Industry Awards celebrate the very best in UK groundsmanship

More than 640 of the UK’s and Europe’s leading groundscare experts from both the professional and volunteer sector, as well as dignitaries from the governing bodies of sport and influential sports administrators, have honoured the expertise, dedication and passion of the country’s grounds profession at the Grounds Management Association (GMA) annual Industry Awards. 

Now in its eighth year, the sell-out event at the National Conference Centre, within the National Motorcycle Museum and hosted by talkSPORT radio presenter Mark Saggers, recognised leadership, innovation and outstanding achievement across every aspect of groundscare – from grassroots pitches to professional stadia.

The prestigious awards ceremony also celebrated the quality standards of groundscare achieved in public and private sports venues, and highlighted the progress of young/student grounds professionals as well as entrants’ environmental considerations.

The winners of the 2016 GMA Industry Awards are:

SGL Professional Football Grounds Team of the Year – Tottenham Hotspur FC

In addition to maintaining the main stadium pitch at White Hart Lane in north London, Tottenham Hotspur’s 32-strong grounds team is also charged with the upkeep of the 15 training pitches at the club’s 77-acre site in Enfield.

This is open all year round as a training ground for the Premier League club’s first team and academy teams, as well as having hosted the England national team on several occasions plus accommodating other events.

It goes without saying that all the pitches are maintained and presented to the highest standards.

Going forwards, in addition to involvement with a new stadium pitch in Tottenham, the grounds team has a progressive and on-going pitch improvement programme at the Enfield Training Centre.

Headland Amenity Professional Cricket Grounds Team of the Year – Essex County Cricket Club

Charged with preparing and maintaining the facilities at the Essex County Ground in Chelmsford to first-class standard cricket, including the practice nets, match pitches and outfield, the Essex CCC grounds team also supports satellite grounds at Billericay and Southend, as well as takes care of pitch preparation and maintenance at the Colchester ground for the annual first team festival week.

With four full-time staff at Chelmsford plus two apprentices (plus casual match day staff for T20 matches), the team also includes one full-time member at both Billericay and Southend. Certain team members are currently undergoing Level 3 NVQ accreditation (full-time staff) while the apprentices are studying Level 2.

They face – and consistently meet – the heavy demands for playing surfaces of the highest order, with the County Ground, for example, often being used every other day during the playing season and over the course of a year, every third day. The playing area is also used on occasion as an outdoor cinema and for corporate events.

John Deere Professional Horse Racing Grounds Team of the Year – Huntingdon Racecourse, Cambridgeshire

With four members, the Huntingdon grounds team is responsible for a total area of 70 hectares, comprising a 15-hectare race track plus three rugby pitches (for the semi-professional Huntingdon Stags), a stable yard and sampling area, as well as car parks and formal lawns - the latter being popular for weddings.

In addition to maintaining the track and associated hurdles and fences to a high standard for the 18 race meetings held every year between October and May, the grounds team is also involved in ensuring the whole site is presented at its best for the year-round schedule of 200 other events including conferences and car boot sales.

Because Huntingdon is classed as a ‘small’ course, the team work to a limited budget but this is no barrier to their success at achieving year-on-year improvements to the racing surface – the fact that an increasing number of runners is being attracted is evidence of this.

Earlier this year, in March, the team’s mettle was truly tested when the course flooded to depths of 1 ft on the track. The team ensured the track was race-ready within 48 hours but due to flood damage elsewhere on the site the scheduled meeting was abandoned.

Desso Professional Rugby Football Union Grounds Team of the Year – Ricoh Arena (Wasps) Coventry

Working on a restricted budget, the two-man grounds team at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry consistently presents a quality playing surface for dual-purpose sports to satisfy a busy schedule of usage not only by the Wasps’ first team and their champions cup and captains runs, but also for Coventry City first team games, as well as matches for the reserves and cup games.

Mansfield Sand Professional Rugby Football League Grounds Team of the Year - Leeds Rhinos (Leeds Rugby)

The Leeds Rugby grounds team have ‘doubled-up’ on their success at last year’s GMA Industry Awards by winning the Mansfield Sand Professional Rugby Football League Grounds Team of the Year Award for the second year in succession.

