Wayne Duggan is a man on a mission, one that has been a passion to him for more than twenty years. It's a passion that Wayne shares with countless other turfcare professionals in striving to create the best possible playing surfaces for those who use them to play sport week in, week out in competition, for exercise or, simply, for fun.
Although he has owned and run, for the past seven years, his own fine turf maintenance contract business based in Port Talbot, south Wales, Wayne wears two other hats, one as an ECB-appointed pitch adviser for south-west Wales, the other as head groundsman at Port Talbot Town Cricket Club.
Like many others who help prepare sports surfaces in an amateur or professional capacity, Wayne started off by playing the sport himself, in this case, cricket.
"My father took me as a lad to the British Steel Sports Club, now called Tata Steel, where I started playing regularly for the second eleven, there being no junior teams back in the 1970s," he explained. "In 1982, I joined nearby Margam Cricket Club, which rented a ground within Margam Country Park from the local authority. The council's mobile team prepared the wickets and cut the outfield. It was not a very high standard, but it gave us reasonable pitches on which to play."
In early 1992, Margam Cricket Club's ground rental agreement came up for renewal. Due to budget cuts, the council advised the club that it would have to arrange its own maintenance from then on or lose the ground.
Having unsurprisingly chosen the first-mentioned course of action, the committee looked for someone to take on the job. That someone turned out to be first-team player, Wayne Duggan.
"I had trained and was working at the time in the engineering industry, but had always had in interest in soils, turf and the creation of great playing surfaces," he said. "I was asked if I would like to take on the job, and I took the plunge with the promise that I would not be expected to do it all on my own."
Although the council had left the club a few hand tools and other items of ageing machinery, there was insufficient equipment on-hand to prepare wickets and mow the outfield for the coming season.
That first year, Wayne says that he literally begged and borrowed whatever equipment he could lay his hands on to get the weekend's wickets completed by Saturday morning.
"The machinery fleet did grow over time," he said. "Never new kit, always second-hand, but it did the job and that was the important thing. It was a very hands-on role and I learned a tremendous amount in a relatively short time about turf and the way it reacts to different treatments and weather conditions."
Taking his new responsibilities seriously, Wayne attended specialist training courses in machinery operation, turfcare and spraying, among others, all in his own time as he was still employed in engineering.
"The pinnacle of my early career within turf maintenance came in 1997 during Margam Cricket Club's centenary year," he recalled. "We had managed to arrange a commemorative match against Old England, welcoming to the ground former Test players including Derek Randall, John Lever and Jim Parks. Not only did I captain our team, but I opened the batting and prepared the wicket. It was a great experience."
One of the early valuable contacts made by Wayne during his time as groundsman at Margam Cricket Club was George Balmer, the head groundsman at King's School, Gloucester, who sadly passed away in late 2009.
"I bought a used machine from George and he offered to help me out if I ever needed some fertiliser, weed killer or the loan of a specific machine," explained Wayne. "I took him up on his offer a few times, which was a great help to the club and to me whilst I was learning the ropes."
"George's willingness to help a fellow groundsman, albeit at a much lower level than him, is an attribute I have experienced time and time again across the turfcare industry. I have seen no demarcation or snobbish behaviour wherever I have worked, trained or advised. It's a feature of the industry that does it credit."
In 1999, Wayne was asked by Corus Steel Cricket Club - the successor to British Steel - if he would take a look at the club's square which had been suffering, for several years, from a succession of niggling turf and compaction related problems.
"I told them they needed someone looking after the ground with previous experience in cricket," commented Wayne. "Knowing my background with Margam, Corus Steel's sports and social club chairman offered me the job straightaway and I accepted, deciding also to leave Margam Cricket Club after more than fifteen very happy years, becoming both the groundsman and a player for Corus Steel."
Not long after taking over his new responsibilities and completing the Level 3 training course, Wayne received a call from Len Smith, then head groundsman at Glamorgan County Cricket Club's Sophia Gardens ground in Cardiff.
"He told me that he wanted to put my name forward to the Cricket Board of Wales to become an accredited ECB pitch adviser for south west Wales, supporting himself in the east of the country and Gareth Phillips in the north," said Wayne. "Although I had known Len for a number of years and had attended courses he'd presented, I was amazed that he thought me suitable for, what is, a very responsible job. However, after a brief discussion with Len, I decided to take up the challenge."
What followed turned out to be a huge eye-opener for Wayne, whilst attending a week-long ECB pitch assessors' course at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire.
"It was the tremendous attention to detail and thoroughness which impressed most, along with the expert help given in how to assess cricket squares to Performance Quality Standards (PQS) and write detailed assessment reports for the cricket clubs that I would be visiting in future," explained Wayne. "Report writing is a skill that I had never focused on previously, so it did not come easy back in 2000. It's certainly a lot better now after twelve years of practice."
Having passed the ECB course, Wayne took on his additional role as a pitch adviser whilst still working as groundsman and player for Corus Steel Cricket Club.
In his early days as a pitch adviser, Wayne's visits were arranged by the Cricket Board of Wales following discussions with and between its three accredited advisers. This resulted in around twenty clubs being visited out-of-season each year and provided with advice, support and guidance in pitch improvement.
Recent restructuring of cricket development and governance in Wales has seen the Board renamed as Cricket Wales, becoming one of thirty-nine Boards across the country affiliated to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
As the national governing body in Wales responsible for the junior and senior recreational game, Cricket Wales continues to invest resources in helping groundsmen - the majority being part-time and unpaid - improve the surfaces on which cricket is played.
