Ian Darler has won just about every award the groundsperson industry has to offer, managed his stadium through tempestuous and terrific times and dealt with as many life-and-death situations as some paramedics.
Now Head Groundsman at Cambridge United for forty years, Ian recently released his autobiography 'Life's a Pitch: The Groundsman's Tale' where he looks back on an eventful career - recollecting the highs and lows at the Abbey Stadium. Kerry Haywood reviews.
As I'm sure many of us can relate to, my quest for finding a suitable book for my pending holiday was an important decision. The pressure of making the right choice is enormous, and my goodness did I make the right choice!
From the outset, Ian's personality shines through as he tells the story of a life that has seen him rub shoulders with some of the greatest and funniest characters in football, turn out the kind of surfaces players dream of, cross swords with the occasional manager and cope with catastrophes that would have floored a lesser mortal.
Ian's loyalty and commitment to his club is apparent. Through the good and bad times, Ian has given his soul and, on occasion, his own money to ensure the pitch, aka 'his baby', is in excellent condition - all on a shoestring budget.
Throughout the book, Ian relates tales of how he started his career, what it's really like behind the scenes and the vast amount of skills and determination required to stay at a club for forty years. There are also funny stories such as his relationship with police officers, who thought it would be hilarious to arrest him whilst on a shopping trip with his wife Lisa.
But, there is one section that really strikes a chord - Chapter 11: Life Changing. Ian speaks about the life-threatening incident that nearly ended his career and plunged him into a very dark place. Ian describes the incident in such detail and explains the intensive surgery and recovery process he faced. He does this with such emotion that his courage and honesty really made me reflect on a time in my life when I questioned everything - and his words and relatability made it okay to do that.
The chapter describes how he went through years of not knowing what was wrong. And then he was diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and got the support he needed through therapy and, most importantly, the understanding from the club about what he was going through.
Ian says: "My request for help met with no response whatsoever and, at one point, I was even put under pressure to return to work when I was clearly unfit. That caused a lot of stress and worry and disgusted my clinical team."
Whether you have an affiliation with Cambridge FC or not, this book is so much more than that. I'm sure many of you will find comfort in the similarity of your own day to day struggles and enjoy it for the enthralling rollercoaster ride that it is. Like the reviews, I found it hard to put this book down and I found it a real insight into the problems and responsibilities Ian has faced across his career.
Club 'legend' is a term sometimes bandied around for players and managers, but few have spent so long at one club, given so much time, money and commitment at no small cost to his personal life for so many years. (Not to mention his fundraising for other local charities). A thoroughly decent bloke. This book is a fascinating, moving and humorous insight into, not just the club, but Ian as a person too. D. York
This book represents a rare opportunity. An opportunity to read the experiences of somebody who has forty years service in a job and is still doing that job today. The ups and downs, rewards and challenges of being an integral part in the functioning of a small football club are all vividly told in this book. Neil Weston
This is one of the best books I've read - full of anecdotes; some funny, some serious. Whether you are a Cambridge supporter or not, I would fully recommend buying this as it's a real page turner. It's a welcome change from the normal run of the mill autobiograpies. Overall a great read. A Burge
Ian Darler has seen it all. You get to laugh out loud and also cry with empathy throughout the book. You must read it. Do not miss this chance to see how football REALLY works! Graham Daniels
I don't read many books and when I do it takes me a lifetime to read, but I read Life's a Pitch in three days straight. The guy is an amazing groundsman and his stories keep you on the edge of your seat. I can't recommend this book enough! The guy has been head-hunted so many times, from Wembley to the Etihad stadium, but he has stayed loyal to Cambridge. A true legend. Amazon Customer
Brilliant life story of a true gentleman. Loyal and hardworking for forty years. Many very funny and also a few sad tales. Couldn't put it down. Have never read a book so fast. M. Coulson