I had called in to Towcestrians Sports Club 'on spec' after visiting the town's racecourse, my eyes drawn by the expanse of grass, the rugby posts and the sheer number of children seemingly enjoying their time in the sunshine.
My intention was to find out who the head groundsman was and return, at a later date, to 'do a story' on him (or her).
I made my way out onto the pitches and introduced myself to one of the coaches, Lewis Barker, a past Towcestrian player, currently playing for Coventry RFC. He introduced me to the rugby team's First Team coaches, Robbie George and Steve Yuill, also former players at the club and now keen to put something back following their retirement from the game, a decision no doubt helped by their respective sons now playing for the club. They were all involved in a week-long summer coaching clinic for children.
Robbie was keen to explain how successful the club has been in recent years due to a number of on and off field activities. A solid coaching policy has been put in place and this has seen an increase in the juniors/youth section to record levels, with over four hundred children playing and training at the club each week.
The rugby club has a proud record of achievements, with a number of their players moving on to play for Northampton Saints, with some achieving England honours. The first team now play national league rugby having gained promotion, last year, to Midlands 1 East.
Another of their old boys, Chris Spackman, is the club manager. He is currently overseeing a £250,000 clubhouse extension which will provide vital extra space and facilities for players and other end users, such as the Ladies Hockey Club who use the clubhouse as a base.
The work is being carried out in two phases. The first phase is to extend the main function room and build new toilet facilities, whilst phase two will see the upgrading and extension of changing rooms and showers.
Regular events and fundraising days have helped to finance the improvements to the clubhouse and grounds.
As well as managing the club's affairs, Chris can often be found working on the grounds, cutting and marking out the pitches along with another long-time club servant, John Woolley, who has been associated with Towcestrians over fifty years.
The grounds boast three senior rugby pitches, training areas, a five pitch cricket square that sits between two of the rugby pitches and four artificial tennis courts.
Over the past ten years, Chris and John have made big improvements to the quality of the pitches. Localised drainage has been installed on the first team pitch, whilst more thorough end of season renovations, in the form of topdressings, aeration, overseeding and selective weedkilling to get rid of broad leaf weeds (especially plantains), has seen the playing surfaces hold up much better through the season.
The pitch drainage was centred on the wettest parts of the first team pitch, with a number of lateral primary drains installed at five metre centres, linking into a main carrier drain around the perimeter of the pitch. This, along with the regular aeration, has cured the problems, with the pitch now able to cope with heavy downpours.
The club has also purchased new equipment thanks to grants and funding schemes from the RFU and South Northamptonshire Council. These include a Kubota tractor, a Blec Groundbreaker, a large rotary mower, a sprayer and a Ransomes triple mower, the latter producing both a better cut and presentation on the pitches and cricket outfield.
Two members of the cricket club, Terry Richards and Tony Roberts, are solely responsible for maintaining the cricket square and preparing all the pitches. Just five strips have to cater for two senior sides and four junior teams, so the task is not an easy one.
The square is cut at 13mm with pitches prepared over a number of days to accommodate what is, mainly, a junior cricket section.
There used to be conflict between the two different sports having to share one facility. However, both the cricket and rugby sections have now managed to coordinate their requirements without upsetting one another too much!
The cricket club have their own equipment for maintaining the square, but share storage facilities.
Rugby pitches are mown on a weekly basis during the summer, keeping the cricket outfield at 30mm, whilst leaving more grass on the other pitches, cutting at 50mm.
The club also recently invested in self-travelling sprinklers to help promote essential grass growth during the summer months. Part of the new clubhouse extension has a built-in water recycling plant to capture rainwater for use on the pitches.
A granular fertiliser is applied in spring and summer to help promote growth for the forthcoming playing season.
The club's ongoing relationship with Northampton Saints means that they can call on their long-standing groundsman, Piggy Powell, for advice. Chris says this is freely and enthusiastically given, and has been a tremendous help over recent years as he and John strived to improve the quality of the playing surfaces.
The club also enrolls the help of members to tidy up the grounds, organising working parties throughout the year.
Fundraising plays an important role, with a number of events, some rather quirky, organised throughout the year. This year, as well as a Jubilee Ball, Chris and the team organised a brand new event - the Sausage and Cider Festival - featuring live music, a hog roast and a range of gourmet sausages.
Members are also 'encouraged' to purchase a house brick as part of their Buy A Brick campaign which, as the name implies, is used to help with the clubhouse extension.
The club are well aware that, once the clubhouse improvements have been completed, they will need to put in place a long term development plan to improve their pitches and, more importantly, look at the feasibility of acquiring more land - up to four hectares - to provide additional playing surfaces for the ever increasing amount of teams.
Chris had hoped that, as part of the development, this would include an astro pitch for the Ladies hockey team, but he explains, with some regret, that the local council are planning a brand new full size artificial pitch on the outskirts of the town as part of a new borough housing development. Should this happen this, of course, it will mean that the ladies will play their matches at this new facility. However, Chris has been reassured that the team are happy to continue using the club's facilities as they have built up a good relationship with the members.
For an on-spec visit, it was very pleasing to see all these positives. They are only ever achievable when a team of dedicated people come together to make a difference, and it seems Towcestrians are making good use of all these committed club members who are inspired to keep the club moving forward in more ways than one.