In the latest of our 'Keynote' interviews, Ryan Golding, Head Groundsman at Leeds Rhinos RLFC and Yorkshire Carnegie RUFC, explains what attracted him to the industry and how things have changed since he started seventeen years ago, after reading a magazine article.
Pitchcare: What inspired you to get into the industry?
Ryan Golding: Mine is a similar journey to most. When I was a young lad, I was really into playing football which led to a strong desire to get involved in sport. I saw a government careers article on groundsmanship which took my interest. After reading an article on Paul Burgess, me being me, I wrote off to him to see if it was possible to do work experience at Arsenal's Highbury Stadium. Paul accepted so, whilst still at high school in Leeds, I would go down and do work experience at the club.
What training did you undertake?
Training has been quite varied. I have completed my NVQ level 2 and 3 in Sportsturf and, currently, I'm trying to find time to complete a foundation degree, but it's proving difficult with the new stands being built and the pitch still in play. I also have additional qualifications, including team management, spraying certificates PA1, 2 and 6, plus trailer towing licence B+E.
Explain your career path/journey through the ranks/highlight of career?
My work experience at Arsenal confirmed that I wanted to pursue a career in the sportsturf industry. I started at Leeds Rhinos RLFC when I was fifteen years old. I'm now thirty-two, so I have been here quite a long time. I sent my details to quite a few places in an attempt to gain an apprenticeship and to get a foot in the door, which is quite hard in this industry because you are waiting for dead man's shoes. Jason Booth was Head Groundsman at the time. Unfortunately, at the beginning I got turned down as there wasn't anything available. I was due to start at a golf club but, on the day before I was due to start, Jason came to my house and said there was an apprenticeship position available. Following on from that, I went through the interview process and was lucky enough to get the post. I have worked my way up the ranks from apprentice, groundsman, assistant groundsman, assistant head groundsman to now head groundsman, which I took over five years ago at twenty-seven years old.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Getting recognition and awards for the playing surface, but it is not really a motivator for me. Real highlights for me are being able to bring lads on and pass on my knowledge. Seeing the way Dan Conner and Leon Pearson have developed in the last few years is so rewarding - they are now joint assistant head groundsman and work well as a pair.
Other real highlights would be short renovations and having to research that, as well as talking to other groundsmen in the industry, who I really respect, to engage in their opinions on whether certain things can be done. Managing to turn the pitch around in twenty-seven days after renovation for play is always a challenge. I'm also proud to be one of only six head groundsmen in the history of Leeds RLFC; it's a unique place to be.
How has the sportsturf industry changed during your career?
Obviously, chemicals coming off the market will make us all think a bit more. Carbendazim was a big one for us and we have had to start being a lot more proactive with worm control; our training ground is right next door to a river so, as you can imagine, we struggle a lot with worms. Where we historically would have sprayed with Carbendazim, we now have to use a lot more cultural practices and a lot more brushing etc. Contact fungicides were almost used as a get out of jail card - a lot of groundsmen use it as a badge of honour not being able to use fungicides as if it's a proud thing to do. Yes, that's good but practically, within a stadium environment, when you've got a lot of heavy dew, not a lot of airflow, shading problems and a lot of games, I can't be drag brushing every two seconds to keep on top of it culturally. So, as a get out a jail - yes I needed it! To get around this, we have now devised a programme with ICL which worked well last year and, with a few tweaks and timings, it will work well this year. I'm a big believer that, if you don't know if it is working, why would you chuck it on - I just don't get that? We will use base feeds, fill in with conventional feeds and then top up with biostimulants, liquid feeds plus anything extra, if I feel it`s required.
The introduction of lighting rigs has made a big difference. We have two SGL MU18s, which we use in the scrummage areas, and we have had sockets put in place in the new North and South stands in some pop-up boxes. We are currently in the planning phase to bring in some bigger rigs, which will help with shading caused by the new stand; I believe them to be a necessity to keeping a quality playing surface throughout the year. It's safe to say, with the technology we have available now, we should be able to provide a quality pitch, week in week out, but you have to have an appropriate budget in place.
The job has definitely changed since I was a kid to where I am now - it's like chalk and cheese. I'm very conscious, as a groundsman, that you can have all you want technology-wise, but you still have to know the basics of groundsmanship. I'm a massive believer in data collection and PQS but there is no point having Clegg hammers, shear tests and theta probes if you can't just walk onto a pitch and say it's too wet. You cannot lose that - it's a skill.
