"The issue is identifying those who are genuinely interested in finding out more about our industry, and not just at the club to be around football players"
Since writing these articles for Pitchcare, I have been most pleased by the generally positive response from readers and the powers that be at the magazine. I hope I do not come across too negative about all things groundcare-wise, I tend to tell it as I see it.
A work colleague thought that, after reading one of my articles, it was enough to put any young person off joining our industry. He was commenting very much tongue in cheek, but I take his point.
Attracting quality, committed young people to groundsmanship is, I would say, not a problem. Judging by the letters we get at our club asking for work experience places there would appear to be a lot of genuine interest in the job.
The problems start when you get the young people on site and what they can do. Due to Health & Safety regulations, operating any sort of machinery is totally out of the question, so they finish up painting goal posts or sweeping up, not ideal as an insight into groundsmanship.
Another issue is identifying those who are genuinely interested in finding out more about our industry, and not just at the club to be around football players. We have had a few of those; one lad openly admitted it, saying he wanted to go into catering when leaving school and viewed his two weeks with us as a chance of some fresh air away from the classroom.
At the other end of the scale, a young man once contacted me asking if he could come to the club once a week on a volunteer basis to help out. He was at the local college doing a horticulture course, but had decided he wanted to get into football groundsmanship. It quickly became apparent, after a couple of days helping out, that not only did he have a hunger to learn, but was very skilful.
The club were very accommodating and took him on for thirty hours a week whilst he did his groundsman's NVQs. He passed with flying colours but, unfortunately, the club were not prepared to employ him full time, not because of who he was, but the fact they could not afford to take another groundsman on. This did not deter him as he continued to work the thirty hours a week at our club on a minimum wage, whilst applying for jobs at football clubs around the country. He aimed high and was selected, out of over fifty applicants, for an interview at one of the top Premiership clubs. He was unsuccessful, but did not give up and, three months later, secured a position with a very good Championship side at their training ground.
The moral in that story is, without doubt, if at first you don't succeed try again. If you have confidence in your ability, and show good practical skills, there will always be an opportunity within the industry. Do not get put off by one or two setbacks when applying for positions. Always ask at your local club if there is work available on a volunteer basis, we have three or four lads who come in on a matchday to help, mainly with divoting.
There may be a chance to help out in the week here and there, but do not get upset if it's not marking out the stadium pitch for a big game; groundsmen are very protective, and most will start you off at the far end of the training ground on some grids to see how you go.
Whilst working as a volunteer may not appeal to some, it does have its positives. If you are lucky enough to volunteer and get accepted at the club you support, it does mean you get to see games for free. Also, on a serious note, volunteer work always looks good on your CV, I feel it shows a willingness to get stuck in regardless.
Working outside in the cold and wet is my biggest dislike of the job, but in reality there are not that many days of the year when this occurs and is easily negated by nice warm dry days when acres of grass need cutting.
All in all, I would not swap my job for anything and, in that respect, I am lucky. I would encourage any young person thinking of going into groundsmanship to do so. You need to be thick-skinned if you enter into the football side of things. The banter and general mickey taking is of the highest order, right from the manager, coaches and players down to the grumpy head groundsman but, all in all, everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Keep the faith; and keep cutting the grass, after all that's all you do.