Massey Ferguson was formed when tractor pioneer Harry Ferguson joined in partnership with a harvesting machinery company called Massey Harris. In 1946 Ferguson tractor production had begun in Coventry at the old Standard car works production lines, used during the war years to make motor vehicles. The very first tractors produced were the Little Grey Fergie T20 petrol/paraffin fuelled machines sold to farmers around the country and still much in use today.
Over the years, and with increased use of technology, a varied assortment of tractors came out of the Banner Lane site, the most notable being the Massey Ferguson 135s and 240s, produced for the home, European and world markets.
In the company's heyday, through the 70s and 80s, several thousand personnel were employed at Banner Lane, all members of a vibrant sports and social club located on the site. As you might expect with such a strong workforce, inter-departmental rivalry soon emerged and competitions in football, cricket, tennis, bowls, snooker, darts and other sports were keenly contested.
Over the years there had been as many as twenty-eight different sections allied to the club, including a thriving running section, well known around the Midlands.
At that time, the facility included two football pitches, a cricket square, rugby pitch, bowling green and tennis courts.
With the boom in manufacturing, and subsequent employment during the 1980s, many major local companies also provided their own sports and social club facilities within their factories, and this led to local works leagues across many sports, boasting indoor and outdoor activities.
These companies included such well known names as Alvis, Courtaulds, GEC Telecommunications, Jaguar Cars, Rolls Royce, Lucas Aerospace, Peugeot, Dunlop, AP Lockheed, Alfred Herbert's, Reynold Chain, Standard Triumph Motors and Morris Engines.
It is important to note here, that these sports and social facilities played a hugely important role in maintaining the morale of the workforce and were considered an integral part of the employment package.
In 1981 Massey Ferguson FC became a founder member of the newly formed Coventry Alliance League, winning the league title three times and the Challenge Cup on nine occasions. In 1993, the club rose to non league status by joining the Midland Football Combination to replace Coventry Sporting FC, making a good impression in their first years with a string of trophies including Division 1 league champions and the Birmingham County FA Vase.
In their early years the cricket team moved in high flying circles and played against the likes of Northampton, Coventry & North Warwickshire, Hinckley, Nuneaton and Leicester. The team included a number of top class players who, whilst not employees of Massey Ferguson, were invited to participate in these elite matches and also to pass on their skills to employees and their young families.
In 2001, following a few dormant years, the club was resurrected moving into the Warwickshire League where they won Divisions 3 and 2 respectively, and now boast a very strong junior section with age groups from under 10s to 16s.
In 2003 tractor production was moved to France and Brazil. Whilst it was a sad reflection on British manufacturing it was an understandable financial move. Massey weren't the first and, certainly, won't be the last.
But now, the good news ...
Persimmon Homes purchased the Banner Lane site in 2003 to build 900 homes, apartments and industrial units but, soon realised that the sportsground was green belt and, therefore, could be not built on.
With AGCO, Massey Ferguson's parent Company, now continuing its tenancy on the site the STRI was immediately commissioned to carry out a detailed report with recommendations on what improvements were required. This is being used as the blueprint for the development of the site. It will include new pipe and slit drainage to the football pitches and cricket outfield, converting the old rugby pitch and training area into a junior academy for football and cricket and, in addition, the building of a new clubhouse facility.
In the interim period, between the factory closure in 2003 and its demolition in 2006, John Askew, chairman of the cricket section, took on the challenge of keeping the sportsground open for cricket and football.
In 2006, and as part of the commitment to the future, Bob Stretton, a professional groundsman, was taken on to oversee the new development that was taking place and to bring in much needed expertise in grounds management.
After a time on the Massey Ferguson cab production line and a spell at Lucas Aerospace, Bob has spent the last twenty years in this industry and has completed his Sports Turf & Golf Course Management degree at Warwickshire College, Moreton Morrell.
Bob previously worked for Stockingford AA Sports Club in Nuneaton, the Lucas Aerospace Sports & Social Club, North Warwickshire Golf Club and Coventry and North Warwickshire Cricket Club where he spent time as an ECB pitches adviser for the Warwickshire Cricket Board. He is, therefore, suitably qualified to resurrect the once prestigious Massey Ferguson sportsground.
