"One of the club's greatest assets is our knowledgeable and dedicated Groundsman, Eddy Bayton, who has made the wicket one of the best in the league." So states the website of Torrisholme Cricket Club. Situated on the outskirts of Morecambe in Lancashire, the club is rare in promoting the skills of its groundsman so openly and enthusiastically.
Here, Eddy explains how he came to be at the club and how he has raised the standard of the pitches
After achieving a degree in Biological Science and Maths, Eddy Bayton began his career working in the paper industry. "I found it increasingly difficult to work for other people, possibly because I am rather opinionated and reported to two directors who did not always see eye to eye," he states openly.
With a friend, he set up a small manufacturing business making educational equipment, jigsaws, one-off joinery commissions and exhibition stand designs. "This did well, for five or six years, as a partnership, but I decided to sell my half and branch out into domestic joinery on my own, which I still enjoy greatly, especially the one-off elements like doors and windows of odd shapes and sizes."
"Along with some friends, I set up a Sunday touring cricket team in 1986 which is still going today. One of our players was involved with Torrisholme on Saturdays and he recommended me to them when their groundsman retired, knowing I had a good knowledge of cricket, but also soil science, plant management and some mechanical aptitude. I have been a part time groundsman ever since. My degree has served me well, but not in the way I expected," explains Eddy.
"In recent years, I have taken the ECB level 1 and 2 courses in cricket preparation and hold appropriate spraying qualifications. Fifty years of tinkering with anything mechanical has helped, and it would be unfair not to mention the good relationships with other groundsmen locally that has also taught me a lot. I feel communication and support is important in, what can be, quite a lonely profession at times."
"My father was a good spinner for the London Hospitals in the late 1940s and a decent footballer too for the same organisation. He has a great story about playing cricket in SW19 on Men's Finals day adjacent to Centre Court."
"Most important has been the support of my wife Jane over the last thirty years; an amazing person, a brilliant teacher and a cricket lover. She also has the best bowling analysis I have ever seen. I know because I was the scorer. Six wickets in seven balls, two caught and bowled, for Lancaster University Ladies."
Cricket, as the saying goes, courses through Eddy's veins.
Founded in 1947, the club initially played in the Lancaster and District Cricket League and held games on the ground now occupied by the Vale of Lune Rugby Club's number three pitch.
Thanks to the foresight and hard work of a group of members, the current picturesque ground at Boundary Meadow was purchased and the club played its first game here in 1969, after joining the Palace Shield Competition [the major cricket league for Preston and surrounding districts in Lancashire] to play a higher standard of cricket. In its first season in this competition the club won promotion to the top division.
In the late seventies, Jessie Lockwood and her husband Cecil became heavily involved at the club, attending every home game and offering particularly strong support to the junior section (Jessie referred to them as 'her boys'). Initially set up and coached by the remarkable Jim Dyak, who had difficulty walking and used an invalid carriage, many fine local cricketers came through the ranks.
After a period of decline in the early 1990s, the junior section was revived in 1995 by John Ball, initially coaching his own son and a group of school friends.
The junior section has gone from strength to strength and now runs four age group teams, has well over a hundred members and has eight ECB trained coaches supported by a team of helpers. A number of girls are involved, along with several members from ethnic minorities, and the club also caters for a range of disabilities.
The club is affiliated to the ECB through the Lancashire Cricket Board (LCB), is an ECB Focus Club and achieved Clubmark Status in August 2005, having implemented the ECB 'Safe Hands' child protection policy and appointed trained Welfare Officers.
The club is a founding member of the local Cricket Development Group and locally shares, with Northern Premier Morecambe CC, the status of Joint Lead Club in the 'Chance to Shine' programme.
Thanks to generous funding from the ECB, SITA Trust and a substantial investment from club funds, a new shower and changing block, with full disabled access, was constructed over the winter of 2008-09. This facility will be a huge benefit to the club and will also provide a focus for local girls and disabled cricket and a base for district age group squads.
The club continues to move forward, improving facilities and access, with recently secured funding from Sport England for mobile covers, and from the Local Initiatives Fund to replace the doors and windows around the old pavilion.
Future plans include a fully enclosed practice facility, replacement of the machine shed and the acquisition of an Auto-Roller and spiker to support ground maintenance.
"As you might imagine, we run a very tight ship for a club fielding three senior sides and four junior age groups," explains Eddy. "When it comes to budgets, I make a suggestion to the management committee at the end of each year and, thankfully, they usually approve it. You can't ask for too much, but it's vital to spend all of what is offered sensibly. Capital items are difficult at the moment because we are still paying off a short term loan for the very high-spec modern changing block."
"With our seven sides, plus Kwik cricket on Friday nights, we are a pretty busy club. In addition, the students from Lancaster University and the University of Cumbria hire our surface on Wednesday afternoons for the BUCS competition. Lancaster Royal Grammar School also use our ground when they are stretched in their fixture list and all their squares are in use.
We were a host ground for the National RGS festival last year and were in contention to entertain the MCC against a Palace Shield representative side next year."
