Pitchcare returns to West Bridgford Sports Club in Nottingham, after a gap of thirteen years, to find Head Groundsman Dave Gammon still remonstrating about compaction, budgets ...
Back in June 2002, one of Dave Saltman's first articles for a fledgling Pitchcare was about a sports club in Nottingham that had just taken over the maintenance of all the grass areas from a local, and poor, contractor.
Thirteen years later, and Pitchcare has returned to meet up once again with the groundstaff at West Bridgford Sports Club, situated just a stone's throw south of Trent Bridge, the City Ground and Meadow Lane stadiums.
"It was probably Dave Saltman who enthused me into thinking I could do a job here," says Head Groundsman, Dave Gammon. "We host cricket and rugby here and, back then, the grounds were in poor condition, simply through a lack of any proper maintenance."
"I had just been put on gardening leave by Parcel Force, so I had some spare time on my hands and thought, why not, I couldn't do any worse. Dave Saltman convinced me that I could make a difference and here I am, thirteen years later, still struggling with an almost non-existent budget and a ground that presents its problems. But I like to think I have made a difference."
"One of the first things I did was attend the ECB Cricket and Winter Sports Pitches levels 1 and 2. These at least gave me some basic knowledge to be going on with."
The grounds cover an area of just over eight hectares and comprise two full size rugby pitches, which also form the cricket outfield, a ten wicket cricket square and a junior size artificial strip for mainly Under 11 and Under 12 matches. There's also a three-lane cricket net.
The soil is free draining, with four to six inches of topsoil over various types of clay. "It is very compact in certain areas," bemoans Dave, "but our budget doesn't stretch to doing anything more than the bare minimum. There is only so much in the pot!"
Dave explains that the ground tends to flood after heavy rain, mainly due to the compaction, but also that a small plot of new homes have been built at the southern end of the ground which seem to have had an effect. "Mind you, it was a bog before," he states. "We just have to wait for conditions to right themselves."
Dave is assisted by Pete Dawn, who helps with the irrigation. "Actually, it's me that assists him," confesses Dave. "He also keeps the boundary tidy and does the general gardening ... and he's also the bar manager, so I need to keep him happy! I can get further help from club members when they are press ganged into it!"
The cricket club was formed in 1929 and moved to the Memorial Ground in 1959. It runs four Saturday XIs and two Sunday teams, plus seniors and a strong junior section. The rugby club runs three senior XVs, development squads, a thriving ladies section and minis and juniors from age six to under 17. That's a lot of sport to provide for.
In 2012, the cricket square was koroed off under the guidance of Alan Kettleborough. "The square was built using Gostd loam, which is probably 'too good' for the level of cricket played here and the time I had to look after the square. So, multiple tonnes of GSB County loam was integrated into the top three inches and reseeded with a dwarf rye grass. I have found it easier to work with, given our time constraints."
Any spending is set and agreed by a committee made up of members of both the cricket and rugby clubs, plus interested parties such as Dave himself.
Winter work is mainly aeration, when conditions allow, cutting to match height if required and, once a week, marking out with a transfer wheel marker.
"Between April and September, the rugby pitches and cricket outfield are cut by the local council, which takes some of the pressure off."
The cricket square is cut at 15mm using a Dennis 510, which also has cassettes for verticutting, scarifying and sarrel rolling. Marking out of the wicket is done with strings and a straight edge. The wicket mower is an Allett Tournament Shaver, whilst a Ransomes Marquis is used to cut the wicket height down to 9mm, before going down to 5mm with the Allett.
"Presentation is top of the list," Dave confirms. "It must look right but, sadly, we can't always achieve it."
Both cricket and rugby renovations are undertaken by a local company, Lightwood Sports and Commercial Groundcare, who come in to scarify, reseed and topdress.
Ecosolve have also been in on a couple of occasions recently to deep drill the square.
The Sports Club is made up of the two sections; cricket and rugby. "There is no window for renovations between the respective seasons, so take up for rugby renovations can be a nightmare if conditions are not in favour. It's not always a happy marriage between the two, which is not helped by a lack of funds for groundcare."
"We have, though, undertaken numerous projects since Pitchcare's last visit. The rugby club has had new floodlights and the main pitch was levelled and had new drainage installed approximately ten years ago. We've also built a new changing room block (for joint use) and, most recently, the clubhouse has been redeveloped."
"We also put in a bore hole to help with the irrigation. This was funded by ourselves, but the rest were funded by the RFU, ECB and the local council, amongst others."
"The cricket club has recently built a memorial for one our former Presidents and club captain, which has wildflowers set in and is maintained by Pete Dawn.
Talking to Dave, one senses that there is still some frustration about what he is able to achieve but, as he so succinctly puts it, "we don't do too bad for a couple of old farts!"
What's in the shed?
Kubota 20hp tractor
Auto-roller wicket roller
Dennis 510 mower and cassettes
Allett Tournament Shaver wicket mower
Ransomes Marquis 61
A small seed/fertiliser broadcaster
Transfer wheel linemarker
Sisis outfield slitter
Pattison sarrel roller 3ft
Chain harrow and dragmat
2 small rotary mowers (one 4 wheeled and one with rear roller)
Various hand tools, tape measures, a hand pushed water spreader/collector and a lute.
"Most purchases were secondhand from various local suppliers, although the Auto-roller was purchased new from Autoguide.
We simply look for the best deal possible.
The Auto-roller and the Dennis 510 have made such a difference.
Our mowers are serviced by another local company - Cutting Edge Mowers. The roller and tractor are serviced by Andrews Plant Hire."