1 Political agenda?

Dave Saltman 3It's a shame when politics get in the way of honest hard work, but the Football League appears to have allowed this to happen to the '2015/16 Groundsman of the Year Awards'.

I have written a trilogy of articles over the last twelve months about Shrewsbury Town, the final part of which is in the current issue of the magazine and will be uploaded to the website in the coming days.

From a sub-standard, under resourced stadium surface previously, I have worked with Richard Barnett (my number 2 at the stadium) to turn it around to being voted - by referees and visiting managers - as the best pitch in League One.

We were notified that we were in the top 3 pitches in the division before being judged by Dr Stephen Baker of the STRI in April. I've known Stephen for over twenty years, meeting him many times at shows, events and seminars as well as being judged by him for this award on a number of occasions in the past.

It seemed strange to me that his first question was what name would I want on the nomination. I am the Head Groundsman on the club website and all correspondence from the Football League this season has come to me.

The question was more bizarre considering that the nomination letter for the award was addressed to me and arrangements for Stephen's visit were made between him and I.

I suggested the company name (Maxwell Amenity), but he said that wasn't protocol, so I said it would have to be my name then. "We'll come back to this later", he replied. Following the inspection, which took an hour and a half or so, I was asked about the name again as Stephen was leaving. When I said my name, if the company name was taboo, he offered an alternative, "Groundstaff at Shrewsbury Town" which he said was what the Premiership guys were now doing.

Three days after this visit, the Shrewsbury Town Chairman came out onto the pitch, shook my hand and congratulated me on winning the Football League Division One Pitch Award.

Due to a press embargo, the news couldn't go public until the following week; however, when the results were announced on the Football League website, it was brought to my attention that Richard Barnett's name was on the Shrewsbury Town Award.

I immediately rang our Chief Executive to ask him to contact the Football League and have the name changed. He said he felt indirectly to blame because he'd had a call from someone from the League the previous Friday who asked the name of the Groundsman who was mostly at the stadium. He'd replied Richard Barnett because he didn't really understand the reason for the question.

Despite the Chief Executive's intervention, the Football League didn't change the name on the award, but begrudgingly agreed to add mine to it. Does that mean, in future, all groundsmen at pitch winning clubs can have their names on the award as well?

The original press release was not recalled by the Football League, so any publication reproducing the winners/runners up lists contained incorrect information.

Following some email correspondence with Stephen Baker, I had a call from Andy Cole (also STRI), who said he didn't want Stephen involved and that he would find out what happened and get back to me. Also that same afternoon, I had a call from Simon Barker of the Professional Footballers Association (he is a member of the Pitch Surfaces Committee) to say that he thought it was a genuine mistake.

I am still waiting for Andy Cole to get back to me, and to return my calls, and to answer my emails!

In addition to the STRI and PFA, the Playing Surfaces Committee comprises representatives of the Premier League, Football League and the IOG.

A mistake it certainly wasn't; and it may require a formal complaint from Shrewsbury Town before we find out the truth and get an apology from the Football League.

What I do know is that it brought a lot of stress to Richard Barnett, who felt guilty and embarrassed when this all kicked off. He's been a rock these last twelve months (I couldn't have had a more decent, hardworking person alongside me) and I think it is disgusting that one or more of the representatives of the Playing Surfaces Committee saw fit to play politics over an award that is (or was) worthy of calling itself prestigious.

Cheers,
Dave Saltman

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