"We have hosted Palace Shield cup finals on a few occasions, which are great because the travelling support always makes for a big crowd and an atmosphere. Lancashire have used our ground for district junior matches and senior disabled cricket," continues Eddy.
"We have full wheelchair changing facilities and access, and a match pitch can be arranged alongside one of the artificial pitches to make wheeling/ running easier. Our best community use is for the local council's Primary Schools Kwik Cricket festival."
"There are two adjacent grounds to ours; Westgate CC and Bare CC of the Westmorland League. On the finals day, there can be twelve games going on at once and twenty or more teams in attendance - a brilliant advert for sports participation."
Torrisholme's ground sits just six metres above sea level, on one of the biggest tides in the UK, peaking at over ten metres. High spring tides and rain sodden ground do not always sit easily together, so Eddy explains that September and March can be "quite interesting" if the weather is very wet. "We are very free draining, on silt with some gravel and sand below, so that helps," he added.
"We now have Stuart Canvas roll on covers which are a huge improvement on the heavy sheets we used to use. Not only are we playing on decks with moisture I can control now, the biggest advantage of these covers is that pitches do not get destroyed when used in wet weather. I can reuse a surface many more times, and we can host more games and of a higher standard."
With the exception of occasional player volunteers and regular help from the Chairman, Eddy works alone. "I used to take a student from the local Grammar School on work experience in May, but that has all stopped now, which is a shame. They sent aspiring cricketers and they used to learn a lot more about the game than just batting, bowling and fielding."
At just shy of three acres, the site is used exclusively for cricket. The square has up to three junior decks and up to eleven senior decks; "if I count the eighteen feet practice pitch at one end," states Eddy.
In addition, there are two artificial pitches either end of the square with roll on cages. "On training nights we can safely run both nets at the same time. There are plans afoot for a fixed three or four lane cage off the field, but I'd prefer some investment in plant before that. I'm in the queue," says Eddy with a grin.
"The field has long square boundaries, but is a little short if you're hitting straight. From batsman to the rope, a straight hit is only 65 yards at each end, so the sightscreens are 'on the field'."
"Rain and wind are the biggest problems, especially rain," bemoans Eddy. "We are in one of the wetter parts of the country, after all. In all honesty, we could use a bit more frost. I find it's a great decompactor of the square. I really like an early hard frost, as long as the renovations have germinated and matured, of course! Snow is rarely a problem, even though we are in the rainshadow of the Cumbrian fells, the direction from where all the snow comes from."
"Where the weather is concerned, I try to be aware in advance and act accordingly. After basic bodily functions, the first thing I do in the morning is check the BBC, the Met Office and Rain Today on the internet. The last thing I do before turning the light off at night is the same. I'm a weather junky!"
"We have high trees on the eastern side of our ground, so about a quarter of the outfield can be in shade or will keep dew for a long time early and late in the season. That portion is prone to moss as well."
Whilst Eddy, in the main, works alone - he tends to do most of the science himself - there are plenty of local groundsmen to confer with, and most are "very helpful and friendly," he says. "We do a lot of commiserating because of some of the 'exciting' weather in the Morecambe Bay area. One of the umpires affiliated to the club, Malcolm Porter, is the head groundsman at a local college and has vast experience. I am hoping to arrange some cross pollination of expertise and facilities this winter between him and, possibly, Morecambe Football Club."
"Some of the necessary machinery is way out of our financial reach and, as we are in a backwater, transport costs for contractors are a big factor."
"The majority of our equipment is second hand," explains Eddy. "If you see it you have to grab it. The committee is very good like this. My only problem is that a good scarifier or spiker hardly ever comes up for sale. These, and a reasonable small ballastable roller, are the obvious pieces of kit we need."
"Some things are no brainers, like seeing a machine with a Honda GX engine. Briggs and Stratton are very good too, but some other Japanese engines are very hard to get parts for or expensive to maintain. Most day-to-day problems come down to the engine in the end, be it snapping a starter cord or clogging a carb so, if all your engines are the same, you are familiar with them and can make a quick swap of something, if required."
"If my lottery ticket came up, then my wish list would include a Graden and a Groundsman HD spiker definitely. A tractor and a Quadraplay wouldn't be far behind."
This somewhat realistic approach extends to maintenance and renovations.
Where machinery is concerned Eddy does most of the maintenance; "basic servicing like grease, plugs, oil, filters etc. More complicated engineering or reel sharpening is done by a local firm - McGaffigans of Bolton le Sands - who are both very good and very friendly," he states.
The outfield is cut on an as required basis at least twice a week. "Some of the players are trained to use the outfield mower and will cut on match day or help to mop up water, but only if really necessary," Eddy continues. "Our Chairman is a very hardworking and eager man who will step in to do anything. He is a great administrator and coach in the twilight of his senior career. Unfortunately, he is not mechanically sympathetic! I bought him a rotary of his own and he dutifully cuts the edge bits and does hedges and corners where the triple can't get to. This saves me a lot of time."