The four-man squad is charged with not only maintaining the Headingley Carnegie Stadium pitch, which hosts both codes of rugby (Rugby Union - Yorkshire Carnegie and Rugby League – Leeds Rhinos) but also the nearby Kirkstall Academy ground (two natural turf pitches and a synthetic surface), plus the adjacent Abbey Fields training area (four turf pitches) and the pitch at Stanningley ARLFC which is home to the amateur Rugby League club.

In total, around 35 acres are managed by the team and, of course, the ongoing quest is to consistently produce the best playing surfaces possible within budget. 

Their groundscare skills were fully tested earlier this year after the training ground was severely flooded – the River Aire burst its banks and ruined the gym, training room and medical centre as well as two first team pitches, four academy pitches and a full-size 3G surface, plus 30 acres of surrounding land. The remediation work didn’t start until March, which meant the team was effectively carrying out major renovations in the middle of winter and with rain hammering down.

More recently, the team has been working around the latest phase of construction at the stadium, as part of the ongoing improvement works there, while also ensuring the pitch is presented in a first-class condition for the weekly games staged on Friday evenings and Sundays, plus the training sessions in between.

Professional Tennis Grounds Team of the Year – All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon

The obvious focus for the Wimbledon grounds team is the preparation and presentation of the grass courts for the annual Championships, an event that puts the team under a global spotlight. Collectively, the 41 grass courts there see 3,500 hours of play for The Championships and it would not be an understatement to say that the quality of these playing surfaces are revered the world over.

Grass courts, however, are just one part of the remit for the AELTC grounds team – which comprises 26 full-time members and 15 part-time, plus summer staff brought in specifically for The Championships.

They are also charged with maintaining all the playing surfaces on the 42-acre site, which includes clay and acrylic courts, as well as indoor courts which are open to members all year round. In addition, they are responsible for the site’s amenity grassed and car park areas, as well as the nearby 16-acre Raynes Park multi-sport facility.

A structured department which has seen the team’s senior groundsmen taking responsibility for specific areas and courts has also enabled team leader Neil Stubley to not only effectively oversee all preparations on the courts but also to become heavily involved in other projects.

These include the development of the new roof for the Number One court and the joint scheme with the Lawn Tennis Association and the GMA to help improve the standard of grass tennis courts throughout England.

National Governing Bodies’ Professional Sports Ground of the Year – Wembley Stadium

The Wembley grounds team – which, it has been said, “will run through brick walls for one another” – is charged with delivering the multi-use elite sports stadium pitch to a world-class standard for a host of sporting events such as football cup finals, England national team home games, NFL, rugby union and rugby league games, as well as corporate events plus a myriad of other events including music concerts.

Indeed, their capabilities are often tested to the extreme in having to ‘turn the pitch around’ between events within very short timeframes.

The four-man team, plus head of FA grounds and estates, Alan Ferguson, and a matchday staff of 12 young groundsmen, utilise a range of market-leading machines and equipment to help them succeed.

These are complemented by a range of technological innovations such as a sub-air system, grow lights and a system that collects data on, for instance, humidity levels, air and soil temperature, and soil moisture levels so that resources like energy, heating, water and fertiliser rates can be used most efficiently for the best results.

The grounds team works on the understanding that their best is never good enough – they say “there is always room to be better” in maintaining and presenting a pitch that is renowned globally.

This category co-sponsored by the AELTC (All England Lawn Tennis Club), ECB (the England and Wales Cricket Board), The FA (Football Association), the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association), the Premier League, the RFL (Rugby Football League) and the RFU (Rugby Football Union).

Rigby Taylor/Top Green Young Groundsman of the Year – Lewis Pattinson, Leeds Rugby

Aged 24, Lewis is assistant head groundsman of Leeds Rugby’s grounds team, of which he has been a member for the past four and a half years. Accredited to NVQ Level 3 in Sports Turf and Level 2 in People Management, Lewis is a key member of the four-strong team.

Toro Most Promising Sports Turf Student of the Year – Katie Croft, Manchester City FC

Katie is an apprentice at Manchester City FC’s CFA training centre and, being a work-based learner, her training and assessment takes place on-site using practical tasks as well as an online knowledge resource database and an e-portfolio.

