Surrey school's cricket ground wins top award
The 2004 England & Wales Cricket Board Groundsman of the Year awards named the Whitgift School's Northfield ground in Surrey runner-up in the 'best outground' category - the first educational establishment to be acknowledged in this way for the excellence of its playing conditions.
Helping the school to its summer success was a John Deere 2653A utility mower, hired from John Deere dealer Godfreys of Sevenoaks, Kent.
Whitgift School hosted Surrey's four-day County Championship and one-day National League matches against Lancashire in August. It was the quality of the playing surface during this Festival week that earned the ground its second place among the country's 50 or so county outgrounds. The achievement is all the more remarkable because, unlike virtually every other county cricket outground, Northfield is a working sports field for 12 months of the year.
As a result, the outfield takes a battering from rugby boots during the school's autumn term and hockey sticks in the spring term. There are at least 60 matches, not to mention winter games periods throughout the week. In the summer it stages 100 cricket matches.
Whitgift's grounds manager Ken Emmins said the Northfield ground had been brought to tip-top condition for the Surrey cricket fixtures by the school's head groundsman Matt Pullen and his grounds team.
"The ground's light, fibrous soil conditions mean that it is very well drained and fast growing. Last summer was particularly 'grass friendly', so regular, quality outfield mowing was essential," said Ken.
"Serious work in preparation for our Festival week began as soon as the school broke up for the summer holidays in mid-July. We hired the John Deere 2653A triple mower from our equipment suppliers Godfreys specifically for outfield duty, boxing all the cuttings. It has an optional front spiral roller which stands the grass up for a really fine cut.
"We understand that it was the marks the umpires gave for the ground over the five days' play that gave us our second place ranking. The school is immensely proud of this, and Matt quite rightly will be the one to step forward and receive the award when it is made."
Whitgift's Northfield Ground has staged cricket since the 1930s, and one of the school's most famous cricketing 'old boys' is Raman Subba Row, who played 41 times for England and was Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1961.
The ground has been hosting Surrey fixtures for eight years, initially 2nd eleven games, then the National League. Now it is a regular on the Championship calendar, and in 2005 plays host to champions Warwickshire during the school's late spring holiday at the beginning of June.
The school's cricket coach David Ward, himself a Surrey player for 14 years until 1996, also praised the work of the groundsmen.
"Once it has been box cut the outfield looks so professional. The John Deere mower gives it that final touch. Being able to play on a first class ground used by the likes of Mark Ramprakash and Adam Hollioake has a great knock-on effect for the boys too. Everyone is excited about next season already," he said.
Photo: The John Deere 2653A utility mower under the Northfield ground's rugby posts, with (left to right) Whitgift School grounds manager Ken Emmins, head groundsman Matt Pullen and Brian Grimes of John Deere dealer Godfreys.