"Where the square is concerned, I start prepping a match deck fourteen days in advance, and choose its position by taking the team who will use it first and the strength of their opposition into account. Up until June this year, I hadn't watered for four years. Hoses and sprinklers are rarely deployed in our part of the world!"
"The pitch is combi-raked, cut with the Ransomes Super Certes and rolled with my 'too heavy' 1959 Greens Griffen three wheel roadroller. I repeat this every other day as required, lowering the cut to match height two days before the game. I give a final cut and roll, then paint up on the morning of a match."
Presentation ranks highly; "just below surface and outfield performance," Eddy says, almost demandingly. "I aim for even bounce and as much pace as possible, and try to get the outfield to run as fast as I can. I diagonally stripe alternate ways on the outfield, as this shows best from the pavilion. I cut the whole square on the morning of a match to give a clean new stripe. The boundary line is painted weekly - usually on Friday - and 'has' to be neat and straight."
End of season renovations start as soon as the league has finished and consist of double spiking the whole square, scarify at least four ways, seeding with a mixture of Battersbys 100% ryegrass, with the danger areas sown with Barenbrug Bar Extreme. "I add between six and ten bags of loam to each deck and aim to fill any low spots caused by the roller with a bit more. We use Boughton Kettering loam on the whole square which provides a decent, even surface, but still a controllable one in a high rainfall area. I find it a good compromise between Mendip, which is too slow for us, and Kaloam which can take too long to dry out on a wet afternoon."
"When I came here thirteen years ago, there was no budget set aside for renovations and the square was a mess. Basically, renovations were a token affair. It took five years to get it 'nearly right' and ten to lose the historical stigma of 'terrible surface here' from visiting clubs. Hosting league finals has ensured renovations budgets are an 'untouchable' in the committee's eyes, which is excellent."
Eddy's experience is vital in understanding what is happening on his surface. "I tend to know by growth rate and colour what is needed.
Perhaps getting a metals and minerals analysis would be a good idea, but I'd have to trust the lab first!" he states. "The ground tells you most things. If you have worm casts, then you have worms. If starlings are feeding on the square, then you have a leatherjacket or chafer problem coming. If you have yellowish patches in the grass, then get some air in and feed a bit. I try and feed as little as possible and get the roots right down. I will take samples to check on root health and depth though, and act accordingly."
So, is there anything he wants to improve? "Getting the square to its current standard and getting it respected by visitors has been very rewarding, so it follows that the outfield is next," he states. "I want to get more air in, eradicate broadleaved weeds and pull the moss out. Don't we all? It's the thing that will take us to another level and raise match aggregate totals and the standard of batting and fielding. If a batsman gets value for a shot along the ground, then he's not going to hit it in the air, is he? The outfield is too slow at present."
"I try to minimise any chemical application," continues Eddy. "We are blessed with some superb wildlife in the area and I believe anything I apply is not going to improve their situation. I'm not an organic freak, I just try to keep everything in proportion. A good example is our car park.
Because I haven't applied three lots of glyphosate this year, the gravel is studded with loads of ground hugging weeds which are used by a large flock of linnets and goldfinches. I think that's a balance. The cars can have the car park in season and the finches in the winter."
"Fairy ring is a major problem though," bemoans Eddy. "Whatever I do seems to have little effect."
"Fortunately, I am not blighted by dogwalkers because we are fenced in. Fox and hedgehog poo can be a problem though. Worms are a big problem and I try to address that in early spring and summer, if it's wet. I don't mind worms after the season finishes, they help drain and aerate the square. I can cope with the casts out of season if they do that. At high tide in winter, we get a lot of oystercatchers. They make excellent natural spikers and, along with the starlings, remove the vast majority of chafers and leatherjackets for me. Luckily, rabbits aren't a problem, as we have buzzards and ravens nesting locally."
"We don't have an environmental policy as such, but I try to do as little damage to the balance as possible. You have to spray a bit, but think carefully about what goes on and most importantly, when," he says.
"The ground is part of a BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) Tetrad 1 survey. They have just published their ten year atlas of breeding birds, including my paltry little patch."
"I try and dovetail the needs of cricket and the environment with everything I do, be it encouraging fruit in the hedges or not spraying all the nettles and brambles to retain a food source."
As the interview concludes, Eddy offers his thoughts on the industry. "Standards, machinery and technology are improving. The high standards at the top flight are now filtering down to the recreational level. Everything is light years away from thirty years ago," he states. "You only have to look at old footage of rugby or football to see that."
"I worry about the advance of artificial surfaces in winter sports though. I can understand hockey, but football and rugby doesn't seem the same to me on plastic. The downside of the industry is that pay and conditions remain pretty feudal for the full timers. I'm glad I'm only part time!"
"We need to raise our profile. Talk to the media, especially the TV. When did you last see a groundie interviewed in a positive light (or at all?) where he is able to explain what he's doing? Wembley, Wimbledon, the Test Grounds etc. have all come in for stick with little comeback from those responsible. There is more to Football Focus than interviewing a barely coherent £100k a week footballer, with a tractor mowing in the background for 'colour.' Perhaps it's time for Pitchcare TV?"