Having completed the Level 2 Diploma, and being promoted to the role of assistant groundsperson, Katie is already pushing for the start date for her Advanced Apprenticeship – which her assessor is confident she will excel at since “she always produces high quality work in a timely fashion; she shows a genuine interest in sports turf and has shone through in both her college work and her work role,” says the assessor.

Katie is an avid football fan and was appointed an apprentice at the club from more than 200 applicants, joining Manchester City after being a check-in clerk at Manchester Airport.

SISGrass Unsung Hero of the Year – Paul Roberts, Grayshott Cricket Club, Hampshire

Paul took over the care of the village cricket ground six years ago and, after attending a few cricket-related ground preparation courses, set about improving the square, outfield and surrounding area – to such an extent that the ground is now well-known as being of a high standard.

Perhaps a measure of this success is the fact that more than 80 games have been played on it during the past two years.

Paul says that to see this level of enjoyment provided to so many people – the club runs four adult and 12 junior teams – is very rewarding and it’s why he volunteered in the first place!

He undertakes all the pitch maintenance routines including cutting, rolling, marking and watering, as well as providing treatments of fertilisers and iron. He also manages the end-of-season renovations and looks after two artificial strips, all the while keeping a tight rein on the purse strings.

Paul has this year also overseen work at the club’s second ground at Broxhead Common in Lindford.

Wearing other hats, he has for the last 11 years been chairman of the club, which now boasts 200 junior members and 35 adult members, and he runs the clubhouse bar on every other weekend. He also umpires and represents the club at various meetings – and says he also somehow manages to find time to go to work!

Ransomes Environmental Project/Innovation of the Year - St George’s Park, Burton upon Trent, Staffs

Following their success at last year’s GMA Industry Awards – where’re they won the National Governing Bodies Professional Sports Ground Team of the Year Award and the Ransomes Jacobsen Environmental Project of the Year Award – the St George’s Park grounds team has maintained that winning streak in winning the environmental award category for the second successive year.

The Park’s 330 acres boast a wide variety of habitats, flora and fauna and the latest project, the Weir Works Project to maintain and stabilise the site’s historical fresh water structures, has seen the grounds team working to clear bankside vegetation to maintain access and work areas with minimal effect on wildlife and habitats.

Working closely with a contractor, the project included the reconstruction of an arch bridge where as many existing of the bricks as possible were re-used, and bat bricks were installed along with bird boxes and eel passes. In addition, log/habitat piles were created (from the vegetation removed), plus trails, viewing points and benches were installed.

Going forwards, the plan is to also introduce duck huts and vegetation rafts for wildfowl, plus perches for Kingfishers.

STIHL Contractor of the Year – Premier Pitches, Sheffield

Premier Pitches works at all levels of the game - from iconic stadia such as Wembley, BT Murrayfield and the Aviva Stadium, at top European clubs like Real Madrid, Borussia Monchengladbach and Chelsea FC, as well as with local league grounds, grassroots sites and schools, colleges and universities.

The company specialises in end-of-season renovations and pitch reconstructions, in particular working with Desso and SISGrass hybrid playing surfaces in addition to fibresand and fibrelastic pitches.

It also undertakes maintenance work such as aeration, fertilisation, seeding and spraying.

The company undertakes more than 150 pitch renovations each year and has completed over 1,200 renovations since its inception in 1997. It often has to work to very tight timescales; in one case working through the night to renovate Leed’s Headingley Stadium in just 36 hours.

Throughout, it says, the aim is to create the very best playing surface and to enhance the standards that can be expected from natural grass pitches.

Best Maintained Artificial Pitch of the Year – University of Nottingham

The university has five artificial playing surfaces – three 3G surfaces, one sand-filled pitch and a water-based surface, the latter being shared with the neighbouring Beeston Hockey Club whose men’s side plays in the England Premier League.

In addition to providing sporting facilities to the university’s 33,000 students and 5,000 staff, these playing surfaces are also used every week by up to by eight community teams and local schools as well as by Mansfield Town FC and Notts County Ladies, for example.

Coupled with a number of natural grass pitches, all playing surfaces are maintained by a grounds team that now includes seven staff who are fully conversant in artificial pitch maintenance after undergoing the appropriate training.

