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Jack it all in to be a groundsman

John Wright is the stadium head groundsman at Southampton FC; it’s his job to make sure the pitch is in top condition at St Mary’s. Every blade of grass is his responsibility in his quest to make sure the players have a perfect playing surface to suit their passing game. Here’s how he got into it.

Grassroots

Being a groundsman was not something we ever really learned about at school, I always thought of the groundskeeper as an old man or the caretaker who used to cut the grass. I didn’t do particularly well at school and didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, but I played a lot of golf on my local course and was friends with the head greenkeeper, who asked me if I wanted to do some voluntary work. I took him up on the offer and then went on to an apprenticeship within the industry.

Green fingered

Go to college, get your NVQ level 2 in something like sports turf management, and then find an apprenticeship. Do some volunteering too. Send your CV to your local ground manager, asking to help out on match days. Clubs are often looking for an extra pair of hands.

Matchday

My responsibility is the pitch and the red track around the outside. Anything from washing the track, to edging the pitch, to putting the nets on, mowing markings, cleaning goals. After a game or a training session there will be marks on the posts where the players kick their boots.

Critical eye

We take up to two weeks preparing the pitch for a game. You get a sense of pride from it, but you’re always looking to improve. I tend to look at the pitch negatively, working out what we can do even better next time. And I’m always watching the pitch during the match to look for any big chunks of turf flying out.

Muddy no more

Back in the ’70s and ’80s after a muddy winter match, kits would be brown after 90 minutes, but things have changed. The stadium grow lights we use [to encourage growth of new grass] means that these days the surface is good all year round. Southampton is one of the only teams that has a completely natural surface pitch now; most of the rest are Desso Grassmaster, which is a mix of artificial fibres and natural grass.

Pitch design

The pitches at the training ground will be cut with the same patterns as St Mary’s so that during training sessions the players can use it for guidance. For example, the defenders might want to use a row of square panels as a guide to know roughly where they should be stood for an opposition goal kick.

JOB SPEC

Hours

You’ll be needed at weekends when your team is playing at home.

Salary

Around £18,000 for a groundstaff position at a Premier League football club.

Location

Anywhere there’s grass needing some attention. Could be a football, rugby or golf club.

Benefits

Getting to watch all the matches your team plays. Plenty of outdoor work. Your work could be seen by millions of sports fans across the world.

Responsibilities

Maintain grass pitches to a high standard in all weathers at all times of year. Take care of the edge of the pitch and any track running around it. Keep the machinery used in good working order.

Skills

Be a perfectionist with a keen eye for detail, always looking for ways to make the pitch even better.

Qualifications

NVQ level 2 in sports turf management or similar.

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