Shifnal Cricket Club has just completed one of the most ambitious projects in its long history. Pitchcare met up with the club's Head Groundsman, Adrian Shelley, to find out more
Adrian Shelley, Shifnal Cricket Club's Head Groundsman, is breathing a sigh of relief after what's been a hectic year in his role. He can only describe the last nine months as the most challenging of his fifty plus years of being associated with the club.
The reason? The club had taken on one of the biggest projects in its 165 years history; a complete regrading and reseeding of the outfield.
This project is the last of several refurbishment programmes the club has undertaken in recent years.
Other works have seen an extension and re-roofing of the main clubhouse, the provision of a new practice net area and new pathways around the clubhouse.
Adrian is no stranger to Shifnal Cricket Club, having spent his childhood helping his dad look after the ground. He then went on to play for the club, working his way up the teams and eventually becoming club captain in the early 1980s and again in 2003. He took on the role of volunteer groundsman in 1983.
With over thirty-five years groundsmanship experience, including several years in the role of ECB Pitch Advisor for Shropshire, he is more than qualified to oversee the regrading of the club's outfield.
Shifnal currently play in The Birmingham & District Premier Cricket League and is Clubmark accredited. They run four senior teams, a ladies team and also have a vibrant junior section.
The ground also hosts Minor Counties games; Shropshire CCC played their first Minor Counties Championship match at the ground against Cornwall in 1987. From then to the present, the ground has hosted fourteen Minor Counties Championship matches and two MCCA Knockout Trophy matches.
The club also has a second ground at Weston under Lizard, which they have rented from the Earl of Bradford for the last eight years.
There were several reasons the club decided to reconstruct their outfield. By doing so it would not only further improve the club's facilities, provide a smoother safer faster outfield, but also enable the club to attract players and be able to accommodate other activities outside the cricket season.
There are plans to rent out the outfield to a junior football club, with two small pitches being set out either side of the square.
As part of the outfield redevelopment, a new 10,000 litre rainwater harvesting tank has been installed to provide water for the square, along with a new perimeter drainage system around the square and electric cabling to power the scoreboard and provide power for their bowling machine. A new artificial pitch was being installed in the outfield in late July to complete the project.
Over the years, the club has acquired the knack of securing funds for these projects, usually by scouring websites for grants, loans and other monies made available via the ECB and Sport England.
With the cost of the new outfield set at around £96,000, the club originally applied for funding for the project back in 2011, but were turned down, so reapplied in 2014, and were successful in their bid, securing monies from the following sources, supplemented by their own resources:
Sport England - £50,000
ECB - £15,000
Shifnal Town Council - £7,500
Football Foundation - £5,000
Loan from ECB Trust - £8,500
A feasibility study was carried out by Alan Lewis, a local sports surface consultant, who was subsequently appointed to oversee the work, which began last September. The club originally asked if they could cancel their last two home fixtures to allow an early start to the work but, unfortunately, the Birmingham league were not able to accommodate their wishes, leaving the club with no alternative but to start the project as soon as the playing season had finished.
Ditton Priors based DW Shotton Landscapes Limited was awarded the contract, starting the earth moving work on 15th September 2014.
Another local contractor, Wem based Osprey Water Management Limited, were appointed for the rainwater harvesting element of the project.
The work was centred around the following main tasks:
- Killing off the existing surface vegetation
- Stripping off all the topsoil and stockpiling it on site
- Carrying out a cut and fill operation to completely regrade the outfield
- Install the perimeter drainage system around the square
- Install a rainwater harvesting tank and watering capability
- Install ducting for electricity cables
- Decompact subsoil
- Replace topsoil, level and reseed.
Adrian was on hand every day to help the contractor and keep an eye on what they were doing, along with frequent visits by Alan.
However, after a promising start to the job, with the contractor managing to complete the cut and fill operations, the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse, with three notable heavy downpours. "It was like battling across the Somme," said Adrian. "There was water everywhere.
Eventually, it ran off the field and into the neighbouring bungalows' gardens. Any slight rainfall simply topped it up again." The contractor was at the critical point of decompacting the soil, relevelling and overseeding.
However, even after a period of dry weather, the contractor was unable to get back on and finish the work: "Some areas were just too wet. The machinery just got stuck." The only action was to delay finishing the job until the following spring.
Obviously, this delay caused both the club and contractor a lot of heartache, with the ground being out of bounds, so the club needed to find alternative venues for "home" matches to be played at the start of the season, whilst the contractor also had to reschedule the work.
During the winter, the club approached several cricket clubs to see if they could accommodate their needs, which resulted in approval from the Birmingham League to play their first and second team home matches at Ellesmere College, thirty-three miles away, and at Wrekin College, ten miles distant, until the work was done. "We are very grateful to these Colleges for helping us out. They saved our bacon really," Adrian told me.
The delay resulted in the club losing a lot of much needed revenue, mainly bar takings during the months of April, May and June when no home games could be played. Also, the club had to pay both Ellesmere and Wrekin College for the hire of their venues.
The contractor came back on site in March, making good use of the dry and windy weather. On Easter Monday, about twenty club members helped speed up the drying process by physically bailing off puddles of water, which enabled the contractor to start decompacting the subsoil. With a significant hot spell of weather in mid April, the levelling and seeding of the outfield was completed on 20th April.
A quick to establish, high wear tolerant seed mixture was used, drilling in three passes, followed by two further sowings using a cyclone spreader. The seed was soon up and receiving its first cut with a rotary mower. The contractor was duty bound to carry out a number of initial cuts to get the outfield established; this included a couple of rotary cuts and rolling to firm up the sward.
The outfield was fed on the 1st June and then handed over to the club to maintain. Adrian was now more confident that the club would soon be back playing, with a date set for the first home match of 27th June.
Whilst the new outfield was growing in, Adrian was mindful that the pitches were in need of some attention, especially knowing that the square had not received any pre-season rolling this year due to not being able to get the roller across the flooded outfield.
Adrian was confident that his thorough end of season renovation regime would have helped set up the square and that he would be able to catch up with some consolidation during the fourteen days he allocates to make ready each pitch for a match.
Last year's end of season renovations saw the square scarified in several directions using a Sisis Rotorake 602, topdressed with eight bags per pitch of Boughton County loam and oversown. He usually keeps the square mown at 15mm throughout the playing season, bringing down the height of cut during his pitch preparations.
Adrian is also responsible for looking after their second ground, an eight pitch square that the club have been using for a number of years a few miles up the road on the Weston Park Estate. The ground is used for 3rd/4th team fixtures, as well as some youth team games. Having this ground has helped enormously this year, with virtually all the youth team games being played there.
With no cricket being played on the home ground, this allowed Adrian the opportunity to spend a bit more time at Weston, so it's probably been the best it has looked for a number of years. Year on year, the pitches have steadily improved and now provide a decent game of cricket for both batsman and bowler.
27th June 2015 saw the 1st team return to their ground to play their first home game for nearly nine months. Shifnal won the toss and fielded. Eastnor scored 227 for 9 off 55 overs and Shifnal replied with 200 for 9 to hang on for a losing draw.
Although not the result the 1st team wanted, it was, however, a milestone in the club's history, being the first match played on the new outfield. For Adrian and many of the club members, it will be a day that they will never forget and, more importantly, this new outfield facility will help the club raise the standard of cricket played at Shifnal for generations to come.