numerous commendations. Lee Williams spoke to him about his twenty-six years at the club and The Hundred concept to be launched this summer.

What sports were you involved with in your younger days - did you play cricket?

I have always had an interest in cricket, but only played the game a bit at school in the summertime … I mostly enjoyed playing football. I like to play five-a-side with some of my friends on Thursday evenings when I can. I have always been reasonably good at sports like athletics, rugby, cricket and football.

How did you become a groundsman?

Whilst at school, I was dating a girl who happened to live next door to Cedric Rhodes - the chairman at Lancashire County Cricket Club at that time and I used to bump into him regularly. Upon leaving school, Cedric mentioned there was a part-time groundstaff position available at Old Trafford and he wondered if I wanted to apply for it …which I did. A year later, in 1982, they offered me a full-time position as an assistant groundsman. In 1996, my predecessor Keith Boyce was retiring, so the club advertised his job. I applied and was lucky enough to get the position.

What would you consider has been the highlight of your career so far?

There are too many to mention really, but it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to prepare International Test and One Day International pitches for the best players in the world. I have seen many memorable games played here at Headingley, but the one that stands out for me is the heroics of Ben Stokes against Australia in the 2019 Ashes. Stokes finished unbeaten on 135 as England recorded their highest successful chase in one of the most remarkable finishes in Test cricket … keeping the Ashes series alive against all odds. I have been involved with three World Cups, and I'm looking forward to the new competitions coming up, which should provide some highlights.

What are additional pressures put on your work by being in the media spotlight?

There is always pressure and stresses to deal with when preparing pitches for International cricket especially. The cricketing world is focused on your ground and how a wicket is set up, as it can help determine who wins the game. There are many factors to consider when prepping, like the amount of rolling, drying and how much grass is left on the pitch. The two teams have to play on the same surface, but you will always get someone who is disappointed and, perhaps, they may blame the pitch.

What relationship do you have with the players?

I would like to think I have a good relationship with players. I do not get many bad words said about me, or disappointed bowlers and batsman. I believe they enjoy training and playing here and the pitches suit them, with plenty of pace for the bowlers and plenty of runs for the batsmen.

I do get feedback from the players, coaching staff and the captains especially. After every game, they have a bit of a debrief and, more often than not, I'm told it was a great surface.

Is there one player that has made an impact on you?

There have been quite a few, but the guy that stands out is Darren Lehmann who played for Yorkshire from 1997 to 2006; he was our overseas player and he was a great character to have around the club.

What is the most difficult problem you have had to deal with at Headingley?

The new stand brings its problems with shade in the wintertime; it practically covers the whole of the cricket square. It has also affected the outfield down that end which tends to be slightly damper than it used to be before the stand was developed. We have started to investigate the option of grow lights to help alleviate the problems with shade. Ryan Golding, Head Groundsman at our neighbours Leeds Rhinos, has said he has a set of lights that we can trial. In winter, it is something I am seriously thinking about doing. Nine or ten years ago, we had the outfield relaid and we had some problems with that, but it has settled down a lot now.

How far ahead do you plan pitch preparations, or is it just part of your normal routine?

Our pitch planning starts in February when we get the fixture schedule for the oncoming season, which begins at the end of March/start of April. Each fixture is given its own pitch right the way through the season and the preparation of each pitch can take between two and three weeks. We have thirteen first-class pitches and we have to play International, Championship, Twenty20, Ladies' cricket and The Hundred, so we are playing on each pitch at least twice, even three times a season. It is essential for us, as soon as a game is finished, to get that pitch flooded down and renovated as quick as we can - because we know we will be playing on it again in eight weeks' time. It is an ongoing process, along with the outdoor practice nets and our other outdoor facilities.

Leeds Rhinos are your very immediate neighbours. Do you share equipment with them, or are both autonomous?

Yes, we do. I have a great relationship with Ryan and, on many occasions, we have helped each other out.

Do the groundsmen at each venue pitch in on match days?

No, we don't; obviously, Ryan has his own staff and I have mine. It is different now they are both summer sports with the Super League and cricket, so it is difficult for us to go over there. It might have been different when the rugby league season was in the winter.

Do the TV pundits and press folk talk common sense?

Yes, of course they do. They will tell you straight if they see a problem with the pitch and praise you if they think it is a great pitch. You have got to listen to what they say; being ex-cricketers, they have been out there and played the sport. They know how the pitch has played, but they do not see how we have prepared them. We keep to a simple system that always seems to work for us, so it is not very often our pitches are criticised by the media.

You'll soon be celebrating twenty-six years as Head Groundsman at one of the world's premier Test cricket grounds. What changes have you seen in that time?

