For the last few days I have been travelling around the south of the country and even over to Jersey, judging the newly created regional football awards. These awards created by the Football Association recognise Groundsmans merits at all levels of play. This has included Local Authority and private clubs up to Conference standard.
It has been interesting to see the venues and see and listen to the problems that these Groundsmen have to overcome. Not surprisingly, they have many of the same issues to deal with that we at Southampton have, as well as over use and in most cases a distinct lack of funding.
These clubs and venues have been put forward by the County F.A's, the referees and the clubs and we are now judging the best grounds.
Our judging is based on a number of criteria, which include the usage levels and the machinery and finance available, but more importantly the Groundsmans experience and knowledge. Personally, I think it comes down to possessing good Groundsmanship skills and being able to show common sense and ability.
In many respects this has been a bit of an eye opener for me. The clubs that I have been to include Burnham, Didcot and Aldershot, Farnborough Town, Horsington in Somerset and the AXA sports ground; all in the south of the country. There is regional judging taking place elsewhere and now that there is a competition in place I would expect it to become very popular.
For many years now there have been awards for the Football and Premier league and the quality of pitches has improved dramatically. If we truly want to raise standards at all levels then the introduction of this competition should encourage village, local authority and non-league club committee's to find a little more cash and give a little more time to their pitch maintenance. I know that the Groundsmen I met and also those I know locally are diligent and hard working, just perhaps restrained from doing more by a clear lack of resources and understanding.
The standard of surface and indeed Groundsmanship at the clubs I have been asked to judge has been high and it will be difficult to decide on the winners who will then go on to the National finals.
Now that there is a competition in place, and if the clubs that I've seen are anything to go by, then I hope that more clubs at all levels will find a little more funding to improve their playing surfaces as well. I look forward to judging even higher standards next year.