Jim Morley is the groundsman at West Riding FA County Ground, a very impressive, one pitch facility in Wakefield. A local contractor who has spent his entire life playing and supporting local sport, he also looks after the Batley Bulldogs pitch as well as a couple of school grounds.
When I caught up with him, he was busy applying a wetting agent to the pitch, making good use of the weather. "I'm my own worst enemy," he said. "The better the playing surface looks, the more people want to play on it!"
"I'm contracted for a number of hours at each of the sites I look after, fitting in the work around fixture lists and their other commitments."
"I took on the West Riding FA pitch three years ago and am responsible for the maintenance of the playing area and an additional half acre of grassland."
The pitch hosts many FA County matches throughout the playing season, catering for the county's senior, women's, junior and youth teams.
The West Riding County Football Association has been the governing body of all Association Football in the old West Riding county area for over one hundred years.
"Their remit is all about providing 'Football For All'," explains Jim, "giving the local people football activities, initiatives and support which they can be proud of."
The county is divided into thirteen district associations and provides a host of adult and youth County Cup Competitions. "At this time of the year [mid May], I am particularly busy preparing the pitch for the various cup finals taking place," explains Jim.
"I still look after the pitch at Batley Bulldogs as well, so have to juggle my time. Nothing changes though, they still expect me to do the job for next to nothing! However, I do have a fondness for the club, which is probably why I do it."
"At West Riding and Batley I use their machinery and resources, but will bring in my own equipment as required. For the school contracts, I use my own machines."
Jim points out that the Batley and West Riding pitches are very different. Batley's is soil based and West Riding is very sandy.
"The biggest problem at West Riding is the pitch drying out," says Jim, "which is compounded by only having a one inch water main so that, by the time the hose is run out onto the pitch, water pressure is so low it hardly spins the sprinkler round. It's often a case of relying on the weather and hoping it rains frequently, which is not normally a problem in Yorkshire!"
The pitch is cut using a 30" Ransomes Mastiff mower, always-double cutting for matches. "During the growing season, I'll cut the pitch four times a week, maintaining a height of 32mm. Mowing alone takes close to six hours a week and, with marking out taking a further two hours, my contracted time is soon used up. However, with time not always on my side, I will use my triple mower when it gets busy."
That said, Jim still spends at least twice his contracted hours at the ground on a voluntary basis, which can sometimes be as much as an additional twenty hours a week, simply to ensure that the pitch is in the best condition.
Marking out is carried using a transfer wheel marker and Grassline paint. Weeds are spot treated, mainly to control plantains and dandelions. After matches, the pitch is divoted and then brushed using a Sisis 5ft sweeper brush.
Jim often has to beg, steal or borrow equipment. The pitch easily gets compacted after play, especially during long wet periods, when the soil becomes saturated. To help relieve the compaction, the pitch is regularly aerated, alternating between Sisis slit tining and chain harrowing on a weekly rotation.
As for renovations, Jim supplies all the equipment to scarify, aerate and overseed the pitches, mainly concentrating on the worn areas. The amount of work done is usually dictated by the available budgets.
Even though the club allocate a small annual budget for general maintenance, Jim still has to go 'cap in hand' to secure funds for end of season renovations and any other unforeseen works.
Jim is a very dedicated groundsman whose commitment to groundsmanship is inspiring. The West Riding FA are very fortunate to have such a groundsman; one who constantly goes beyond the call of duty to produce a playing surface fit for the next generation of sporting talent.