Located in the heart of Scotland, Stirling County is a lively and welcoming cricket club. Founded in 1862, the club can boast a long and successful history that spans more than one hundred and fifty years. Ground Convenor/Manager, Paul Bielby, has the enviable task of looking after this unique ground - where two games can be played at the same time.
Stirling County Cricket Club had been at their old ground, known to all as Williamfield, for one hundred years (based at the Bannockburn side of the city in the Torbrex area adjacent to the Stirling High School). In 2005, the club took a monumental step of accepting an offer from Stirling Council to move from the site, allowing the new Stirling High School to be built on the old ground.
In exchange for this, the club developed a new facility in the Springkerse area of the city, just behind the Stirling Albion stadium near the new St. Modan's School, adjacent to the river and overlooking the fabulous Ochil Hills and the William Wallace monument.
Ground Convenor/Manager (volunteer), Paul Bielby, is in charge of the two full-size ovals separated by a sloping bank; the lower ground being fit for international matches, whilst the upper ground is suitable for first-class cricket. This allows two games to be played at the same time, and can also offer grass and artificial practice areas.
As Paul commenced our interview with Lee Williams, he said: "Since acquiring the new facility, we have hosted the Women's World Cup qualifiers in 2010, an under-15 international event in 2011 and we anticipate more representative use of the facilities as the ground matures."
How long have you worked here?
I first helped/worked on the ground between 2012-2014. After two years away from the area, I have been on the committee as Grounds Convenor from 2017 to present.
Left: Paul Bielby
How did you get into the industry, and where did you work prior to Stirling?
I started working part-time whilst studying. Prior to returning to my current volunteer role, I worked for two years at the Rose Bowl.
What training and education did you undertake?
I have little formal education when it comes to groundsmanship. I have attended various courses along the way and gained my knapsack spraying qualification PA1 and PA6.
Are you responsible for budgets?
Part of my role as grounds convenor is to manage the total budgets and expenditure for the club.
What is the club's history?
We moved to our current facility in 2006, after well over a century at our old ground in the centre of Stirling. The facility was built for us by the council, in consultation with Alan Simpson, in part of a deal that allowed them to build a new school on the site of our old ground.
What additional staff do you have?
Due to the sort of budget restraints that no doubt affects many an amateur club, we rely on a mix of part-time paid staff and volunteers from club members. Those who contribute to the ground maintenance include myself, Tom Bradburn, Brian Hambly, Ally Morton and Jasper Davidson.
How would you describe the soil profile?
The cricket squares are made up of Boughton County Loam. There is minimal thatch but it's reasonably compacted. The outfield is pure clay which poses many issues with drainage throughout the year.
Does it require any special maintenance?
In light of these issues, we are currently looking to verti-drain in the off-season. The club is also hoping to purchase a tractor-mounted scarifier to aid in the removal of moss etc. which will also improve drainage. My aim is to aerate the squares in the off-season, to reduce compaction and help with root growth.
Do you have any additional equipment/systems at your disposal?
We do have some covers and flat sheets available for use.
Are your pitches used by the community or hired out to outside agencies?
This season, we hired the ground out to two clubs on a Saturday. Usually, a Stirling team will play on the main ground, whilst one of the two outside clubs will play on the second ground. Then, one club will play on Sundays and Wednesdays. We also occasionally hire the facility for use by Cricket Scotland for various events and games.
Left: Tom Bradburn
Does the facility suffer from any regular natural occurrences?
Being close to the river, and due to the clay content of our outfields, we do experience waterlogged ground and puddles forming during heavy rainfall. This can take some time to drain away. The site is also quite exposed, and we can experience high winds. Being in Scotland, frosts and snow in the winter is quite common. As this is out of season, it has minimal impact on our fixtures.
How do you cope with these?
Verti-draining and scarifying help with drainage issues on the outfields. Two years ago, we had a ring drain installed around the main square to help combat a persistent flooding issue. This has drastically reduced the instances of water pooling at the square edge.
Are there any artificial surfaces at your facility?
