The Invisible (Grounds) Man
by Dave Saltman
"Climb on the couch", said the psychiatrist, "Now, what's your problem?"
" I'm the Groundsman at my local sports club. I'm conscientious, I love my work and I spend every spare minute I have at the ground. I've got all the qualifications possible; in fact I'm probably more qualified than the majority of the players who use the pitches.
The problem I've got, however, is a feeling of inadequacy. Nobody appears to appreciate what I do. Any request for money for materials is laughed at, I'm paid a pittance and any opinion I offer is just ignored. It's as if I'm not there. Doctor, can you help me?"
"Next," said the psychiatrist.
In the beginning
I'm sure the above will strike a chord with all Groundsmen, and some Greenkeepers for that matter. It's been an issue ever since the term 'Groundsman' was used to describe someone who maintained and cared for a sports field.
In the good old days, a splendid group of men, led by the Head Groundsman of Eton College, WH Bowles, set up an organisation to improve the status of Groundsmen and the standard of groundsmanship. The National Association of Groundsmen, as it was called, was the forerunner to today's IOG.
Since those early beginnings the standard of groundsmanship has most certainly improved; you only need to look at the quality of pitches around the country as evidence of that. And status wise, our UK Groundsmen and Greenkeepers are respected by their counterparts as the best in the world because of the varied conditions we have to deal with.
It would appear, therefore, that the initial aims of Messrs Bowles and Co have been achieved.
So, end of story, mission accomplished. Groundsmen across the country are completely satisfied with their work and the respect they are given.
Or are they? In my experience the views of the Groundsmen out in the field are somewhat different. Very few consider that their 'profession' has moved forward, very few consider that they are given the credit their work and training warrants. There are many who are certainly not happy with their lot in life.
From time to time, on the Pitchcare site, we have had debates among our members (heated on some occasions) on the status of Groundsmen and, in particular, their standing in the eyes of their employers and the general public.
In the main, Groundsmen believe their work to be undervalued, underpaid and unrecognised.
On current evidence, they have every right to their beliefs when wickets/pitches are regularly criticised publicly with no response offered, and when a Premier League football club decides it can operate without the services of a Head Groundsman. What message does that send out on the importance of a Groundsman?
It begs the question - Are we really professionals or just glorified labourers doing a job that anyone with a mower and edging shears could do just as well?
The answer to that, we already know. Groundsmanship, nowadays, requires a very technical and scientific approach. Growing and maintaining high quality sports surfaces is no easy task. Out of necessity, our leading professionals have a qualification and skill base which would have been unheard of not so long ago
To their credit, the Football Association have made an effort with their Groundsman of the Year Awards, now extended to non league and local authorities. Cricket has also recognised it's top circuit of professionals and now, thanks largely to Cricket World and Pitchcare, this has been extended to lower league club cricket, schools and Local Authorities. Other Governing Bodies need to follow suit and promote any awards as widely as possible.
So how do we get our message over? How can we convince people that we are a professional group deserving of respect?
The way forward
Here are just a few examples of some of the comments by Groundsmen on the Message board:-
There has been a need for many years for the industry to produce a qualification system that is recognised across the whole industry.
The key to professionalism must be a chain of recognised qualifications.
The amount of expertise and knowledge and dedication shown by many turf professionals for all sports should be recognised.
Sports governing bodies need to raise the profile of our staff who week in and week out provide safe, consistent playing surfaces.
Green keepers get a far better deal than us.
It has been suggested that we could start by taking some tips from Greenkeepers. Compared to Groundsmen they have a high credibility rating with people outside their own industry.
It may be because Greenkeepers maintain acres of landscaped grounds with manicured fairways and greens whereas, in comparison, a Groundsman has a patch of turf to look after, only varying in size between sports. It may be because there is more finance available in the more affluent world of golf.
My firm belief, however, is that Greenkeeper training is of a much higher standard than that of groundsmanship; that it is better co-ordinated with a clearer path of qualifications.
That is the missing link in groundsmanship - a proper structured education system, with a clear lead body, similar to the GTC, working with Governing Bodies, colleges and other training providers to create an unambiguous and meaningful qualification system. No disrespect to the Government led NVQ's system, but a five year old could pass NVQ level 2.
We need to get back to an exam format of qualifications where candidates can be failed if the level of expertise required for that course isn't attained. To me the equation is simple enough:-
We need to go back to basics and build a solid foundation, using the template above to move our industry forward towards a much brighter future.
As a Groundsman for over fifteen years I, like many others, provided my expertise, often working under intense pressure, above and beyond the call of duty with little thanks for relatively little money. It is time, I believe, for change.