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Wimbledon groundsman's diary - November and December

A member of the groundstaff at work in the autumn
by William Brierley
Monday 3 December 2012

One of the All England Club groundstaff will be writing regular blogs about the development of the courts throughout the year at Wimbledon...

Well we are at the end of November now and the frost has started to come more regularly. This has meant that at the end of the month getting onto the courts has been very difficult but as the temperatures have dropped the grass has slowed down in its growth and so it is not as essential for us to be mowing as much.

Earlier in the month we got a short dry spell which enabled us to carry out the top dressing on the remaining Championship courts. So thankfully we are now up to date on the courts as to where we would be in a usual year. Also this month we have under taken a project to re-turf the verges outside of the club on Church Road. This was previously a job taken care of by the local council but in order to make the lead up to the grounds more presentable we have taken over the job and assigned a member of staff the responsibility to make sure they stay in top shape to make your walk to the club as pristine as we aim to make the inside.

Frost covers are now pretty much being put onto the clay courts every evening to protect them and make sure that they are still playable should members wish to use them. The bigger covers on No.1, No.2 and No.3 Courts will more likely stay on over a weekend if there is a frost while the other covers can be rolled off by the single member of staff who is on duty. These covers will withstand light frosts but if we do get a very heavy frost then the courts may be unplayable for the day but thankfully the covers will take most of the brunt.

As promised, I do have the interview with our new Head Groundsman, Neil Stubley. Neil has been Head Groundsman Designate for about 18 months, shadowing the now retired turf legend Eddie Seaward MBE. Previous to that Neil was the senior groundsman.

Will: Firstly I guess most people will want to know how it feels to be stepping into a legend's shoes and taking the reins here?
Neil: Having worked here for 17 years and an 18 month handover from Eddie it’s not a normal ‘in at the deep end new job’. But saying that, to have a Championships and Olympics in my first year has certainly been a challenge, especially with all the wet weather we’ve experienced this year. Only being the eighth Head Groundsman in the Club's history it’s certainly an honour and with the great team that I have around me I’m sure we can continue to improve year on year.

Will: Where did it all start in groundsmanship for you?
Neil: I pretty much came here straight from college, I was coming to the end of a full time college course and one of my sportsturf lecturers was friends with Eddie Seaward, who was looking to take on two extra students for the 1995 summer season, not knowing at the time that there was a potential full time job for someone at the end of that season. Fortunately I was lucky enough to get the job and over the coming years I worked my way up the ladder and was promoted to senior groundsman in 2002. 10 years on from that I’m now lucky enough to have what I think is the best job in sports turf.

Will: Who were your influences and role models coming into groundsmanship?
Neil: When I first started at college, Steve Braddock who at the time was Head Groundsman at Arsenal Football Club was always looking to see how far he could push the boundaries in sportsturf (which he is still doing today) even though he had the best pitch by far he still always thought it could be improved, which is how Eddie always looked at things, so for me that’s exactly how I see it here at Wimbledon, keep pushing the boundaries because there is always room to improve in everything we do here.


Will: What do you think you've learnt that you could pass on to other aspiring groundsmen or women out there?
Neil: Try not to over complicate things, keep it simple. Grass is like us, it needs water, air, food and a little space to live, if you can get a good balance of that then you will be producing top quality playing surfaces.

Will: What changes do you think you'll implement to add your own stamp on the Wimbledon grass?
Neil: I think we have a pretty good formula now, I’m sure over the next few years we will be tweaking things a little but the direction we are going in at the moment is the right one, but who knows what new piece of machinery or new practice is around the corner. I’ll always keep an eye on new technologies and if I think it will be to the benefit of The Club then we will look at it.

Will: How much do the team help with your job?
Neil: The old Head Groundsman always said that without the team he couldn't do the job, the team without him could still do the job! I think that sums up the importance of the team.

Will: After this busy year with The Championships and then the Olympics, how pleased were you with the courts for both events with that short turnover period between?
Neil: Very happy, what a lot of people wouldn't have known is that we were testing how best to get the courts ready in the 20 day turnaround for the past three years. So for it all to come together and have all the positive feedback is a good testament to all the hard work that had been put in by the team.

Will: Which is your favourite season at Wimbledon and why?
Neil: For me its autumn, this is the most critical time of year as it’s the grass court renovation season, what we do here will determine the quality of the courts for the following Championships, all focus is on getting it right, so when we go into the playing season the following summer we have the best grass courts in the world.

Will: Even perfection can be improved upon so what do you plan to do to take the court surface forward?
Neil: It’s all about making continual small improvements, year on year it may seem that not a lot has changed but when you look back over a 5-10 year period you then realise that things have come a long way. Just keep ask the questions, are we using the best soils, are we using the best grasses, are there better machines out there than the one’s we’re using now, that way hopefully we will naturally keep improving.

So hopefully this will give you a bit of an insight into the man at the helm of the grounds team here and maybe answer a few questions you've often wondered. Keep a check on twitter and hopefully you’ll all have a lovely Christmas.

To see what Will and the rest of the groundstaff are up to on a daily basis, follow @WimboGroundsman for updates and pictures.


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