The end of an era
Farewell to Old Trafford bring on Twickenham
After 15 years at Manchester United, tomorrow sees my last game in charge as the lads step out to play Spurs.
I started work here in August 1987, having moved from Leicester City. My first game in charge being a Bank Holiday Monday match when United beat Chelsea 3-2 to go top of the table-I still remember it vividly!
It will be a very strange and sad day for me, watching my last game at the club that I have worked for so long. It is hard to leave a place of work, particularly where I have enjoyed so many successful years.
I am leaving behind a lot of great friends and colleagues, my fabulous staff in particular who have supported and stood by me throughout all of the good and the bad times.
Although tinged with sadness at leaving, I am eagerly anticipating a big career move to Twickenham, which represents a brand new challenge for me.
The last 15 years has been a tremendous challenge for me too, a continuous learning curve, working in an adverse environment trying to grow sports grass.
The stadium has always been high sided, when I first came there was just one open corner and the South side of the pitch, even then, suffered badly from the lack of light. Since that time the stands have continued to grow in height, reducing light and airflow further.
I have worked alongside some tremendous pioneers and experts in our field, in particular John Souter and latterly John Hewitt and Mike Harbridge, trialling and testing numerous systems, products and effects on the stadium environment.
In recent years as other stadiums have increased in size, there has become more appreciation towards the problems and effects of shade in stadia, and much research has been carried out, with data being produced to reinforce what we had thought for some time.
Our Industry has come forward in leaps and bounds, research and the subsequent technological advances have helped to improve the modern day playing surfaces to what they are today.
I have always found that the more I learn, the more that I want to learn. As a Groundsman you sort of become bitten by the bug of trying to beat nature, whether that was with new maintenance regimes or products, you almost become a scientist as well as a Groundsman. At Old Trafford we have always had various experiments going on, just to see if we could retain a few more per cent of grass cover in areas all over the pitch.
I would like to thank all my staff, in particular Tony Sinclair who first came to me as a fifteen-year-old YTS student. Most of my staff have been with me since they were young men.
Football Groundsmanship seems to take over your social life, and you end up spending so much time at work with your staff, that I have enjoyed watching them grow up, marry and start families.
There have been many highs and lows, but I probably witnessed the two extremes best in 1998/99. This was the season that the team won the treble, but it was also the time that the Strath Ayr system (the pitch construction) didn't perform. We were the first club to re turf the whole pitch midway through the playing season. It was testament to how good that team was, that they started playing the season on one pitch, continued on another pitch and then won the treble on another half pitch at the end.
Another high for me was working with Eric Cantona, a true gentleman. I remember a particular Christmas day, and I was waiting on the side of the pitch for the players to come out for a training session. It was nearly 6 pm and still no one around, when Eric came running across the park from the tunnel. He said 'what are you doing here Keith?' I said, "I'm here because the team are training here Eric". He shook my hand and said, " I thank you and your family, Keith, have a great Christmas".
It has been a privilege to work at a club like Manchester United and a privilege to watch so many great players like Robson, Pallister, Bruce and Keane. I thank everyone at the club, the players, the board and of course the great man himself, Sir Alex Ferguson, but I would also make special thanks to Ken Merrett, the club secretary, who has been a great source of support to me throughout my career here.
The start of an era
When the R.F.U approached me, I felt that at 48 years of age, it was time for a change of career.
This is a fantastic new challenge for me at Twickenham and I am excited at the thought of taking up my new appointment.
There are lots of great things happening at the home of Rugby, and I can't wait to get my teeth into a new sport, a new career and a new stadium.
My first game in charge will be the England v New Zealand fixture, a fantastic opener for me, to be able to prepare the surface for the legendary All Blacks with Jonah Lomu and co in tow. This game represents the first in a series of games against the greats of the Southern Hemisphere, with Australia and South Africa to follow.
I will update you all shortly, once I settle down in West London.