On a bend in the River Thames, as it winds its way into central London, sit the pitches of Kew and Ham Sports Association. Groundsman Louis Maguire is responsible for delivery of the best surfaces possible on a tight budget
Kew and Ham Sports Association has some rather illustrious near neighbours; RFU Twickenham, the All England Lawn Tennis Club and the Royal Surrey and The Richmond golf clubs are all a short 'drive' away.
Situated on the south bank of the River Thames, opposite the infamous Eel Pie Island, which once accommodated the largest hippie commune in the UK and was also a famous venue for jazz and blues concerts, the sporting facilities at Kew and Ham provide an important community hub for the local area.
The remit of the association, working closely with the London Borough of Richmond, is to promote sport and physical activity within the borough.
They follow a detailed Service Level Agreement (SLA) as part of this partnership, which ensures that the facilities are used all year round by a summer and winter sport, and that there is a focus on the development of children and young adults as well as the community at large.
One man who is certainly doing his bit to ensure those objectives are met is the association's groundsman, Louis Maguire.
The site's main users are Kew AFC, who run various sections for mini football, girls, youth, junior, senior, veterans and walking football, so the demand on the pitches is constant, although recently completed 3G facilities have relieved some of the pressure. Additionally, the site is used by Richmond Baseball & Softball Club and Old Blues FC.
Unlike its near neighbours, the budget for pitch maintenance remains tight. "The club committee are responsible for the budgets," states Louis. "I just tell them what I need."
Louis was always going to be a groundsman; it's in his genes. His father and his uncles are practising groundsmen. "My dad and uncle John are both very experienced groundsmen and they have passed the passion on to me."
After a spell as a delivery driver, Louis studied for two years at Merrist Wood College, completing Level 2 in Fine Turf, and also attended various specialist day courses. He is currently studying online for Level 3 in Fine Turf.
He has been at Kew and Ham for the past three years and is the sole groundsman, although there's also a clubhouse manager (Lisa), who is responsible for Health & Safety and First Aid, and kitchen staff working out of the recently refurbished and extended facility. Work on the clubhouse has now been completed, with the members empowered to help where possible and to provide much of the required fixtures and fittings to complete the project.
Outside, three new five-a-side 3G pitches have been installed to complement and reduce the pressure on the five natural turf football pitches - three full-size - plus one 9-a-side and one 7-a-side to comply with FA regulations to allow for an expansion of under 7, 8, 9 and 10 football.
There is also a full-size baseball diamond that Louis is also responsible for. "I created it myself from scratch," he states proudly, "with the help of a work experience lad, Jake Maddock, who still comes in to lend a hand on his days off. He's a great lad."
End of season renovations are carried out by local contractors SJK Sports Turf. Being mainly a voluntary run club, available budget for renovations always varies and is dependent on the income received throughout the season. It is expected that the new and refurbished facilities will help add to the coffers.
"Queens Park Rangers use the facilities for their summer camps," explains Louis, "so I have to work my renovations around that as well."
SJK also undertook a complete renovation recently that was made possible by grant monies. "The whole ground was fraise mown and all pitches were reseeded and topdressed. I am really pleased with outcome," confirms Louis. "I am fortunate to be able to call on them at a moment's notice, if required."
The soil profile is described as very silty clay - due to the site's proximity to the Thames, no doubt - which drains very well, according to Louis. There is a full irrigation system across the site which helps to ensure that the pitches remain in top condition. "Presentation is everything," he states. "It goes a long way to making sure the members and users are happy."
The site's location close to central London means that adverse weather conditions are a rare occurrence; "so far, touch wood! At the end of the day, it's not going to change when it comes to weekends, and the games still have to played, so the facilities need to be ready, one way or another."
With the playing fields solely maintained by Louis, he says that he simply takes each day as it comes. "I do what I think needs doing to ensure all playing surfaces are ready and presentable for weekend games. Sometimes, it can be very hard work keeping on top of five pitches on my own, but I've managed it for three years, with good feedback, so I must be doing something right. I can't complain."
Asked if he is compliant with current legislation, Louis replies; "yes, these days, I don't think it is worth the risk to not be. There are always opportunities to further my knowledge with the set training days that the club put on."
Spraying for weeds is undertaken once a year by an outside contractor and, apart from the occasional outbreak of red thread, the site does not suffer from any other diseases.
Louis's biggest problem is urban foxes that appear to delight in digging holes and burrows. "I just have to go round and fill them back in," he bemoans. "It was suggested to me that I should pee in them first to stop them coming back, but I think that's probably a step too far!"
With the aforementioned high profile neighbours, plus various Premier and Football League clubs also on their doorstep, one senses that Louis might look to them enviously where budgets are concerned. "For small clubs like ours, it is always going to be a struggle due to budget restraints and cutbacks. Groundsmen in our position simply have to do the best we can with what we have."
"One thing that does annoy me is that people don't generally see what goes on during the week to ensure the surfaces and grounds look the way they do when they arrive for their games. They just expect everything to be perfect."
"We don't get a mention or a thank you at all, e.g. at the end of season. We are just the people on the other end of the phone to call to make sure everything is ready!"
"I suppose it is something we just have to accept at our level, but it would be good to get the occasional nod of appreciation. It's not too much to ask, is it?"
What's in the shed?
Charterhouse Verti-Drain 7212
Kubota 40/30 tractor
Set of gang mowers
Vredo Compact 210 disc seeder
"All machinery has been bought direct with grant money made available.
If it was me buying machinery, I would always try to stay with one manufacturer/supplier - better for business and deals.
The Verti-Drain, although only a small one which does take forever to complete a pitch, has resulted in big improvements to the playing surfaces.
Servicing is currently undertaken by Surrey Power Machines in Haslemere."