GROUNDSMEN SOW SEEDS OF VICTORY
By Alex Stone
Who are football's unsung heroes?
Whilst footballers and managers reap princely sums for their part in the beautiful game, those silent artists whose work goes unseen behind the scenes in all weathers were last week acknowledged by The Football Association and the Institute of Groundsmanship at Windsor Racecourse.
The IOG have long recognised the achievements of those Ground staff employed by clubs in the Premier and Football League, and last year The FA decided it was time 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 FA Groundsman of the Year Awards are the brainchild of Mike Appleby of The FA National Game Division, and The F.A. Pitches and Facilities Committee, with winners receiving an engraved vase, pennant and travel vouchers for a European Break. Said Appleby:
"Quality pitches are essential for the development of the game at every level, yet the hard work that goes into their preparation, often on a shoestring budget is not always considered by supporters. The FA hopes that the introduction of these Awards helps to motivate and recognise these 'unsung heroes', and at the same time raise standards in the future."
The FA National Game Division was formed two years ago with the mission statement to 'lead the investment and development of English grassroots football', and has a budget of £350million to invest over the next ten years.
The setting for last week's awards was The Royal Windsor Stand at Windsor Racecourse, where the annual Sports and Leisure Technology Exhibition (SALTEX) was being staged. After County and Regional Awards had narrowed down the field earlier this year, the Finalists in each of the seven categories were treated to a three course meal, before the presentation party of Appleby (FA Leagues Development Manager), Greg Fee (FA National Leagues Manager), Derek Lewin (Chairman of FA Pitches and Facilities Committee) and Alex Millar (National Chairman of the IOG) announced the national winners (see below).
- Nationwide Conference Award
- UniBond League Award
- Dr Martens League Award
- Ryman League Award
- National League System (Level 2) Award - overall winner of above 3 Feeders
- National League System (Level 3) Award - for clubs that play on enclosed grounds
- Local Authority Award
The latter category was included to reward those local authorities who provide that 'little bit extra' when it comes to facilities and the service they provide to their users; with 97% of all affiliated football played outside of the Football League, grassroots Groundstaff play a huge role in ensuring pitches are in their best possible condition week in, week out around the country.
Judges for the FA Groundsman of the Year Awards included Adrian Smith, from the IOG, who explained:
"We travelled around the country, looking at the pitches, the equipment, what kind of financial support the ground-staff had, and their overall knowledge of their craft.
"What we discovered was that the standard ranged from top experts who really know their stuff, to those who are basically 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 FA are helping to sow the seeds of a revolution in the way that our hallowed turf is maintained.
"Finance is such a stumbling block, which is why it is so important that the FA is filtering money down to the grass-roots,' he says. 'A Groundsman could know exactly what they are doing, but often they just haven't got the money to do it."
The FA is also about to launch a new series of courses in Groundsmanship, which, believes Smith, could finally help consign practices that have been used since the 1930s to the compost heap of history.
"In those days, the attitude was: Get the heavy roller out and let's roll it as flat as possible. There was no thought of aerating the pitch to improve the drainage, and that's largely still the case today. It's going to take time to turn it around but the FA has recognised there is a problem and are doing something about it."
Log on to TheFA.com next week when you will be able to download application forms for the 2003FA Groundsman of the Year Awards.
The 2002 F.A. National Groundsman of the Year Award winners are:
Nationwide Conference Award
1. Peter White - Doncaster Rovers
2. Colin Galliford - Woking
3. Barry Headley - Southport
Unibond League Award
1. Jonathan Wood - Gainsborough Trinity
2. Mathew Dawson - Stocksbridge Park Steels
3. Rowan Alexander - Gretna
Dr Martens League Award1. Peter Allen - Moor Green
2. Clinton Moore - Crawley Town
3. Robbie Britcher - Eastbourne Borough (Joint 3rd)
Colin James - Welling United (Joint 3rd)
Ryman League Award
1. Alan Mitchell - Wingate & Finchley
2. Ted Scraggs - Bishops Stortford
3. Andy Cocks - Boreham Wood
National League System (Level 2) Award
1. Peter Allen - Moor Green
2. Jonathan Wood - Gainsborough Trinity
3. Alan Mitchell - Wingate & Finchley
National League System (Level 3) Award
1. Alan Jeeves - HSBC FC, Dore, Sheffield
2. Derrick Walker - AXA FC, Henbury, Bristol
3. Steve Pack - Raunds Town
Local Authority Award
1. The States of Jersey
2. Huntingdonshire District Council
3. Liverpool City Council