What machinery developments have helped you the most?
Mower-wise, we are now using the Infinicut from Cub Cadet which I think is brilliant. Floating heads on a mower - who would have said that ten years ago? But, in reality, when you look back it's common sense and I can't understand why we didn't have them until recently. With us having a Fibresand pitch, we have to be quite resourceful when it comes to level management, particularly when we are coming out of winter around this period of the year. We were finding the levels of cut were off and we didn't have a continuation of height across the pitch but, with the floating heads, you can see more at this time of year that they are moving around a fair bit and the Infinicuts give a great uniformed cut.
What's the best part of your job?
I could use the old clichés; you never know what's coming, you don't know what you are doing from day to day, it's varied, you get to talk to different people. But, mostly, I'm lucky that I'm in a job that I thoroughly enjoy. I work alongside some great people. It's a challenge here; I find enjoyment from being told 'that won't work' and then proving people wrong or finding a way around a problem.
And the worst?
The weather especially. With it being a dual-use club, you are not just looking at the weather for one set of fixtures, you're looking at two, which also involves training. It can be difficult sometimes pleasing both sets of coaches, but it's all part of the job.
Is there anything you would have done differently, professionally and personally?
I may be a bit too direct and at times, I've got better as I've got older and realised that I probably shouldn't be as forward as I am - but that's my passionate personality, The Yorkshire in me comes out! One thing I do like, is to help people out and encourage the young lads as much as possible; however, that has sometimes come at a cost to me personally, given the time it takes when they have problems or issues. I wouldn't have it any other way though - I can always look in the mirror and say 'I have tried to do the right thing'. Personally, you can always say you would like to spend more time with your partners but, as we all know, that can be difficult.
What are the main pressures of the job?
My job role here is varied. I go from overseeing the surfaces to changing sponsor boards, right through to making car parks and stands accessible in winter then supervising flood defence installation at the training ground. The main pressure is keeping the stadium pitch at the highest possible standard and that means a lot of communication between myself and both sets of coaching staffs plus club staff. At times, I end up being like Kofi Annan and bringing out my diplomatic skills. Carnegie might want a session before their game but, if it's hammering down, you haven't let them on. If Rhino's want one the week after and they're let on, Carnegie are well within their rights to ask the question, then you have to go and explain the decision which consumes a lot of time.
Where do you see your future?
I'm comfortable and I enjoy it here. I appreciate the club, the people and I enjoy the game. I help out in the sport as a whole, whether that's rugby league or rugby union, I always try and help people outside of the sport and I get the freedom to do that here. We are unique; I can have direct communication with the director of rugby whereas, in other sporting organisations, you have to go through numerous people to get to the director of a sport. It would have to be a unique challenge for me to consider leaving Leeds RLFC.
Do you find it difficult to attract staff/employ apprentices/offer training?
I'm all for getting young people into the industry and there are a lot of views on this. I always try and help kids coming in, but I can't help but question that, in an era of social media, whether young people are coming into this industry for the right reasons? Do they really want to do the job or just see it as a cool job to be in. Job titles and social media presence seem to motivate, more than whether you should or shouldn't actually be going on a pitch, due to it being wet through. I believe, as groundsmen, we have a moral duty to get more people interested in a career in the sportsturf industry.
What piece of advice would you pass on to youngsters getting into the industry?
Don't just think it's a cool job - it takes a lot of hard work! If you are willing to put the time in and make sacrifices, the results are worth it.
Industry pay rates?
Fortunately, I am at a great workplace but pay at the bottom, and also at some mid-level positions, is horrendous. It's unjustifiable really and it's like we are not a recognised profession. It actually takes everything you learned at school to do
this job and more! You go from communication and staff management to using science, maths and English - and you do it every day, without even thinking. It takes a lot more than some other professions and I don't know why we are not respected as much as we should be.
I also believe a lot of groundsmen should take responsibility for that; it's alright moaning you are not treated equally in your club or environment, but then don't dress scruffily, with holes in your clothes covered in whitening and moan about your manager every two seconds. Build a relationship with your line manager and show a bit of courage - if they don't want to get on with you, at least you have tried. Groundsmen love a moan, but nothing is going to change unless we try and change it.
What are your views on industry shows and do you attend?
I attend all of them; they serve a purpose of being able to have all the companies in one place. To me, the networking side is the biggest thing - being able to see guys you haven't talked to in a while and share ideas over a beer!