The Football Association
GROUNDS FOR REWARD
By Alex Stone
The F.A. has launched a new award to honour the custodians of football's true grass-roots - working for clubs in the National Leagues System and for local authorities - and recently announced the first ever regional winners.
Ground-staff in the Barclaycard Premiership and Nationwide Leagues already have their own award; the purpose of The F.A's new Groundsman of the Year award is to recognise the unglamorous but vital work done by those who seed, cut and care for what might be called the game's true grass-roots.
The names of these regional winners (see below) will be in contention when the national award-winners in both these, and a third category, are announced in September.
The third category is for National League (Levels 1 & 2) Groundsman of the Year, which will honour the best Groundsmen in, respectively, the Nationwide Conference and its three feeder leagues: the Ryman Isthmian League, the Dr Martens Southern League and the Unibond Northern League.
The Awards were the brainchild of The F.A's National Leagues Development Manager Mike Appleby. He explained:
"The F.A. National Game Division has a core objective of improving pitches and facilities across the country, as quality pitches are essential for the development of the game at every level.
"If the introduction of these Awards help motivate and recognise these 'unsung heroes' and at the same time raise standards, then it will have been all worthwhile, and with the backing of the Pitches and Facilities Committee we aim to improve and extend the Competition further next year."
The judges include Adrian Smith, from the Institute of Groundsmanship, who explained:
"We travelled round the country, looking at the pitches, the equipment, what kind of financial support the ground-staff had, and their overall knowledge of Groundsmanship.
"What we discovered was that the standard ranges from top experts who really know their stuff, to those who are doing their best with a very limited budget and next to nothing in terms of machinery."
This, believes Smith, is all about to change, since The F.A. are helping to sow the seeds of a revolution in the way that we maintain our hallowed turf.
"Finance is such a stumbling block, which is why it is so important that The F.A. is filtering money down to the grass-roots," he says. "A man or woman could know exactly what they are doing but often just haven't got the money to do it."
THE 2002 REGIONAL WINNERS
South & South-West Region
Level 3 and below: Derek Walker, AXA FC, Ledbury, Gloucestershire
Local Authority: States of Jersey
London & South-East Region
Level 3 and below: Andrew Snell, White Notley FC, Whitham, Essex
Local Authority: Tendring District Council, Essex
Level 3 and below: Alan Jeeves, HSBC FC, Dore, Sheffield
Local Authority: Harrogate Borough Council
North-West & West Midlands Region
Level 3 and below: Alec Hodgkiss, Bromsgrove Rovers FC
Local Authority: Liverpool City Council
East Midlands & East Anglia Region
Level 3 and below: Steve Pack, Raunds Town FC
Local Authority: Huntingdonshire District Council