Too Much Pressure?
The Head Groundsman's position at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon, has to be one of the most high profile positions in our industry. The annual Wimbledon tournament is the most prestigious in the sport; the fortnight is watched by over 500 million tennis lovers across the world. Eddie Seaward talks about the pressures of his, and other Groundsmen's, jobs.
There's pressure on Groundsmen in two ways - there's the lead up to a tournament or event and the tournament/event itself.
Some of it is in our own minds. In the last few weeks of the lead up to the Championship, I'm watching the courts daily. The big problem is that we Groundsmen are our own worst critics, and rightly so. I think it is something you have to learn to cope with.
I go on to a court and see a little blemish on the Friday. I go home for the weekend and, in my mind, it becomes a whacking great crater. And then I get in on the Monday and wonder what the hell I was worrying about - but you do.
Every year you know and have to accept that you are going to go through this worry. The pressure is always there.
Immediately prior to the Championship, when we've got all the players in practising, my worry really starts. We get four days of practise and on the Saturday prior to the Championship, play starts at 10.30am and finishes at 6.30pm. Apart from Centre Court and Court 1, every other court is one on one off all day long.
There's an awful lot going on during that day and you haven't got a lot of control, so I worry about the court, particularly if someone is dragging their toes or thumping racquets down. Damage is likely at this stage, when things aren't going quite right and the players are getting frustrated. They don't even know they're doing it.
I am always glad when that Saturday is over. That night you can have a good look at the courts, walk through them and tart them up if you need to.
Day one of the Championship itself is a pressure, not just because of the grass, but because of everything that goes on around it - court coverings, making sure the staff are in the right places, getting the courts dressed, putting the chairs out. I'm always glad when that day is over.
For two days before, I go round, checking that everything is done, umpire chairs, nets, posts etc., but come Monday morning and, inevitably, something will have gone. Not been nicked, but a contractor wanting a couple of chairs for something, and they don't come back.
So, on Championship morning, if it's a nice day, and the pressure of the weather isn't there, I get the courts dressed early an hour or so before play, to give myself time to rectify things if there are problems. If it's wet, we can only dress the courts a few minutes before play, so we've got Centre Court attendants running around trying to find chairs or whatever.
You know in yourself that you've got the courts right, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It's so nice to walk onto the court at the end of the first day to have a look at it, to see how it's played, to see how it's stood up to wear, because then you're really going to get a judgement on how it's going to play for the rest of the tournament.
So, if it's played well on day one, stood up to the wear, not started to cut up, I`m relieved. It shouldn't do of course, but you always have this niggling doubt in your mind. No matter what you do it's always going to be there, so it's always reassuring when it looks good.
I remember speaking to Steve Patrick from Blackburn Rovers who has this fear that one of the goalposts is going to break in the middle of the match. Even though he has done everything he possibly can, he still has that fear. And I think it's the same for all of us.
After the Centre Court has been set up, I still hang around for the first game of the first set. There's always this worry that the net is going to come unwound. It never has and probably never will, but I still like to see the ball hit the net hard a few times for reassurance. And I do that every day.
God knows how many times I've done that over 12 years, always thinking "Is it going to happen?"
Those are the sorts of day-to-day pressures.
The other pressures are weather related. When it`s a wet day and it's the first time to bring out the covers. There are 120 people involved and you are always concerned if they will be in the right place at the right time when you need them. Trying to cover 18 grass courts simultaneously within a few seconds will, with the best will in the world, sometimes go wrong. I'm always a bit on edge until we've had the first pull of the covers.
There is pressure all the way through the course of each Championship day. The officials are very good, but they misread things, and sometimes you get a radio message saying a base line is breaking up. You are confident that the court is so hard and not breaking up but, until you actually get there, you always have this lump in the back of your throat. When you get there, it's normally just a bit of dust where someone has been dragging their foot.
You know in the tournament, somewhere over 14 days something will come up and bite you. Hopefully it's behind the scenes, but you know you are going to get a problem. It's inevitable. I'm sure this year will be exactly the same.
I don't think it matters how many years you do it, you will always worry. The only thing is to try to recognise the fact that you do worry and that it is just a normal symptom.
The answer is preparation and organisation and making sure everything is in place and everyone knows what they`re doing. And whatever the nightmare scenario, you've got something there to, hopefully, match it. Over the years scenarios change, but you can learn to live with the pressure.
Once the tournament is underway you have to go with whatever comes. Mother nature will throw things at you and you have to deal with them. As I've said, it's learning to recognise the signs, not losing too much sleep, and trying to laugh about it.
I'm no different to every other Groundsman in the country. Whatever level of sport, we all have the same problems and worries.
The only difference is the fact that if things go wrong at the higher profile facilities, they are more in the public eye. Students who visit Wimbledon are amazed that we even have Fusarium, a few weeds, or dry patch or whatever. We're the same as everywhere else and we're going to get the same problems. We may even suffer more of these problems because of the intensity of the management and the closed stadium environment.
Groundsmen are all the same. We watch sport on the television and the first thing we look at is the pitch, the green or wicket. When we get together the next day, we don't mention the result, we talk about the grass. We look at things with a critical and interested eye. That's the joy of what we do.
Our minds never wander from our jobs.
You physically go home but you mentally never leave the place. I go to sleep thinking about parts of the job and wake up thinking about parts of the job. We all do it.
I feel for some of the cricket boys who have first class cricket going on for the whole summer. They may have 3 months, virtually playing nearly every day at a high level. They've got to survive, so they've got to be thinking about it.
You either love this sort of work or you hate it. It's a simple as that. Most of us love it because it's got so much going for it.
I did an interview for a Japanese newspaper, and they asked what I liked about the job. It was very easy - we see the end result. The end of the season comes and you do the autumn renovation, you look at the courts now and you do the spring preparation.
And on day one when the players walk out onto Centre Court, and hopefully the sun's shining, it looks nice. And you can say, " Hey, yes as a team, we achieved that."
You've seen the end result, when so many people who work in an office or a factory, they're only seeing part. We see the whole.
However, the work is all year round. Most of my materials for the autumn renovation are already ordered and delivery dates arranged. I'm getting ready for next year. I've got to be because, in 2 or 3 weeks time, my mind is going to be buzzing so much. I've got to get everything that I can out of the way now, so I haven't got so much to worry about during the summer.
I want things booked and coming in soon after the tournament as we start taking courts out. It's a scheduled delivery so we don't have everything coming in at once. It has to be programmed and planned. And then it's not a pressure.
There are times when you work late into the evening or take work home. People could perceive that as pressure, but that's not pressure. For me, if you leave it and don't do it, that's when it becomes a pressure.
If I know it's done and under control, then it's not a pressure.
The worst thing you can have is a hell of a lot piling up on your desk. It's there on a Monday, and you go home on Friday and it's still there.Most of the time, which I think is fortunate, there are deadlines here at Wimbledon. It's when you're not working to a deadline that you have a greater tendency to slip up.
It's human nature to put it off until tomorrow. However, when you've got a deadline, tomorrow soon comes up. To avoid being bitten you get it done.