The stadium has changed entirely from when I first started. It was dilapidated and needed a lot of work and money spending on it, which we have done. The playing surfaces and the outfield have both changed. Everything has improved about the place, which is a good thing.

Since you became head groundsman, you have witnessed additional fixtures, such as Twenty20. Now 'The Hundred' launches this year in both men's and women's cricket. What additional pressures does that put on you and your team to host these additional games?

The Hundred is a new competition - which I hope helps promotes cricket and the English game. There are a lot of big names coming in so it will be high profile. It is being screened on the BBC as well as Sky Sports so it will be available to everybody. It was supposed to start last year, but was delayed due to Covid-19 and I really hope we are able to welcome the crowds back for it. Since Twenty20 was introduced in 2003, it has helped draw in the crowds and families. It has been more entertaining for those who may not be interested in Test cricket and the players love to play it.

Will pitches for this new tournament be prepared differently? For example, more batter friendly to aid the remit for exciting, spectacular cricket?

I think all one-day pitches are prepared the same really; you want it to be as flat as possible so the ball is not doing as much. You want the batsman to score plenty of runs - as that is what the spectators want to watch. So, there is no real difference in our approach to preparing the pitch.

As the most northerly ground in the tournament, do you expect the weather to play its part and have you been given any instructions to allow play to continue in inclement weather, more so than the more traditional formats?

Weather-wise, that is down to the umpires to decide if they keep them on the pitch if it starts to rain. As soon as they decide to pull the players off, it is down to us to get the covers on the wicket as fast as possible. Through Twenty20 games, it can be raining lightly and the umpires have kept them out there, but as it gets heavier they will come off. I will give the umpires the weather forecast in the morning and we are constantly looking at the weather radar - so we know when the rain is coming, how much it is going to drop and when it will go. All that information is fed back to the umpires, so they have a good idea of what to expect on the day of the game. If they must come off for heavy rain, we will look at the forecast and, if it is predicted to continue for another four to five hours, they will stay around and keep an eye on it and decide later on in the day. You have to keep everybody informed, including broadcasters and the spectators, so that everyone has a good idea of what to expect.

How did the Covid-19 restrictions affect you and your team?

I have a team of eight, so four of them were put on furlough, with the other four of us having to look after Headingley, the training ground and another cricket ground in Bradford. We basically just did our best to maintain the pitches and the outfield simultaneously; we had to get the practice facilities ready for when the players came back. Our season was cut short and we managed to play three or four Championship games and a Twenty20 competition. We are now back to full strength and our season (April) has already started; we have had four friendly games and one championship match.

Left to right: Peter Taylor, Vee Veikalas, Andy Fogarty and Gareth Millthorpe

What is the best part of your job?

Working on days like today with beautiful sunshine and I get to look out at a cricket ground that looks lovely. I enjoy working outdoors preparing the wickets. I am not a desk jockey; I like to get out there and get on with the job with the lads.

And the worst?

Sometimes we can get some bad weather which is not very nice. Also, some of the pressure you are put under and the hours of work.

What machinery developments have helped you the most?

Many different things have developed from cutting units, triples, rollers and the blotters that we use to suck up the water. When I first started, we did not have any equipment like that; it has changed leaps and bounds since then. We now have aeration machines we use on the outfield and square. The rollers are now fitted with power steering, which makes our lives a lot easier.

What is your favourite piece of kit?

I would have to say the triple, which has reduced the time it takes to cut the outfield down to one hour and twenty minutes, where it used to take over three hours. Also, the Graden which allows me to scarify pitches without even watering them down, cuts through the pitch easily.

Is there anything you would have done differently, professionally and personally?

In the first five or six years when I first started, I probably thought I would look for something else but, as I got more experienced, I grew into the job and love what I do.

Any thoughts on retirement? Is there a succession plan in place?

We would probably recruit from within; we have some excellent grounds staff who are experienced and knowledgeable and it would only be fitting to give them a chance. As far as retirement, no one lasts forever and we all have a sell-by date. So, hopefully, in the next few years, I might find something different to do or, if I am lucky, I may get a chance to do something a little bit different with the club. Or, perhaps doing the same sort of thing but not be in charge; I have not really thought about it.

How would you raise the profile of groundsmanship in the media?

I think the profile is pretty high at the moment and we get some excellent coverage from the ex-professional cricketers turned TV pundits. The papers can be a bit of a different story at times. There is always room for improvement and how you would go about it, but I am just used to cricket. I do not really know about the other sports in our industry; it is a difficult one.

How would you encourage new people into our industry?

Now, more than ever, we are always looking out for new talent. I believe it provides an excellent and rewarding career for school/college leavers and anyone looking for a career change. There are plenty of college courses and apprenticeships out there, so I would encourage everyone to talk about our industry and what it has to offer.

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