The artificial pitches are used daily from 6.30am through to 10pm – a busy schedule that is interrupted every Thursday by the grounds team’s essential maintenance work of brushing and collecting to help keep the surfaces clear of weed, moss and algae.

In addition, a contractor is used every two months for deep cleaning and once a year for a major clean. Indeed, the surfaces continue to be cleaned even when the students are on their summer break, to ensure the surfaces are contaminant-free.

Countrywide Turf & Amenity Independent School/University/Sports Ground Team of the Year – The Hurlingham Club, London

The 27-strong grounds team at The Hurlingham Club in Fulham is charged with maintaining a 42-acre site that includes facilities such as grass and hard surface tennis (in total 52 courts), ten croquet lawns, cricket pitch plus grass and artificial practice facilities.

They are also responsible for two bowling greens and a nine-hole par three golf course, as well as extensive ornamental lawn areas, a sand-filled football pitch and a large children’s adventure playground.

In addition to ensuring all these playing surfaces and facilities are presented to the highest standard, the team also becomes involved in preparing for (and dealing with the aftermath of) additional annual events staged at the club – including a garden party for 2,000 people, a family picnic event and a bonfire night which attracts 5,500 visitors.

Year-on-year improvements have been made to the 30 grass tennis courts, which are managed on a similar basis to those at Wimbledon. Indeed, the courts are used and complimented by international players like Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova as well as by club members.

Likewise, the club’s croquet lawns are used for world championship and national and international events.

Bowling Green Groundsman/Team of the Year – Burnham Hillside Bowls Club, Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex

The club’s volunteer greenkeeper and six willing assistants – ‘The Green Team’ – take care of the year-round maintenance schedule for the bowling green including all fertilisation and chemical spraying as well as the end-of-season full renovations of the playing surface.

In addition, they also look after surrounding garden areas, hedges, outbuildings, garages, outdoor furniture, fences, hanging baskets, the car park and an automatic watering system, as well as taking care of the servicing and repair all the machinery they use. A multi-talented team!

Their dedication to the green sees it being brushed every day, cut three times a week - plus an additional cut for special matches. The banks are cut each week, the hedges are trimmed at two metres high and the rinks are always clearly and accurately marked.

Indeed, their weekly green-care routine of cutting complemented by deep spiking, grooming, slitting, rolling and power brushing has produced a playing surface that sees the green used by a host of teams including Chelmsford & District Bowls Association and Essex County matches, as well as  Bowls England competitions.

Trimax International Ambassador of the Year – Stuart Wilson, Croke Park, Dublin

At the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Stuart Wilson is widely acknowledged as having played a key role in the development of one of the best playing surfaces in Europe and possibly the world. 

He has applied his years of fine turf experience in the golf and football sectors to the Croke Park pitch, where a mind-boggling schedule of fixtures and music concerts is matched by a playing surface that meets all the multi-use demands placed on it. The pitch is a credit to Stuart and his capable team.  

An Englishman, Stuart met the challenges faced by the Croke Park team in a very professional and progressive manner, helping to raise the standards of playing surface management to a new level while also bringing a sense of pride to all those involved.

National Governing Bodies’ Grassroots Sports Ground Team of the Year – Rugby Town Junior FC, Rugby

The club’s 35-acre site in Kilsby Lane consists of 35 grass football pitches, which includes pitches marked for 5 v 5 and 9 v 9 games,  and a newly-installed 3G artificial surface – all maintained by one part-time groundsman, who works 15 hours a week, plus a team of three volunteers.

The ground hosts association and community football; 60 teams use it on a rotational basis including two senior teams and five Midland Junior Premier League teams (aged from under 11 to under 18) on Saturday afternoons.

The grounds team also looks after general site maintenance including the clubhouse and car parking area. They also undertake grass cutting for a neighbouring community group.

This category co-sponsored by the AELTC (All England Lawn Tennis Club), ECB (the England and Wales Cricket Board), The FA (Football Association), the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association), the Premier League, the RFL (Rugby Football League) and the RFU (Rugby Football Union).

Redexim Charterhouse/Kubota Volunteer Groundsman of the Year – Lee Watson, Clay Cross Town FC, Derbyshire

Lee took on the role of groundsman at Clay Cross Town FC nine years ago and he dedicates 25-30 hours a week to the club’s main pitch and training ground, also assisted by his step children, while holding down a full time job.