We have two artificial practice strips surrounded by permanent netting which we occasionally roll.
Tell us about your weekly/monthly maintenance regimes
The weekly tasks undertaken are those usually associated with cricket pitch preparation. We cut squares with a Lloyds Paladin mower, roll the wickets, cut the outfields using our Toro triple mower, cut wickets before a game using the Allett Shaver and, finally, mark out the creases. The club's rough grass areas are also cut once a week (weather permitting) with a rotary deck on our Kubota tractor. More infrequent tasks include repairing pitch ends around once per month; we scarify the squares with a hand-operated SISIS; fertilise the squares two to three times during the season, and once or twice during off-season, as well as spraying for weeds on the squares once a year. Off-season involves verti-draining and scarifying (once we have purchased the machine).
Do you have specific tasks for specific staff, or is it an 'all hands to the pump' approach?
Whilst volunteers and paid workers can often carry out most tasks as and when required, there is a broad demarcation of tasks. Paid staff tend to focus on the pitch and outfield preparation, particularly on the main ground, whilst volunteers will mostly concentrate on rough cutting and general maintenance of the hedges, flower beds, etc.
Where does presentation rank?
Presentation is very important to us, but how the surfaces perform in cricket is the most important aspect I believe. However, presentation and how the surfaces perform often go hand-in-hand.
What end of season renovations do you undertake?
At the end of the year, we cut and scarify the squares multiple times before using a Groundsman aerator and then apply seed and an autumn/winter fertiliser. Finally, Boughton County Loam is applied at about six bags per pitch.
Are renovations affected by budgets?
As much as possible, we aim to use high-quality products during renovations. However, I do endeavour to source the materials as cheaply as I can, without ultimately sacrificing the quality.
Are renovations affected by outside pressures?
Not normally. The cricket season extending too far into September can have a negative impact, given the latitude of the club.
Right: Practice strips
How have changing weather patterns affected what you do?
Climate change hasn't had too significant an impact on the weather in Scotland - it has always been unpredictable!
Do you take regular soil samples to ascertain what work is required?
Whilst this is not something that we do on a regular basis, this is definitely something I want to incorporate into the regime to help us improve the surfaces.
What projects have been undertaken in recent years?
Recently, the most significant project we have undertaken was the installation of a ring drain around the main square, to combat the accumulation of water in that area after heavy rainfall. We hired a contractor to carry out this work for us.
How do you purchase machinery and are you loyal to one manufacturer?
Due to budget restraints, we buy all our machinery second-hand and, where possible, we will use a local dealer to source the machinery we require. We aim to purchase appropriate machinery in a cost-effective manner - regardless of the manufacturer.
Do you hire in any machinery for specific tasks?
We used to hire in a scarifier for the outfields once a year, but we are hopeful we can purchase our own. This will give us more flexibility when it comes to timings.
What would your wishlist include?
A Dennis G860 interchangeable cassette mower, tractor-mounted scarifier, tractor-mounted sprayer and SISIS pitch brush.
How do you undertake pest and weed control?
Where possible, we mainly use mechanical methods to control these factors by scarifying, fertilising, maintaining mowers after use. We will spray when needed and if it is appropriate to do so.
Are rabbits, badgers, foxes, geese, chafer grubs, worms etc. a problem?
Worms present a small but manageable problem. Weed and moss control pose our biggest headache, due to the open situation of ground with uncultivated fields surrounding it and high levels of rainfall respectively.
How do you control these?
Downcast has been recommended to us for worm control. We will scarify and apply sulphate of iron to control the moss.
How important do you consider the local flora and fauna?
Whilst we have no specific policies regarding wild flora and fauna, we aim to minimise the club's impact on these.
What would you consider to be the state of our industry?
I believe the tightening of budgets and the closing down of sports clubs is unnecessarily placing a strain on the industry.
Are we undervalued?
In most cases, yes.
How would you raise our profile?
Better education and understanding of the challenges involved in the industry and the importance of this. Even if this was done at base level, it would have an impact due to expectations of players and supporters that surfaces essentially 'magically appear'.
Thank you for your time.