Shrewsbury School

Shrewsbury's heroes of the wettest term on record: the Grounds Staff

Friday 21 March 2014

Famously described by Neville Cardus as “the most beautiful playing fields in the world”, Shrewsbury’s sports pitches are still in first class condition despite having just experienced the wettest winter on record. How is that possible?

The answer is that they are looked after by an extremely skilled and dedicated team of grounds staff, led by Grounds Manager Andy Richards. Andy joined the School in 2010, having previously worked at Christ College Brecon, the British Airways sports ground and Birmingham City FC, where he was their youngest ever Head Groundsman.

Hugely respected among his peers and colleagues for his expertise in what is increasingly a very scientific and technical industry, Andy says the secret to maintaining top class pitches in the face of the relentless unpredictability and extremes of the British weather is to be pro-active. So when the forecast for much of the term was wall-to-wall rain, he and his team worked hard to make sure that the sports pitches were as aerated as possible – to enable as much of the water as possible to pass into the ground rather than lie on the surface of the grass.

The priority, of course, is to keep pupils playing sport – whatever the weather. While many sports grounds had to shut for two months this winter with waterlogged and completely unplayable pitches, Shrewsbury managed to survive the term with only ten days of no competitive fixtures and just two days with no training on the pitches. Andy works closely with the Heads of Sport, meeting daily this term with Head of Football Steve Biggins, Head of Rugby Duncan Kirkby and Senior Sportsmaster Will Hughes to discuss their training and fixture requirements. With careful rotation of training areas, they work together to ensure that the pitches are protected for matches.

“Shrewsbury’s 1st XI pitch is as good as most premier league football pitches,” says Andy Richards. “I’m not sure that all the boys are fully aware of just what high quality surfaces they are playing on.” Recently the School has hosted Shrewsbury Town FC training sessions. Manager Mike Jackson was extremely grateful to be able to use such top quality facilities – particularly at a time when the club’s own pitch and other local grounds were in relatively poor condition. "The conditions at the School, the pitches, the setting are excellent. It's a great help to us, so we thank Shrewsbury School for that," he said. (See the feature on the Shrewsbury Town website: Former striker helps Town out with use of training facilities)

In between the School’s rugby and football training and fixtures, the grounds staff are nevertheless looking well ahead to the summer and have been busy preparing the pitches for cricket for weeks. “Usually the pre-season rolling begins in February. This year that just wasn’t possible, so until recently we were almost a month behind,” says Andy. “But the good spell of weather we’ve had in the last ten days has meant that we’ve caught up and are on schedule again now.”

The team enjoy the the challenge of working on multi-sport pitches. Over the course of the next few days, they will be preparing the pitches for the final few rugby matches, followed immediately by a series of football matches. Then they will be transformed almost immediately into cricket pitches, ready for the 1st XI and U15 XI pre-season festival in mid-April, just before the start of the Summer Term. Meanwhile, the team have been marking out a lacrosse pitch in readiness for hosting Shrewsbury’s first ever lacrosse match this Saturday. As with the vagaries of the British weather, variety for the grounds staff is the spice of life.

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