It is encouraging to note that Wayne and his colleagues assessed twenty-four pitches between them last spring, maintaining the pattern first established in Wales more than ten years ago.
An important difference today is that the various competitive cricket leagues throughout the country are able to nominate individual clubs as being worthy of assessment, the entire process being managed and directed by Cricket Wales.
The assessments carried out today also go beyond a single visit, and now involve an initial visit followed by preparation of a detailed report with soil analysis and an additional visit to ensure that the club understands the report and is acting on the advice and recommendations presented.
"Pitches are assessed to one of three PQS categories - premier, club and basic," explained Wayne. "It is important that the club achieves and maintains the level appropriate to the league in which it is playing, and that's one of my important tasks in helping to continually raise standards."
Wayne also assisted his ECB colleagues in establishing four regional cricket groundsmen's associations in Wales, each one being provided, at start-up, with a trailer and £10,000-worth of specialist turf maintenance equipment to help clubs within the four associations improve their playing surfaces.
The equipment was sponsored, initially, by Channel 4 TV, but is now the responsibility of each association which has its own committee organising fund-raising activities and out-of-season talks and visits relevant to cricket pitch maintenance and presentation.
Although the equipment proved very welcome, sharing it around fifty or more clubs meant that many had to do without, despite the fact that it would have made a tremendous difference to overall standards.
Spotting an opportunity, Wayne stepped into the breech to offer the pitch renovation and maintenance contract service that was desperately needed by many of the clubs within his region.
Starting off in a small way using the specialist equipment available to him, he managed to fit in the work among his other groundsman's responsibilities which, by 2005, had expanded to include Port Talbot Town Cricket Club, which had just taken over the lease of its ground.
"I was asked by the club to help raise the standard of its square whilst discussions were underway regarding the formation of a new Welsh premier league, a level of cricket to which the club aspired and has now reached," explained Wayne. "So, I ended up looking after the grounds of both Port Talbot Town and Corus at the same time. Although only four miles apart, I eventually relinquished the latter role in 2008 as the square at Port Talbot was needing a lot of attention, having been built on former marshland."
Wayne explained that the square had been constructed originally using Mendip loam, a light textured material with poor binding qualities that created all sorts of problems with pitch playability. Changing to a heavier clay loam was imperative to help improve the standard of cricket, but funding for the work had yet to found.
By then, Wayne had been self-employed for three years, inspired by the success and results achieved by his part-time contract services and driven by the fact that he was unable to find more than twenty-four hours in a day.
One event around that time helped provide Wayne with re-assurance that he had made the right decision in going it alone.
"I was asked by Len Smith to accompany him on a training course at Barnstaple Cricket Club in Devon," he recalled. "During the course, we were asked if we could visit nearby Hatherleigh Cricket Club to have a look at the square. Surprisingly, at the time, cricket clubs in Devon had no dedicated pitch advisers of their own to call on. They now have four, which is a reasonable number for the second biggest county in England."
Having discovered a thatch-infested square, Wayne offered to return to Hatherleigh with his Graden scarifier to "sort it out."
The success of that treatment led to eight other cricket clubs requesting Wayne's assistance during the year, adding to the clubs that he was already assisting in south-west Wales.
"I started off solely with scarification, but am now equipped to carry out a complete autumn renovation service thanks to the purchase of new specialist machinery dedicated to the job, all of which I use also within my capacity as groundsman at Port Talbot," he said.
As well as buying the necessary additional equipment, Wayne employs two sub-contract helpers who accompany him on his autumn pitch renovation campaign, enabling a cricket square to be scarified, swept-up, aerated (conditions allowing), topdressed, fertilised, overseeded and pitch ends re-levelled in around four hours.
Thanks to an ECB grant, the square at Port Talbot was finally stripped and laser levelled in 2010, helping cure the continuous settlement and sinkage that had caused regular flooding and the cancellation of matches. The improvements gave Wayne, at last, the sound, consistent base necessary to produce the premier standard wickets demanded by the club.
Working to industry specifications, the contract was carried out within a week by Wiltshire firm, Gordon Gill Fine Turf Maintenance Ltd, producing "a first class result", according to Wayne.
However, he stressed that, whilst doing an excellent initial job is one thing, aftercare is equally important.
"Less than 50mm was disturbed, so it allowed me to use the square the following season, but I was never expecting too much in the first year," he explained.
"Regular mowing, fertiliser applications, irrigation and minimal light pre-season rolling are all important factors within the aftercare of a new square. I told the club to be patient as the soil needed time to restructure, the profile to become filled with root mass and the grass plant to become wear tolerant. All told, I have seen a big difference this season."
The above principles are applied by Wayne to all of the sport surfaces on which he now works.
Having started off in cricket, his turf maintenance services now extend to rugby, football, bowls and golf, the latter assisted by his association with Ecosol Turfcare, whose drill-based aeration and winter sports surface renovations Wayne helped introduce to south Wales.
In return, the company continues to recommend Wayne and his SQRL 600 pedestrian greens sweeper/core collector to golf clubs looking for a speedy clean up after renovation work.
"I'd like to do more in golf," concluded Wayne. "People might think that I've got quite enough on my plate already, but I get a real thrill out of improving playing surfaces for the benefit of those who look after them and those use them. It's a constant battle against both the elements and compaction, but one that is well worth fighting."