GMA Industry Awards winners - 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 seventh year, the sell-out event at the Birmingham Metropole hotel 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 2015 GMA Industry Awards are:

GMA Campey/Imants Football Grounds Team of the Year - Leicester City FC 

With eight members, the club’s grounds team maintains the King Power Stadium pitch as well as the training ground, where there are the equivalent to seven natural grass pitches. There is a great team ethos at the club, with everyone taking great pride in producing playing surfaces of a very high standard, whether for the first team or for the Under 9s.

Importantly, too, the team has been heavily involved in a major revamp of the training ground pitches, which involved the reconstruction of two pitches and the installation of undersoil heating, for example. These pitches are used every day by all age groups.

GMA Headland Amenity Cricket Grounds Team of the Year - Sussex CCC

With 12 full-time members, including five apprentices, the club’s grounds team works across seven cricket grounds on four sites, including 1.6 hectares of playing surface at the Hove County Ground. The pitches accommodate First Class, academy and premier league games. 

Lots of changes have been implemented at the stadium, including the installation of a fully automated irrigation system for the outfield and net area, and a programme of re-invigoration of the playing surfaces to attain the very highest standards for the least amount of money. This re-laying of the pitches has all been designed and implemented by the in-house team and it included a revamped outfield during the close season ready for this year’s programme. 

GMA John Deere Horse Racing Grounds Team of the Year - Nottingham Racecourse

In addition to producing and maintaining the best possible racing surface, the grounds team at Nottingham Racecourse also look after the paddock and grandstand areas where there are fine turf lawn areas surrounded by trees and flowers plus the stables and saddling/treatment boxes at the 293-acre Cowlick Park racecourse.

With four full-time members plus 16 casual and race day staff, the team has to accommodate 23 racing fixtures each year plus a host of other events that involve use of the lawns and stables – including providing support to other local racecourses – and it goes without saying that every area of the racecourse has to look its best all year round.

GMA Kubota Rugby Union Grounds Team of the Year - BT Murrayfield Stadium

As well as the stadium pitch, three practice pitches, an Astroturf surface and all other grass within the BT Murrayfield stadium grounds, the four-strong grounds team is also charged with tasks at external stadia, depending on the events schedule. The team is responsible for supplying first-class pitches to Scottish rugby professional and academy teams. 

As the national stadium, Murrayfield is, of course, primarily a venue for professional and international rugby matches and training sessions, though its Desso Grassmaster pitch is also used occasionally for concerts or other mass-participation events. During a recent 12-month period, the pitch endured around 230 hours of use.

By necessity, all maintenance regimes are dovetailed around the scheduled usage – and the level at which this is carried out is endemic to having a trained, qualified and confident grounds team.

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

The Leeds Rugby team 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. Usage levels vary at the stadium with anywhere between 80 to 100 events (not just rugby games) taking place on the pitch all year round.

In addition, the grounds team is very proactive locally, assisting and advising neighbouring clubs as well as the pitch improvement strategy that is being spearheaded by the Rugby Football League as a funding partner of the GMA-led Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme.

GMA Tennis Grounds Team of the Year - The Queen’s Club, London

With eight members – who between them have more than 100 years’ service at the club - the grounds team has 13 acres in their charge and a main part of their responsibilities is to ensure the 45 tennis courts are maintained to the highest standards to meet the demands of the club’s 4,000 members as well as the competitors in tournaments such as the Aegon Championships and Davis Cup. Indeed, these two classic tournaments were staged very closely together this year and it is testament to the skill of the grounds team that pristine playing surfaces were presented for both events.

There are four Grand slam surfaces at the club; 20 grass courts, six clay courts, four artificial surfaces and five plexi-cushion courts plus ten indoor courts. 

In addition, the grounds team is also responsible for maintaining all outdoor areas such as hedges and gardens.

GMA Bowling Green Groundsman/Team of the Year - St Ives Bowls Club, Cambridge

Working to a very tight annual budget of just £1,000, the six volunteer greenkeepers at St Ives Bowls Club consistently maintain the greens to a high standard – accommodating more than 150 matches between April to September. 

The six, who are also players for the club and have an average age of 60 plus years, perform their individual tasks – be that cutting, aeration, watering and fertilising, for example, plus general maintenance of the site - religiously from Mondays to Thursdays, regardless of the weather.

