The Essex town of Wickford sits midway between Billericay and Rayleigh and just a few miles inland from Southend-on-Sea. With a population of 32,500 there never seems to be a shortage of locals who want to play cricket for the town's club, which runs five Saturday sides, two Sunday teams and various mid-week and T20 sides.
The club was established in 1887 and one of its leading lights was Richard Weston (Dick) Patmore. He was also the youngest licensee in Essex, when he became landlord of The Swan in 1896 at the age of twenty-six.
He captained the 1st XI from 1897 to 1925 and held the offices of General Secretary and Treasurer at various times. He was President from 1935 to 1940 and then from 1946 to his death in 1949. It was said that the only way to get into the 1st XI was to drink in his pub! By 1912, the club had sixty-one members, most of whom paid subscriptions varying on how well off they were!
One noteworthy player was Morris Stanley Nichols who spent "many happy hours at Wickford in the 2nd XI" before the First World War and went on to play for Essex and England. He was tall, strong and had feet so large that one writer claimed he could get his foot into Nichols' cricket boot with his own shoe on. He was a great all rounder who batted left handed and bowled with his right.
He achieved 1000 runs and 100 wickets for Essex in each season between 1935 and 1939, and represented his country fourteen times, against Australia, New Zealand, India, the West Indies and South Africa. He was, apparently, invariably cheerful and "a thoroughly nice man".
Talking of thoroughly nice men, the club's current Head Groundsman is Daniel Rouse, who has been working on the ground for the past five years. "We needed someone to do the pitches, so myself and a pal, Craig Sloane, put our hands up and said we would give it a go. We had no prior experience, apart from speaking with our previous groundsman Tim (Turbo) Campbell, who was really helpful and told us what we could expect. He used to work so hard and the ground looked amazing because of it. He really set the standard for our club."
"I also looked up lots of information on the internet, spoke to our local ECB County Pitch Advisor and made myself known on the Pitchcare forum."
"Leading on from my work at Wickford, I am now a full time groundsman at Essex County Cricket Club. I started working on some game days at Chelmsford and got offered a full time position."
Daniel continues; "Head Groundsman, Stuart Kerrison, has been brilliant to work for and has been very helpful where Wickford is concerned. He has forgotten more than I will probably ever know about cricket groundsmanship. What immediately amazed me was how spot on everything was. It changed my way of working; made me work smarter and raised my standards."
"I have a 'Dad's Army' helping me with the outfield, plus a couple of others who help out with the square. We are all volunteers and all members of the club. Many hands make light work."
"We host the Essex Over 50s and 60s, as well as district games, so the ground has to look its best at all times. Presentation is very important. I think it helps the club attract players if the ground is looking nice. People want to play here. But it mustn't come at the expense of performance."
"We have a slope going across the square and an outfield that makes Lord's look flat! This means we have to cover up the slope to try and avoid water running onto the square in bad weather."
"Pitch preparation begins about fourteen days prior to the match. We only have a Sisis Combirake, so it takes a lot of effort to get the density of grass to a level we are happy with. We tend to cut the pitch to around 8mm, until the game week, when we reduce the height of cut down half a millimetre a day until we get to our match height of 5mm. We used to cut it as low as 3mm, but leaving more grass on helps us with pace and carry. The players have all now been converted after playing on them, as well. More grass is a good thing."
"At the halfway stage of this season we were top of the pitch marks, so we are buzzing." Daniel explains that the outfield gets cut two or three times a week to 14mm and the square is cut twice a week, also to 14mm.
"End of season renovations are done with a Graden scarifier, and I do as many passes as I feel is required, which is normally four or five. I then seed with Johnson Wicket iSeed, followed by six to eight bags of Ongar loam per pitch. We also get in Keith Exton from the SWALEC in Cardiff to spike the square when he comes to do Chelmsford. I'm always taking core samples, as I need to know what is going on underneath."
As a fairly new arrival to the industry, how is he finding things? "There's lots to be positive about. I certainly don't feel undervalued, either at Wickford or Chelmsford. I am very lucky, and I try not to be the grumpy groundsman. I would like to see more groundsmen being interviewed on TV talking about their pitches, rather than the 'experts' who have never cut a pitch in their life!
What's in the shed?
- Allett Regal 36"
- Protea greensmower
- Ransomes Super Certes
- Sisis Combirake
- Auto roller
- Ride-on tractor mower (Forest Gump style)
"We got the Auto-roller last year - it's the old one from Essex CCC, and it is the best roller out there, by far."