Les Stephens has been Groundsman at Lytham Cricket & Sports Club for the past twelve years. He is responsible for the upkeep of nine acres of sportsfield and surrounding woodland. The club offer facilities for cricket, tennis and football.
He is employed by the club on a full time basis and is ably assisted by the club's Chairman of Grounds, Peter Harris. Peter helps out on a daily basis, but he is mainly responsible for managing the club's budgets and has played an active role in securing funds over the years.
For example, a three year environmental project has been undertaken to improve biodiversity for wildlife. Help has been received from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), a charity set up in 1959 which is supported by such notables as Sir David Attenborough, Professor David Bellamy and Bill Oddie.
On the day of my visit the ground was looking in superb condition and Les has achieved this, like many other sports club groundsmen, whilst working to a strict and limited budget.
Cricket is played at ECB Premier League level. The club left the Manchester & District Association in 1997 as champions and joined the expanding Liverpool & District Cricket Competition (LDCC). In 1999 they were promoted to the competition's Premier Division as that season's 1st Division champions. The following year the LDCC gained accreditation as an official ECB Premier League, ensuring that Lytham achieved one of its objectives by becoming a founder member of the ECB Premier League.
An LDCC team won the League Cricket Conference Presidents Trophy in both 2002 and 2003 beating the Durham Premier League and the Nottinghamshire Premier League respectively. Lytham Cricket Club is now considered to be one of the top five strategic clubs in Lancashire.
The club obtained Clubmark accreditation in May of 2003 and became Community Club Development Fund (CCDF) registered in September 2003. The junior section is the largest in the area and has the highest number of ECB qualified coaches.
Lytham is a very active club and keeps Les busy preparing wickets for all the sections. They are also an outground for Lancashire County Cricket Club and it is expected that the County side will use the facilities even more over the next two or three seasons as Old Trafford undergoes its long awaited facelift.
Les also has to prepare and maintain eight grass tennis courts, two artificial tennis courts and a football pitch. The grass tennis courts form part of the cricket outfield. The courts are fenced with temporary netting, which usually takes Les three hours to erect and take down before and after cricket fixtures.
The square is large, accommodating twenty-four tracks. There is also a ten track practice net area to maintain.
The pitch profile of both the square and nets are identical, having 80mm of Kettering Loam over a sandy loam subsoil. Root depth averages 220mm with soil Ph of the square currently measuring 6.6 and the net areas 5.5 respectively. Height of cut on the square and nets is set at 8mm during the playing season and is raised to 12mm for the winter period.
Les applies a Rigby Taylor 6:0:12 NPK fertiliser on a six to eight week programme through the growing season with the aim of reducing top growth and to keep fungal disease attacks to the minimum. The only disease attack has been Red Thread which, this year especially, was been quite prolific due to the weather conditions.
Last year the square was sown with a perennial rye mixture of four varieties - 40% Ace, 20 % Tucson, 20% Greenflash and 20% Greenway.
The square gets mown at least two or three times a week and is verticut once every three weeks to control any lateral growth. The club employ the services of a contractor to help carry out some of the work during the renovation period.
End of season renovations begin as soon as the cricket fixtures are completed in mid to late September. The square and nets areas are watered, mown down, scarified in three directions and aerated to a depth of 150mm using a tractor mounted spiker fitted with pencil tines. Some hollow coring may be undertaken to treat any raised areas on the square.
The renovated areas are oversown in three directions applying between 35-45 grammes per square metre. About twelve tonnes of Kettering Loam (22% clay) is topdressed, drag matted and luted into the playing surfaces
During October another feed, 3:0:3- +FE, was applied to help it through the winter period.
Once the cricket renovations have been completed, Les will concentrate his time on improving the outfield and maintaining the football pitch.
Between the 15th September and 3rd October, the work carried out included:
Moving tennis nets, sightscreens and covers to winter storage, and scarifying and cutting all fine turf areas. When completed, the entire ground was hollow tined together with a few raised saddles on the square.
The entire ground was then spiked, a sarrel roller was used on all fine turf areas and the tennis court base lines were micro tined.
Once these tasks were completed, work began on the rough turf areas with scarifying and cutting. Whilst this was being carried out, a local contractor vertidrained all the fine turf areas and applied seed and loam.
Next, the vertidrain was put over all the rough turf areas which were then given a cut and a feeding of fertiliser.
After roping off the fine turf areas and grass car park, Les turned his attention to the football pitch, marking out, putting up goal posts and the dug outs.
Les and Peter are also currently undertaking a three-year project to improve the non-playing areas of the club. This involves regenerating the existing woodland area, improving established hedgerows, creating a new native hedgerow and planting wild flower meadows. Support for the scheme has come from BTCV, ECB Cricket Force 2008, Lytham St Annes Civic Society, Lancashire County Council Green Partnership Scheme, the RSPB, Michael Jack MP and local councillors Tim Ashton and Louis Rigby.
"So far, I have received funding from various bodies up to a total amount of £10,000" said Peter. "Major contributions have come from 02 Its Your Community, the National Tree Council & the SITA Trust."
"Several schools have indicated their desire to be involved" said Peter. "The project complements certain Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme modules and gives participants the opportunity to experience practical conservation work first hand."
The project is being coordinated by Kath Godfrey from the BTCV who already has volunteers working on the site each Tuesday and Wednesday from 10.30am to 3.30pm.
"Like many such projects, initial work can often make things look worse before they get better" she explained. "Clearing invasive scrub and unwanted ground cover needs to take place before replanting can begin. This work is essential for the long term establishment of a thriving woodland and will assist our objective of increasing biodiversity on the site. This project should help improve the whole area for the benefit of people and wildlife alike. It is also our hope that it contributes in some small way towards making Lytham an even nicer place in which to live."
Having seen the site for myself it is easy to see why Les enjoys the challenges of groundsmanship at Lytham Cricket & Sports Club.And, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Les on winning this year's Cricket Groundman of the Year award.