1 Praising the value of volunteers

BobStrettonThroughout the years, the sportsturf industry has thrived, with independent sport and recreation clubs operating the length and breadth of the country.

Large manufacturing and commercial companies would once provide greenfield playing facilities for employees to enjoy, following a week long slog in the steelworks, factories, offices and coal mines. And they all employed a full time groundsman!

Social clubs were a hive of activity as teams were formulated to represent their companies, and interdepartmental competitions were organised to see which factory or office team was the best.

In return, the company would help support the social club by paying for kit and resources. As interest grew in sport, organised committees were formed to ensure they were run efficiently. These usually consisted of a chairman, secretary and treasurer; all volunteers, and all having a separate, but vital role to play in the club's administration.

In due course, football and cricket leagues evolved and prospered. On a smaller scale, so too did tennis, bowls, rugby and athletics. Thousands of aspiring sportsmen and women would be out every weekend, and even midweek, enjoying the fresh air and enthusiastically doing their best for their company.
Sports governing bodies saw the potential in this upsurge of interest in sport and set up county associations to help oversee the growth, administration and organisation.

BobStrettonOnTractor2For many years, these sporting organisations prospered as more as more people became interested in sport.

The 'Boom & Bust' of the 80s and 90s was to have a major affect on a once thriving sports industry, as social clubs came under threat from a lack of financial support from companies that once stood proud to support their own.

It was now time for the governing bodies to come to the aid of those clubs in most need of their support, whilst trying to survive the downturn in the economy. Sports clubs were looking for guidance, education and, where possible, financial support in order for them to survive. Yet, it seems that they were more interested in 'looking after their own backs'.

Over the years, with a steady decline in manufacturing, these once prestigious sports grounds and their facilities eroded away as companies streamlined production; putting employees out of work, closing down factories and offices and selling off their land to housing and small industrial developments.

Grassroot sports clubs had to re-evaluate their prospects as to whether or not to continue or simply go under. Many chose to continue, but some inevitably folded. Those who chose to soldier on often had to move to pastures new, trying to support their ambitions with voluntary contributions, fund raising and amalgamations to meet all the overheads required in running an affiliated sports club. The rising costs of maintaining a sports ground were not met lightly as clubs struggled to meet the requirements of providing a suitable and sustainable playing surface, as well as building costs, rates and services.

The sportsturf industry was also going through a radical shift in Personal Professional Development; education and qualifications becoming a prerequisite.

Volunteers1Few clubs could afford to employ a groundsman. Many relied on volunteers, who did not possess qualifications but had learned as they went along, begging, borrowing, seeking advice and making mistakes, all the time hoping that their actions would not cause too many problems.

Every club has an army of volunteers; those 'band of brothers' who painstakingly put themselves and their families out to support the cause in keeping the club alive, persevering whilst attempting to produce the best playing surface possible, carrying out repairs to vandalised property and then serving refreshments and hospitality before calling it a day!

Every sports club, up and down the country, relies heavily on voluntary contributions from members who give their time and support to providing a safe, sustainable environment for the enjoyment of others. With austerity running through the whole of the country, cutbacks, pay freezes and redundancies are becoming commonplace. So, the importance of the volunteer groundsman within a club is of paramount importance for it to survive.

This is where the associated sports governing bodies need to be role models and get involved at the grassroots, supporting those clubs in the most desperate need of their services.

Why? Because the governing bodies are setting the bar higher and higher, with ground improvements that are far beyond the reach of some grassroots clubs that run on a shoestring and rely heavily on bar profits to make ends meet. Gone are the days when one man and his dog could go along to watch a game without being told he has to pay to view?

Volunteers2Maintenance practices are being streamlined to save money, but still the leagues and their governing bodies expect the playing surfaces to be safe, sustainable and well presented. Too many clubs are going to the wall as a result of these mandates. They do not have a fairy godmother to wave a magic wand and produce a state of the art playing surface as seen on television. The results come from hard work, usually with inadequate machinery or equipment that is probably ready for the scrap heap, held together with spot welds and string.

Whilst the 'big boys' do have access to all the machinery and equipment, their obligations to provide a first class playing surface comes at a price. The paying public want to see good value for their hard earned money, even if they come away disappointed by the on-field performances of the playing professionals!

Yet, even at this level, volunteers are seen assisting on match days, putting back divots removing goalposts, covers or advertising from the pitch. Everybody needs a volunteer.

So, let's sing the praises of these wonderful people and recognise their achievements, by giving them the credit and rewards they deserve.

The industry needs to support these clubs through times of crisis with guidance, education and financial support.

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