GMA Souters Sports Independent School/University Sports Ground Team of the Year - Whitgift School, Croydon

The school’s 16-strong groundscare team (nine groundsmen plus a four-strong gardens team and three estates staff) have 45 acres in their charge – incorporating playing surfaces for rugby, football, cricket, tennis, hockey, softball and golf, as well as gardens, livestock, lakes, traffic thoroughfares and car parks. Modern pentathlon and cross country events are also held at the school. 

The sports pitches are used all year round and, as part of the annual improvement programme, the team has in recent times centred on the health of the grass/soil combined with changes to the topdressings, the fertiliser regime and seed selection – all with the aim of presenting ever-improved playing surfaces.

GMA National Governing Bodies Grassroots Sports Grounds Team of the Year - Beversbrook Sports Facility, Calne, Wiltshire

Beversbrook’s 94 acres host an incredible 75 home football teams, seven lacrosse teams, three athletics clubs, ten cricket teams plus archery and running clubs, for example. Usage levels at the facility are also bolstered by, for instance, the Wiltshire Cricket Academy and Cricket Firsts, plus Gloucester Cricket’s firsts and seconds, as well as its use by Swindon Town FC for training.

Maintained and managed by four full-time staff and two part-timers, the site has undergone a number of improvements to meet the continual demand for its facilities – not least being the construction of a long jump pit and a discus case, plus a six-lane 400 metres running track/eight-lane 100 metres track, and the construction of an overflow car park to accommodate the increase in visitor numbers.

[] In 2013, Beversbrook won the GMA Grassroots Sports Facility of the Year Award, and last year was runner up for the GMA Grassroots Sports Team of the Year.

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

GMA National Governing Bodies Professional Sports Ground of the Year - St George’s Park, Burton upon Trent, Staffs

The grounds team at St George’s Park, home of the National Football Centre at Burton upon Trent, is responsible for the upkeep of 15 different playing surfaces and they have been instrumental in upgrading and adding to the pitch group to enable the Park to meet its obligations. In the second year of operation, the site recorded 7,200 hours of play.

Working closely with contractors, the pitch upgrades have included boosting the fibre concentrate levels in three fibresand pitches; one fibresand pitch upgraded to a Desso surface; and most recently, the installation of the UK’s first SISgrass pitch which has involved close co-operation during the past two years with the pitch contractor. This newest pitch played a key role in the site hosting the training camps for both Ireland and Argentina ahead of this autumn’s Rugby World Cup.

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

[] See below - the St George’s Park grounds team has also won the Ransomes Jacobsen Environmental Project of the Year Award.

GMA Rigby Taylor/Top Green Young Groundsman of the Year - Ryan Powell, Everton FC

24-year-old Ryan, one of Everton FC’s 11-strong grounds team, says his main responsibilities at the club revolve around the maintenance and development of the playing surfaces – including marking out - and the surrounding wildlife conservation areas at the club’s Finch Farm training ground. 

Here, he adds, his additional gardening duties involve soil cultivation, mulching, watering, weeding, edging, pruning and bed preparation, as well as the care of rockeries, herbaceous borders and shrubberies. In addition, he has created and landscaped a World War I memorial garden at the entrance to Finch Farm.

Ryan has been with the club since he left school seven years ago and is currently undergoing a Foundation degree.

GMA Toro Most Promising Sports Turf Student of the Year - Michael Crew, The Hurlingham Club, London

19-year-old Michael is a member of the 28-strong grounds team at The Hurlingham Club, a venue for tennis and multi-sports. As well as playing a key and enthusiastic role in the club’s groundscare routines – “he has a seemingly insatiable quest for knowledge and his passion for turf management appears to have no boundaries”, says one of his teammates – he also helps out at the cricket ground in Kent where he plays and is a member of the Fulham FC matchday staff.

Michael is currently finishing his City & Guilds Level 2 qualification in Sports Turf WBD (groundsmanship).

GMA Briggs & Stratton Unsung Hero of the Year - Ian Darler, Cambridge United 

Ian has been working at Cambridge United for an amazing 37 years; when he started at the Abbey Stadium in 1979 he was the youngest head groundsman in the country. 

