My thoughts have drifted recently onto just how important club cricket is to the game at the very top. Without club cricket, I doubt if the game would exist at all in a professional capacity, and it was really always thus.
But, although club cricket is basically an amateur sport, the modern demands placed upon it at the upper echelon are virtually professional in what is required on and off the field of play in terms of organisation and commitment by groundstaff and committees. I would like to point out that the following musings are my personal ones and do not represent the club I am involved with.
As with anything these days, costs are escalating far too quickly for anyone's good. I've been involved with running cricket clubs for forty years now and, in my time, have held just about every position on and off the field. Having just managed to find another mug, er, I mean volunteer, to take over the position of Fixture Secretary after twelve years, my involvement is now down to being a groundsman.
What I have observed is that, whilst it was never easy running a cricket club, it is now probably even harder on all fronts. Financially, the need to raise funds has taken on even more importance. No longer can clubs get by on subscriptions, profit on a few beers in the summer and squeezing a profit out of a couple of social functions. One could argue that subscription levels are too low, and obviously these vary geographically, but probably are relative in terms of what percentage of the running costs they actually make up.
Of course, there are degrees of demand depending on what level the club is playing at. My club is in a very expensive part of the country to live, and there are many clubs competing with each other for general members, good players and colts within a crowded area. The club plays at a good level which, again, brings about many demands. But, whatever standard a club is playing at, normally the desire is to strive to improve playing conditions and standards, social events etc. None of these come without some extra cost and certainly not without more work on someone's part.
So, let's look at the financial requirements of ground maintenance first. Any club trying to provide decent surfaces has to face basic costs that are not negotiable. Loam, seed and fertiliser has to be bought and, as we all know, that, like everything else, has risen quite sharply in the last three years or so.
Some of you may be very lucky and have the services of an excellent volunteer groundsman who is also handy with machinery. If you do have such a person, then the club should look after him. But, he won't be there forever, and then what? There are contractors out there who are very good, but it's what they do for a living, not for charity. Many a decent square and ground has been ruined in one season because someone who took it over from old George said, "No, I've never done it before, but how hard can it be?" We all know there are many expert groundsmen in the bar or on the square before the start of a game.
So, at the risk of much derision and critique, here is what I have forecasted to be the budget requirements for materials and machinery servicing costs to our committee for the coming year. I do this because these requirements are not a wish list; they are essential basics for the level we are playing at, and to help provide a decent surface to play cricket on. But, I seriously encourage all groundsmen, volunteer or otherwise, to keep the committees fully up to speed with essential costs. It's all part of the continuing education process to make people aware of what's involved in producing decent cricket surfaces.
The more information you feed to your committees, the less likelihood there is of you being referred to as "the bloke who cuts the grass". I've recently added a "Groundsman's Corner" link to our website where I've started it off explaining what end of season renovation entails.
Loam (200 bags) = £1,200 (this includes all the loam for the end of season renovation and enough loam to see me through the coming summer for pitch repairs etc.)
Seed (4 bags) = £300
Fertiliser (7 bags) = £200 (I am embarking on an increased fertiliser programme over the year to further help prevent moss, weeds invading the square and to generally improve the surface
Liquid Spraying for worm control (2 sprayings) = £220 ( By the way, first year I've had it done and money very well spent)
Spraying of outfield = £300
Line marker (15 litres) = £50
Diesel for triple (200 litres) = £230 ( this is red diesel that I buy in a 200 litre drum to save a bit)
Petrol - for roller, mowers, strimmer, blower etc. = £300
Miscellaneous = £100
Total = £2,620
Scarifier and loam spreader - for end of season renovations = £400
Spiker = £220 (this is only for two spikings, should really be done at least three times in the winter depending on weather)
Total = £620
Servicing of Machinery
Servicing of Outfield Triple and two pitch mowers = £2,100 labour
Parts for above = Approx. £300/£400 (this is an estimation - could be more because the triple has a hydraulic leak)
I have negotiated a 25% discount on labour and 15% discount on parts to get it down to these figures. I booked this in for the third week in January. We will be invoiced about the middle of February and have thirty days to pay.
