Quality First in the States of Jersey
As you would expect, with the warmer climate, Jersey is still popular with clubs from the mainland although, as Steve explained, things have changed "We have one area where we keep a football pitch in play for 52 weeks of the year to accommodate local and visiting teams but, sadly, we don't get as many big clubs as previously because they all have their own training facilities. What we do tend to get are visiting teams from County leagues such as Dorset and Somerset playing cup games on the island.
Also, our cricket facilities have a very good reputation; they are of a very high standard and we have had County teams such as Glamorgan and Middlesex over here training "
Jersey has 4 major outdoor sports sites - the Springfield stadium; the FB playing fields, part of the Boots Trust, with 3 senior and 3 junior football pitches, 3 cricket pitches, 1 hockey pitch and the islands only all weather running track; Grainville playing fields, where the island team plays all it's home county cricket matches, on the main square, 4 junior football and 1 senior rugby pitches; and finally Les Quennevais playing fields, which is the largest outdoor sports area in the Channel Isles, with 1 rugby pitch, 5 senior football ( 1 floodlit ), 3 junior football, 1 artificial hockey pitch, 4 croquet lawns, a petanque area, a bowling green, and 8 floodlit tennis and netball courts. The playing field is also surrounded by a mile long cycle track which is used to hold races twice a week in the summer.
In addition to the playing surfaces Steve and his team also maintain all the landscaping, bedding etc. within the playing fields, which includes 5,000 trees at the Les Quennevais.
Steve has spent all his working life in groundsmanship on the island beginning as an apprentice and working his way up through the ranks to Playing Fields Manager, a position he has now held for 8 years. He knows his surfaces like the back of his hand, "Most of the soil on the island is sandy to light. We have no cricket loam at all so we have to import it from the mainland. Also all our top dressings come in from the mainland. We do, however, produce our own compost from leaf mould and seaweed which our tractor team mixes in the winter months; we screen it out and use it on our landscape areas and mix with sand for reseeding our football pitch goalmouths".
Steve continued "Being an island does mean that wages and costs of materials are generally more expensive. On average we have to pay an additional £70 per pallet for carriage, so we have to plan our deliveries very carefully. We bulk buy at the start of the season; I will start looking for prices around December.
However, I am not restricted to buying the cheapest - our main criteria is quality. The grasses, for example, which we use on our football and cricket fields, are exactly the same as used at Premier and County level. We do invest in quality."
Quality, Steve pointed out, is also very much dependent on staff and machinery," I have a very good workforce, 35 in the summer including temporary staff and 33 in the winter. I have 6 head groundsmen / chargehands reporting directly to me and, apart from the staff at the main sites, there are a couple of mobile teams carrying out maintenance and project work, a line marking crew and 5 tractors for mowing and maintenance on our sites and for other clubs and schools on the island.
I also have to say that we are pretty well off for machinery. In the last 5 years we have renewed a large proportion of our machinery; we have changed our tractors to New Holland, we have some Jacobsen equipment including a ride on triple greens mower for the croquet lawn and a tri-king for use on the football pitches, plus box mowers, Mastiffs, Dennis etc.
Last winter we purchased a new vertidrain. It has been well used on our own sites, but we also do some contracting out work for private clubs, golf clubs etc. We do virtually all the work on our playing fields ourselves, although we did have a company in from the mainland last summer to do a drill and fill on two of the bowling greens to improve the drainage."
The island's pitches are used extensively, particularly football. In general they are used every weekend during the playing season - Saturday morning (schools), afternoon (senior), Sunday morning (junior U-16/U-18) and afternoon (U-14 and seniors). The two floodlit pitches, at the main stadium and Les Quennevais are used on average twice per week and 3 or 4 times per week respectively.
As for all groundsmen, planning for the close season renovations are essential, "All our facilities are used by schools so our maintenance regimes take the school terms into account. We start taking down some of our football pitches just before Easter and go through into May. We vertidrain each one, followed by direct drill seeding and a spring fertiliser; we make up the levels in the goalmouths with compost and seed up."
During our conversation Steve let it slip that he is a County football referee on the island. I asked him if it created any conflict of interest between his two roles. He claimed that it didn't but then added, "I do make a point of speaking to the goalkeepers and warning them about putting marks in the goal areas!"
No wonder the island has such a good reputation for the quality of its sports surfaces. Steve and his team won the FA Local Authority of the Year Award last year and are one of the 5 finalists again this year. The result will be announced during SALTEX.