Arundel Castle Cricket Ground is a 3.5-acre amphitheatre built in 1895 by the 15th Duke of Norfolk and is renowned as one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the world.
Set amidst the Sussex Downs and with stunning views over the Arun valley, it is overlooked by the stunning Arundel Castle, seat of the Dukes of Norfolk for over 850 years. In 1975, following the 16th duke's death, his widow decided to keep the club and for this purpose the Friends of Arundel Castle Cricket Club (F.A.C.C.C.) was formed.
James's (Jimmy's) journey
Senior Groundsman, Jimmy Askew, started his career at an early age, enjoying helping the grounds team at his local seaside ground in Littlehampton, West Sussex. Jimmy knew instantly that tending sports turf was the ideal fit for him. Very soon, a job was advertised to join the team on an apprenticeship basis at Sussex County Cricket Club, "I applied instantly," informed Jimmy. "I knew what a great opportunity it would be to work with Andy Mackay, the head groundsman, and his team."
Jimmy enjoyed five years working at the club with a spell working at their satellite ground in Horsham for part of his employment. "When the Horsham ground stopped hosting first class cricket, I was made redundant, but fortunately I was offered a job at Portsmouth Football Club as an assistant groundsman," revealed Jimmy. "Cricket is my true love, but football is a close second," confessed Jimmy.
"Working at Portsmouth F.C. was fantastic and gave me a great alternative experience to sports turf management. I was there for five happy years in all, and then the job for senior groundsman was advertised here at Arundel Castle," explained Jimmy. The rest, as they say, is history. James has enjoyed an extremely successful three years at the beautiful Arundel Castle ground alongside his assistant Ian Sykes (who incidentally has loyally served the club for the last twenty years).
Sky, surface, soil
Jimmy is responsible for the sixteen pitches at the club, which is nothing unusual I hear head groundsmen up and down the country say, but at Arundel Castle it's no mean feat when I explain the complexities of Jimmy's fixture list. Before we get into that, and as with all 'turfies' we had to start with a discussion about the weather (we all do right?). "We had a reasonably mild winter in this part of the country, which was helpful, but we had a very wet spring." explained Jimmy, "This did put our preparations back a little at the start of the season, but we've recovered really well."
Despite the trials and tribulations of the weather, Jimmy was proud to inform me they hadn't lost a game (so far) this year. "It's gone very hot and dry now, which is excellent, and the outfield is running true and fast. However, I'd like it to be a little greener so I'm still praying for rain at night," smiled Jimmy. Whilst speaking of the outfield, Jimmy has earth-quaked the entire area and dressed with over 100 tonnes of sand since his tenure at the club began. "The ground is extremely chalky at a shallow depth, so verti-draining is out of the question for us," explained Jimmy. "I wanted to improve drainage and rooting so the vibrating slits work much better for us with little to no stone/flint being pulled to the surface." Jimmy and the club have plans to top-dress the outfield more regularly in the future to further improve its performance.
Jimmy is responsible for three types of wickets. Thirteen are standard 'old style' constructed, one county standard wicket, re-built in 2014 by the Sussex County groundsmen team, and two recently constructed new hybrid stitched wickets (3% beige stitch).
Jimmy explained," As you can imagine, they all perform slightly differently and have their own unique growing characteristics. As such, my maintenance and renovation regimes must be tailor made to each type."
As previously hinted, the club's fixture list is beautifully varied in standard, age, gender and ability. This unique ground has a unique all-inclusive approach to the game and, as such, Jimmy must be ever mindful of the playability of his surfaces. "The old-style pitches provide great surfaces for general play up to a reasonable standard," explained Jimmy. "When we play county or international games, we use either the 2014 pitch or the new stitched surfaces as they provide more robust and faster performance that the players demand at that elite level. I watch the fixture list and plan my pitch rotation and renovations accordingly to suit the differences in matches," Jimmy reiterated. "As an example, last week we hosted the Men's India international team practice session (before their match against Australia at the Oval) and then later in the season we are due to host a local inter-village fun day for the local community".
Although maintenance regimes vary slightly from ground to ground, traditional methods win the day here. "We dress using Ongar loam as it matches our base construction," explained Jimmy, "Prior to dressing, we run a couple of passes of seed over the pitch using our Sisis dimple variseeder 1300 (we prefer to use Johnson's Premier Wicket uncoated seed), following the dressing and a light brush, we apply an I.C.L. Sportsmaster 8:12:8+3%MgO pre-seed fertiliser at 35gms/m rate."
The club have a modest but adequate machinery fleet comprising a John Deere compact tractor and outfield triple ride on mower and Jimmy's trusted two Ransomes Auto Certes cylinder mowers for his pitches.
From Bradman to Warne, Marshall to Richards, Cowdrey to Botham, all the most well-known names in cricket have played here but the heart of the club is their passion and ethos to cover as many forms of the game as feasible and give back to the community as much as possible.
The club is uniquely neutral with no 'home' team to speak of, so it can host a full variety of matches, from international and first class, to County and elite, both male and female. The club is rightly proud; it also welcomes teams with disability and enjoys hosting youth finals as well as the extremely popular annual cricket festival, complete with picnics, drinks tents and family fun, where four local village teams battle it out, all to the sound of a local jazz band.
I picked up the uniqueness of the club's vision with James Rufey, the Chief Operating Officer and secretary, "There is no 'home' team at Arundel Castle," explained James, "but nevertheless we have a very busy fifty games booked this year which the very supportive 850 strong membership can enjoy." James continued, "We're proud to showcase the most unique diet of cricket fixtures covering all forms of the game. There really is something for everyone."
"The club also boasts an indoor cricket school, formally opened in 1991 by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales enabling year-round tuition and practice," explained James, "our ethos is to provide an all-inclusive atmosphere where activities can be enjoyed by all."
To that end, in 1986 the club established a charitable arm, and The Arundel Castle Cricket Foundation was formed. "The Foundation uses the power of cricket and other sports, outdoor recreation, and history to inspire and enhance the education, health and development of disadvantaged young people," explained James. "Our fully inclusive programmes combine sport, education and well-being to have a lasting, positive impact on the lives of young people from local, inner-city and special schools. The club's affiliation with its charity 'wing' is a perfect environment for inspiration and escape, leaving a lasting and powerful impression on the young people who visit us," stated James. "Last year, our programmes supported the health, education and emotional wellbeing of 1200 disadvantaged young people."
Not only was I was blown away by the beauty of the Arundel Castle ground, but I was also equally blown away by the club's ethos of inclusivity, flexibility and their drive to cater for all levels of the sport. It was wonderful to witness their ability to use the 'great game', and its perfect environment, to help those young people who desperately need it the most. Dare I say, it's a great example of what cricket can do for our communities if we put our mind to it! Thank you to the amazing team at Arundel Castle and wish you all a successful season with plenty of rain (at night only)!