Bob's first task was to carry out a complete assessment of the ground to see what could be salvaged with regard to playing facilities, machinery and equipment.
"When I arrived here" said Bob "the machinery had seen better days. There was a forty year old, 5 bladed, cylinder mower of unknown origin, two old tractors - an MF 135 and a MF 240, an old set of Ransomes triple trailed gangs ... and I also found a slitter and a chain harrow in the hedgerow! Not ideal."
"With the aid of some string and wire I was able to refurbish, of sorts, the chainharrow. The gangs got a £2500 overhaul and I was able to use them for a year but, eventually, realised that they were not what I required so the tractors and gangs, along with some other 'bits and pieces', were sold on."
"The first task was to sort out some new machinery. Budgets and investment plans were prepared with the support of Awards For All, a lottery fund for local community projects, and the Heart of England Community Fund. AGCO provided some funds up front and I was able to purchase a new MF 1540 tractor (which I dented in the first week!), a Sisis Maxislit and a Port Agric Cutlass. The latter was particularly important to get the overgrown amenity area down from 24" high to something more manageable. It is now used to maintain that area and also does a good job of cutting, whilst lightly rolling, the football pitches in winter."
"Because of my local connections with other sports facilities I was able to sell off my unwanted machines and also source some good secondhand kit" said Bob. "I managed to find two Ransomes Super Certes, both with eight blade cylinders, and I have completely refurbished one for use on the cricket square. I also picked up a Bomag Tandem roller and a Ransomes Jacobsen 214 triple mower. For the moment I am using some of my own equipment to fill in the shortfall but will, over time, purchase second hand when the right pieces of equipment become available so that the club is fully kitted out."
"Apart from cylinder regrinds, I carry out all the maintenance work myself and get good parts back-up from Julian Simpson at Boughton Turf Management."
With the machinery in place, Bob set about organising maintenance programmes for the cricket pitch, football pitches and amenity areas.
"The first job was to spray the whole area for weeds" said Bob. "Once I had bashed the old amenity area down that became far more manageable. The football pitches needed some aggressive attention. I deep scarified them to remove a build-up of thatch and organic matter (the cricket outfield also got a hammering) and followed this up with hollow coring and harrowing to create a seed bed and recover surface levels. A pre-seed fertiliser was applied and then pure perennial rye grass seed was sown. Both pitches were topdressed with a medium/fine sand and left to mother nature to assist in watering in."
"Fertiliser was applied at 14:2:4 in the spring and summer and 6:5:10 in the winter. The whole process was repeated in 2008 but with a 35% reduction in seed, topdressing and fertiliser. I'll be doing the same this year. It's all part of the stepping stones to recovery."
"The cricket table also received some aggressive tactics. After the 2006 season had finished it was then fraise mown to remove thatch and organic matter that had built up over forty years. I then solid tined to 100mm and topdressed with five tonne of Kaloam. I then overseeded with a 100% pure perennial rye grass mix of Bar Extreme and pre-seed fertiliser."
"We have five senior football teams using the facilities - Massey Ferguson 1sts and Athletic (reserves), Coventry Rangers 1st and 2nds and Bannerbrook Massey. We also have two junior teams and that will increase to four next season."
"There are two senior cricket sides that play on Saturdays and the ground is hired out to local teams on Sundays. Our junior section is particularly strong with around 150 youngsters and we are heavily involved with Coventry Bears, which is the feeder club to the Warwickshire County Cricket Club academy."
"My main priority is to get the playing surfaces up to the highest standard as soon as possible. I have set myself a deadline of 2010. To be honest, I am well on the way. Sadly, the credit crunch, or whatever you want to call it, has put back the building of the clubhouse, which was due to be completed this year. It may still happen but, as Persimmon has put a hold on the adjoining building site, it will require a quick economic turnaround. For now we will have to make do with the portacabins."
In 2008 Bob Stretton was awarded the Groundsman of the Year, Steps 5 and 6, by the Football Association, one of the highest accolades to groundsmanship at non league level. The presentation was made at the FA Awards by John Motson, the voice of football on the BBC.
Praise indeed for Bob the Rebuilder!