The Groundsman

January 2015

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IOG BEST PRACTICE 17 the Groundsman January 2015 Visit for more information and digital editions Of course, the Baseball Ground is now gone – demolished in 2003 after the club moved to Pride Park (now branded the iPro stadium) in 1997 (the youth and reserve teams continued to use the stadium until 2003). But the changes haven't eroded Bob's memories of his years at the ground; reflections that are full of amusing anecdotes of events during the Clough era. Career development Bob joined the club when he was 24 years of age, having previously worked at a British Rail cricket ground for two years and before that nine years at the Co-operative (nee CWS) nursery in Derby. "This was the largest nursery in the country and had extensive facilities for seed testing and plant trials plus a laboratory. Working in every department I gained a vast amount of experience there both in terms of horticulture as well as groundscare as we were also charged with landscaping tasks as well as sports ground maintenance. We also provided advice for the care of playing surfaces," Bob explains. "The CWS wanted me to go to college but I was so busy 'out on the ground' I never got round to that. Some of my teammates, however, did find the time and they shared classes with Percy Thrower, who of course went on to find fame and fortune." Bob proudly points out that within 12 months, the cricket ground was hosting lots of major competitions – for bowls as well as cricket – including all-England finals, yet his tenure there came to an end after being 'asked' to use an inferior sand for dressing. "I have never, and would never, lower my standards," he says, "and the disagreement over the sand coincided with Derby County advertising for a groundsman." Turning Derby's pitch around When I joined Derby County, in 1967, I was told that I'd never be able to grow grass at the ground. We started the season mid-August and Brian Clough said that if I can keep some grass on the pitch until the end of August then I would be doing well! "Being next door to a foundry, the 'earth' was primarily sulphur and sand – and when I arrived the perennial sward, what there was of it, was overwhelmed by a knotweed. Also, the design of the stadium allowed very little wind/air on the pitch. The drainage was atrocious, too; the pitch was four feet below street level and the drains were two feet under the surface. The ground was built over a river and a brook, so when it rained the water came up rather than went down. Not surprisingly, in wet weather the pitch was a mass of mud, and I remember one Christmas when I viewed the pitch there was not one blade of grass there! And who remembers Derby's game against Manchester City in 1977 when, because of the mud, the Derby groundsman (Bob) was televised painting in a penalty spot? "I used to test the soil at least every month to make up for any deficiencies. I also rejected the traditional overseeding practice of rotavating and seeding with a chain harrow. I thought it would be better to seed by hand – which I did – and the pitch came up like a bowling green. Thereafter I used the Contravator overseeder - I was the first in the country to do so - a machine that automatically created the slits/slots that the seed was dropped into." Another job, he says, was to take up all the drains which were put down when the pitch was built in 1953, clean and re- lay them in a similar herringbone fashion. "When the drains were exposed I saw that some of them had never been connected, so it was no surprise we had problems." However, during my 16 years we never lost one game through waterlogging. "Benfica (1972) and Juventus (1973) played at the ground in European cup games and I was asked to flood the pitch. But with the improvements we had made, that was easier said than done. However, the drains ran into a culvert, so we blocked the outlet and turned on the water cannons. We won the Benfica game and drew against Juventus, but got reported to UEFA." t Bob joined Derby County in 1967, he tested the soil at least every month and seeded the pitch by hand

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