50 Major step backwards for Groundsmanship

Major step backwards for Groundsmanship

peter_mark_craig.jpg

The recent advertisement in the Groundsman Magazine for the Grounds Manager position at Wembley Stadium has stirred emotions in me that have been bubbling under for a long time but I can no longer remain quiet.

Wembley Stadium has been the focal point of major sporting events in the UK for decades. When it was announced that the stadium was to be rebuilt the initial reaction was one of uncertainty as to whether a new Wembley could ever have the same aura as the Twin Tower version. Wembley Stadium is surely as iconic a monument to British Sport as Buckingham Palace is to British tourism.

The decision is made and then the cost begins to escalate as the importance of making it a world showpiece and an acceptable successor to its famous predecessor begin to bite.

I was highly sceptical about whether the final bill could be justified, still am, but I must admit to being very impressed with the new stadium which is a magnificent site even before it is complete.

I mention all this toemphasise just how much publicity, both domestic and worldwide the stadium is attracting before it is even open. Imagine how many millions if not billions of eyes will be focussed on the pitch come the opening and subsequent games. And every single one will be looking for any blemish on the reason for the stadiums very existence. The playing surface.

I think it is quite significant that all 85,000 seats in the stadium will be facing inwards towards the pitch, not backwards towards the hotdog stands and Executive suites. 85000 spectators paying a minimum of £50 a head. That's 4.25 million pounds of hard earned cash being paid to watch whatever event is being staged.

So the man/woman in charge of producing the best surface in the world to match the finest stadium in the world; the man/woman who has to take the pressure of knowing that there are more people looking at his/her weeks work in 90 minutes than you or I will ever have in a thousand life times, the man/woman who knows that the slightest mistake, the smallest of blemishes will be seen by millions and more than likely be highlighted in the national press the next day, is being offered a maximum salary of £35,000 per annum plus benefits.

At this point it is tempting to start comparing that figure to wages being paid in other professions but that would be churlish and unfair. The issue here is simply what financial reward should be paid to a person who is expected to be the best in the world at his/her profession and to produce the finest surface available in the world on every occasion.

That reward should be so much more than 35 thousand pounds per annum plus benefits.

Without revealing my income precisely I can say that my total package at The Hurlingham Club is more than that being offered for Wembley. I consider my salary to be competitive and I am also satisfied that the club gets value for its money. My responsibilities are many and varied with five different grass sports surface to maintain and a very large staff, a significant budget and a membership who are also very demanding in their expectations of the sports surfaces and gardens.

However, if I or any of my team make a mistake, and it does happen and will happen in the future, we may upset a few members, be hauled over the coals by the boss, even be subject to disciplinary measures.

No such leniency if you are Grounds Manager at Wembley Stadium. Overdose with a chemical, scarify too deeply, mark out a wobbly line, or spill the whitening bucket whilst marking thecentre spot. There are only 2 outcomes if this happens in THE job. Millions will witness your mistake, and it WILL be your last mistake in the job.

This kind of pressure deserves the same kind of high remuneration in exactly the same way that the Chief Executive of a major company is paid more than his executives because the buck stops with him. High reward for success, no second chances for failure.

My second issue is with anOrganisation that I have been a member of, supported and promoted for 25 years, namely the Institute of Groundsmanship.

The Institute was formed over 75 Years ago to act as a vehicle and a voice for Groundsmen and Women who wanted to share their experiences and knowledge and further the standards of their various sports surfaces.

Until recently it was the only significant organisationthat was available to people in the turf growing industry and had played a significant role in helping promote an industry that employs in excess of 100,000 people in the UK alone, a great percentage of whom were/are not receiving just reward for the skills they have acquired.

Since the Organisation appointed a Chief Executive it has achieved a great deal as far as bolstering it's financial situation and now has a very substantial amount of money in the bank.

When Pitchcare was formed 3 years ago it soon became apparent that the IOG saw it as a threat rather than a potential ally in it's purported aims to assist it's members in developing their knowledge and status within the UK workforce. My personal efforts to see the twoorganisations join forces had, I thought last year achieved some success with links being placed on each others websites and regular dialogue taking place between the heads of bothorganisations. This love/hate situation is an article in it's own right and in my opinion the IOG are not totally to blame for the current impasse. What I strongly believe now is that the leadership of the IOG are far more concerned with it's own image and well being than that of it's members which brings me neatly to the real point I am trying to make.

I was asked several years ago by the IOG to help it to re-evaluate the pay structure in the industry and produce accurate job descriptions for all the various positions from apprentice to Grounds Manager. This I gladly did, and whilst not entirely happy with the pay scales recommended I felt the exercise was a step in the right direction.

However, if theorganisation was truly committed to improving the lot of it's members it would not and should not be taking advertising money from any organisationthat was offering a position the salary of which is below the Institutes own recommended pay scale. This has been happening on a regular basis, indeed I have personally received more than one letter from people who have applied for positions where the candidate requirements matched one scale in the IOG recommendations but the employer was actually offering considerably less. This I feel is a clear demonstration that the IOG is more concerned with increasing the bank balance than it is in promoting it's members and defending them against unfair practice.

So the IOG is proud to be seen as the chosen vehicle to advertise one of the most prestigious and sought after positions in the sports turf management business. It should hang it's head in shame that it has not used the opportunity to heighten the earnings bar for everyone in the industry by either advising the recruitment team for Wembley of exactly what the job is worth, or refusing to advertise the position if that advice was ignored. Whatever money it has received in advertising revenue is totally insignificant when seen against the money that it's members will lose as a result of being massively undervalued.

Look at it this way. Someone is considering taking up Groundsmanship as a career and sees the Wembley post advertised. Do they think wow, what a great job and what a goal it would be to set myself somewhere in the future. Someone with "right stuff" will indeed do this. But then they see that after years and years of hard work, endeavour and intensive study the job of his/her dreams is only paying the same as that of a Grounds Manager at a large school or private sports ground.

In 1996 I was offered the position of Head Groundsman at the just built Amsterdam Arena. I asked for and was offered £40,000 (more than my current package) per annum for this position, which I turned down. (£40,000 per year in 1996). Wembley is offering less than that nearly a decade later and the IOG is proud to be part of that.

Many may feel that this article has been motivated by emotion rather than hard fact and to a certain extent this is true. However I would like to make one more point. We all suffer from the ignorance of people outside our industry who believe we merely cut grass. A layman seeing the Wembley advert and the salary being offered is very likely to think £35k to cut grass, how can they justify that. But, they see £65k and they think good god, there must be more to this grounds man game than I thought.

And isn't that the message we are all trying to put across. Well nearly all.

Editor: Whether you agree or disagree with Peter's viewpoint, please leave your comments below or in the Groans and Gallantry section of the message boards.

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