The Groundsman

September 2016

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29 the Groundsman September 2016 Visit for more information and digital editions common theme throughout the BBC interviews with Team GB's medal-winning athletes at the Rio Olympics had been their conviction that sport has given them a focus, in many cases from a very early age. And in the midst of the Games, during my visit to Flitwick Eagles Football Club in Bedfordshire, it was immediately clear that our Olympians' credible endorsements for sport also rings true at this FA Chartered Standard Community Club in Bedfordshire. After moving from a three-pitch facility as part of the town's leisure centre complex and into, literally, an adjacent greenfield site, the club has experienced a tremendous 30 per cent uptake in player-memberships. "We started in 1986 with a single team of 11 boys," says Melvyn Gazeley, one of the club's trio of volunteer 'groundsmen'. "Today, at the Flitwick Community Football Centre, we have 450 players in 48 teams of both sexes and aged from three years old up to 82!" On what was formerly agricultural land, the club now has a multi-pitch site comprising two each of senior, 5 x 5, 7 x 7 and 9 x 9 pitches. After initial construction by White Horse Contractors, the site boasts playing surfaces with first- class drainage – the site drains at 50 mm per hour - enabling games to be played while others nearby may be waterlogged. "Funded by the Mid-Bedfordshire Council, the Football Foundation and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, the groundworks here on what was a farmer's field started in April/May 2014," Melvyn continues. "With a newly- constructed clubhouse and changing room building, plus enough room for the A A fillip for Flitwick's community football The move to a new and larger site, and continually improving playing surfaces, has boosted participation levels at a Bedfordshire club By: Colin Hoskins eight pitches, we've gradually managed to improve the quality of the playing surfaces. "This is due in no small way to the IOG-led Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme which, via the Beds FA has brought us into contact with IOG regional pitch advisor Dan White – and the subsequent maintenance carried out by Mel Pooley. "In addition, as part of the funding conditions, two of us joined the IOG and, as a result, have undergone a couple of one-day Level 1 training courses. We've found the IOG – and in particular the help and advice of Dan White - indispensable, especially in terms of the initial schedule of works and then his input in enabling us to gradually being able to improve the playing surfaces." With a concerted annual programme of vertidraining and shockwaving, for example, being complemented by the use of Sherriff Amenity's slow-release Marathon Sport Autumn liquid fertiliser and topdressing with rye seed mix (Designer Action Replay), Melvyn and his groundscare colleagues Colin Giggle and Rob Lee fund the input of contractor Mel Pooley, and once-a-week cutting (always to 35 mm high) by Nabs Landscapes, mainly via the revenue from players' subscriptions. Despite the tremendous increase in uptake, Melvyn and co are adamant that the pitches need adequate rest – no more than three hours play each weekend on each pitch, in line with Beds FA guidelines – and that also includes a ban on using the pitches for training. In addition to hosting additional football events such as the Beds FA Fair Play festival, being a partner with Arsenal FC Girls and including frame football games for the less abled, the club is also an avid supporter of charity events, including fund-raisers for MacMillan and for Keech Cottage Hospice in Luton. "The pitches are improving year-on- year," adds Melvyn, "and we're hoping that will continue. We've already reached full capacity in terms of playability. But because there's still quite a bit to do to the surrounding infrastructure, there's no time for us to rest on our laurels." Visit watch?v=RHOy_nm9_rk&sns=em for an aerial guide to Flitwick Eagles FC's ground.l The clubhouse and changing rooms (above) at Flitwick Eagles FC. Top: a view of the pitches which were formerly agricultural land

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