The Mill Lane ground hosts up to 70 games a year, plus training for the home team and an under 9s squad. As well as cup and friendly fixtures, the site also stages the semi- finals and finals for the Rowsley Youth Football League and the Chesterfield Sunday Football League, plus accommodates fixtures to support charity events.

Lee’s annual maintenance budget of £1,000 recently received a fillip after he successfully gained equipment and consumables via the Football Association’s Pitch Improvement Programme which, he says, has not only led to improvements in the playing surface but has also benefited him personally in terms of interacting with other groundsmen at the Derbyshire County FA workshops.

Indeed, he is often the first one in and last one out of these workshops – such is his quest for knowledge to further improve the playing surfaces.

Lee’s success at this year’s GMA Awards follows his accolades as 2015 National FA Groundsman of the Year and Derbyshire County FA Groundsman of the Year 2016.

Alex R Millar DLF Johnsons/Ransomes Groundsman of the Year – Neil Stubley, All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon

The award – which acknowledges the role of an individual groundsman from within all the relevant professional grounds team award categories – recognises Neil’s expertise in leading a grounds team whose obvious focus is the preparation and presentation of the grass courts for the annual Championships, an event that puts the team under a global spotlight.

It is not an understatement to say that the quality of these playing surfaces are revered the world over.

In addition, however, Neil has also introduced a number of initiatives at Wimbledon, including creating a structured grounds department that now sees senior groundsmen taking responsibility for specific areas and courts and other outside facilities – in addition to the on-site courts, the team also looks after the site’s amenity grassed and car park areas, as well as the a 16-acre multi-sport facility.

This team approach now also enables Neil to become involved in other activities, including the development of the new roof for the Number One court and the joint project with the Lawn Tennis Association and the GMA to help improve the standard of grass tennis courts throughout England.

Souters Sports Lifetime Achievement Award – Nico van Vuuren, Stadium Grow Lighting, Holland

Nico van Vuuren is accredited for transforming sports turf management by pioneering the use of grow lights into world football. The lighting systems – which re being used at more than 180 stadia worldwide – are integrated with pitch data sensors that take measurements for prevailing water, humidity, temperature, Co2 and light levels.

These data are used in conjunction with the grow lights to ensure optimum growing conditions for the playing surface and thus help to ensure first-class turf all year round.

A former professional rose grower, Nico took the success of artificial lighting systems used in greenhouses and developed the technology of grow lights for use on football pitches, primarily in response to the awful playing surfaces experienced in the late 1990s by his local football club in the south of Holland.

He founded Stadium Grow Lighting in 2001 and trialled the grow lights for the first time, in 2003, at Sunderland’s appropriately-named Stadium of Light. The first full installation followed a year later at PSV Eindhoven and today the lights are widely used, including throughout England’s Premier League clubs and at most of the leading football clubs in Continental Europe, too.

SGL’s technology is now such a success that other sports are increasingly ‘seeing the light’ too, and Nico is not content to rest on his laurels and continues to develop the technology.

With headline sponsorship by Rigby Taylor and Top Green, the 2016 GMA Industry Awards are also sponsored by the AELTC, Countrywide, Desso, DLF, ECB, The FA, Headland Amenity, John Deere, Johnsons Seeds, Kubota, the LTA, Mansfield Sand, the Premier League, the RFL, the RFU, Ransomes, Redexim Charterhouse, SGL, SISGrass, Souters Sports, Sport England, STIHL, Toro and Trimax.

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About The Grounds Management Association

The Grounds Management Association (GMA) is the leading membership organisation representing grounds managers, groundsmen, grounds maintenance managers, greenkeepers and all others involved in the management of sports pitches, landscape and amenity facilities in the UK. As well as maintaining the GMA Performance Quality Standards and providing a consultancy service for sports grounds, lawn maintenance and amenity horticulture, the GMA’s extensive Training and Education programme includes cricket, football, tennis, horseracing, bowls, artificial surfaces, turf science and many other specialist subjects.  It also stages the annual GMA SALTEX exhibition, Europe’s leading show for the open space profession. For more information visit