Total = £2,520
Grand Total = £6,020 (also you could put on that an additional cost of a few hundred pounds to replace the ageing netting for the two artificial nets)
This is what I consider to be the barest essential costs for the coming year. On top of that there is a wish list. Firstly, and fairly essential in my book, is some trimming of five tall popular trees on one side of our ground. These trees need to be halved in height, as they are causing a severe lack of sunlight which is helping to produce some serious moss. As we know, grass doesn't grow in the shade but moss does. I've obtained a good competitive quote for this. This part of the outfield needs some money spent on it in the form of scarifying and reseeding, but there is no point doing that until we do something about the trees which, of course, also make the leaves situation much worse in autumn and winter.
Also heavy on my wish list is some machinery which I do without, but is really quite important. One is a sarrel roller. I had a spiker reel on my old Autorake but the reel has fallen apart. Secondly, a pedestrian sprayer, I would like to use more liquid fertilisers. So that's probably over a grand for the two. I'll probably have to keep wishing.
In the long term, I could do with a sit on rotary with collector. Collecting leaves up over two hectares with a 15 inch Hayter does get a tad tiresome - a bit like painting the Forth Bridge with a toothbrush - and cutting the outfield in the winter with a triple is virtually impossible, because of the dampness and worm casts.
I'm sure other clubs get by with less, and some more, but that's about where I'm at for what I consider basic costs to produce surfaces that meet the demands of an ECB premier league.
This brings me on to the thorny issue of funding.
Our first team currently play in division one in the ECB Surrey Championship, just below the Premier Division. Clubs in the Premier Division get, I believe, £1,000 from the ECB. In Division One, we are subjected to the same scrutiny and requirements that are put on the Premier Division by the ECB, but we receive no such aforementioned financial help. It's just a thought that higher demands are placed on facilities if you play in the top two divisions, so it doesn't seem unreasonable that you should receive the same funding. £1,000 doesn't go that far, but it would help a bit.
The ECB has control of how we play our weekend cricket. The argument made is that we need a structured progression throughout our leagues towards the aim of producing county players through to English Test players. However, county cricket is littered with Kolpak and overseas players; it's not as bad as professional football, but it's getting that way, and now club cricket is going the same way.
How many players, for example, playing ECB premier division cricket actually pay a club subscription and or match fee? Maybe it's worse down south, because not many down here do. Thankfully, in my opinion, our club does not go down that route. We couldn't afford to anyway.
Funding for equipment is very hard to obtain. In the past two years, I have managed to obtain two grants through the small grants section of Sport England, which have enabled the purchase of a new roller, mobile covers and some colts training equipment. I had heard a rumour that they were cutting such funding for cricket clubs, but fortunately it seems those rumours were untrue.
But, obtaining grants for machinery, other than rollers or mobiles, seems impossible. In fact, obtaining grants from anywhere for machinery is very difficult. I know I have my groundsman's hat on here, but what is the most important thing for a cricket club? It has to be the surface we play on, doesn't it?
To have the chance to obtain a grant from Sport England, you need to be a Clubmarked club. This, in itself, costs clubs money to obtain. For example, to obtain the prerequisite number of coaches as laid down by the ECB means, first of all, finding people prepared to do the courses and then the money to pay for them to go on the courses. I think the guidelines for the number of coaches are one coach per eight kids. That means, with 250 colts, a club needs around 25/30 coaches. Cost of a coaching course is about £170. I know the ECB can't fund every club in the country, but is there any way they could make these courses cheaper by increasing their funding of the courses, making them cheaper for the clubs? That way, every club that puts someone on a course would benefit. Or perhaps the local county club could dip their hands in their pockets, especially if they are the recipient of Test match income. The cost and degree of subsidising of the County trailers for example, seems to vary somewhat over the country.
As I said at the beginning of this little diatribe, club cricket is vital to the success of the professional game, right up to the very top echelons. With even less cricket being played in state schools than ever (we have successive Governments of all persuasions to thank for that), club cricket has to work hard to ensure that, in the years to come, there are still some players playing for England that were actually born here!
As groundsmen, we have a crucial role to play in this, not just in preparing the best surfaces we can, but also to slowly but surely educate and inform our committees and club members of what is involved in producing our pitches and outfields. It is no good just moaning about the lack of respect and understanding our industry seems to suffer from, we have to try and do as much as possible to change this, and each and every groundsperson, from the village club to the Test arena, needs to be proactive in this objective.