By David Markham
It has been a traumatic winter with vandalism at the Park Avenue ground. The venue was used by Yorkshire for about 100 years until 1996 and is now the centre of excellence for Bradford and Leeds Universities. At the end of March, vandals smashed 400 plastic seats, wrecked a toilet, and dug holes on the square and the outfield.
Groundsman, Richard Robinson said: "On one night they marked out a football pitch in stones - lots and lots of tiny pebbles, all of which had to be removed. Then, sheets and strimmers were stolen. We have had no vandalism since there was publicity about it in the Telegraph & Argus, and vandalism normally decreases once a season gets underway. We have taken out the broken seats and repaired the square. Fortunately we have got 16 pitches and only three of them were damaged."
With co-Groundsman, Chris Cay, they just got on with their work, "I just cracked on with the pre-season rolling," said Richard. "You can't do much about the vandalism. You have still got on with your work. We killed off worms and weeds on the outfield to make sure everything is ready for the new season. We have two three day matches early in the season when the university team play against Leicestershire and Lancashire.
During the winter we did aeration on the outfield and root aeration on the square. The ground gets compacted during the season so we need to open it up. Then we have to do the pre-season rolling to close it up again. We have been doing scarifying to get rid of unwanted fibre, then seeding and top dressing to make sure everything is ready and in working order for the season.
We started cutting and rolling the last week in February, but then it started raining in mid-March and we had to start all over again. We are just starting rolling for the first class games while the grass is still long. We will gradually cut it down in length and look forward to a shining white wicket in a fortnight's time, weather permitting. We have five pitches on the go on the square in different stages of preparation."
The former first class venue is also benefiting from efficient labour saving devices offered by the Australian Graden machines. Chris, who is an Australian, was instrumental in bringing Graden machines to Park Avenue and he and both he and Richard are enthusiastic about the benefits. They have ordered a tractor mounted Graden heavy scarifier which Chris used successfully in Australia where he spent the English winter as Groundsman at South Melbourne Cricket Club.
"This machine scarifies to a depth of two inches and it can scarify the square in less than an hour. Alternatively, it can be used as verticutter, which is a relaxed form of scarifying," said Chris.
They are using a pedestrian Graden model, which can be used as a scarifyer or verticutter by adjusting the blade setting. The verticutter cleans up the lateral growing grass and unwanted organic matter from the square to help the groundsmen in their preparation work. Normally, any unwanted material or debris left on the surface by the scarifying or verticutting process would have to be raked off the square but, at Park Avenue, they remove it with a large industrial blower, Billy Goat, or power brush.
Park Avenue is home to the Bradford Central League club Wibsey Park Chapel, who play two senior teams on Saturdays and some Sundays. They also play Bradford Evening League cricket on Wednesdays. Richard says: "We are also hoping that the northern based players in the England women's cricket team are going to practise here which is good for us. We want people to play here as often as possible. Not only will this make sure the ground is well used but it will help to stop vandalism."