Nowadays he wears a number of additional hats at the club; he is also the stadium manager and matchday safety officer, and for one brief period took on the role of commercial manager selling pitchside advertising and gaining a shirt sponsorship deal.

His groundsmanship role at the club, however, has seen him consistently maintain a first-class playing surface on a relatively small budget – in fact, over the years he has been using machinery largely purchased using thousands of pounds of his own money.

Ian’s expertise is widely sought after in the locality, and he freely offers advice and labour to groundsmen at grassroots level at, for example, Cambridge City FC, Mildenhall Town, Soham Town Rangers, Newmarket Town FC, Bedford Town, Cambourne United, Huntingdon Town and St Ives Town. 

Indeed, during the ‘80s he formed a company to enable him to purchase pitch materials at discounted prices for the benefit of these clubs.

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

For their second award of the evening (they also won the National Governing Bodies Professional Sports Ground of the Year Award), the grounds staff at St George’s Park also collected the Ransomes Jacobsen Environmental Project/Innovation of the Year Award.

The Park’s 330 acres boast a wide variety of habitats, flora and fauna and a biodiversity action plan is focused on the conservation and regeneration of all aspects. One example surrounds the development of new pitches, with all planning and construction of these carried out with due consideration to the wildlife, especially the population of Great Crested Newts.

GMA Charterhouse/Kubota Best Maintained Artificial Pitch of the Year - Manchester City FC 

In addition to 13.5 grass pitches, the 14-strong Manchester City FC grounds team has to also maintain three artificial turf surfaces at the City Football Academy – two outdoors and one indoors, all compliant to FIFA 2 star standards. 

These pitches are used by the club’s charity – City in the Community – the local college and for commercial activities. Manchester City FC also uses the pitches when the grass pitches need to be rested.

Specific training in the maintenance of these pitches is complemented by best practice input from specialists designed to ensure the surfaces are always at their best. With this in mind, a maintenance schedule is religiously worked to and recorded.

GMA International Ambassador of the Year - Philip Sharples, Azerbaijan 

Currently director of pitches for Gabala FC in Azerbaijan, 45-year-old Phil has dedicated his life to producing first-class turf grass surfaces for sport, with 28 years’ experience within the field of turf grass management and the last five years managing high profile football pitches around Europe and Eastern Europe including Gabala FC, Galatasaray FC, Kasimpasa Spor FC, Bunyodkor FC (Uz) and Trabzonspor FC. 

His current role at Galaba FC also involves development of the club’s bespoke academy, training and stadia pitches, as well as being stadium pitch consultant to Xazar Lankaran FC.

Phil also managed and advised on pitches for two FIFA World Cup tournaments (in 2012 and 2013). 

He has also spent time as a researcher, lecturer and practitioner with a well-rounded knowledge of the industry. Phil is also the author of 'The Lawn Guide' that has sold almost 10,000 copies and is distributed throughout the UK and Europe. 

GMA Volunteer Groundsman of the Year - Loucas Xenophontos, Hertford Town FC, Herts 

Loucas is one of three volunteer groundsmen at the club’s Hertingfordbury Park ground. The full-size football pitch, plus half-size training pitch, host matches and training for a number of club teams plus other users – in season 2014/15, the main pitch accommodated 108 matches plus training sessions; in total, 181 hours of play. 

At one point, the club had the worst pitch in the league, but Loucas and the team have worked diligently to improve the playing surface to such a level that the club can now stage pre-match games prior to the main Saturday events.

In addition to leading the groundscare team’s regimes – which has seen the quality of the pitch continually improved during the past three years - Loucas is also focused on developing his helpers and this includes people with learning disabilities and mental illnesses from the local charity, Mudlarks, for which Loucas has also launched a disability football team. Indeed, one of the Mudlarks helpers has been offered an apprenticeship.

GMA Alex R Millar DLF/Ransomes Jacobsen Groundsman’s Groundsman of the Year Award – Jim Dawson, BT Murrayfield Stadium

The award – which acknowledges the role of an individual groundsman from within all the relevant professional grounds team award categories – recognises Jim’s expertise in leading a grounds team that is not only tasked with maintaining the stadium pitch plus three practice pitches, an Astroturf surface and all other grass within the stadium grounds, but they also undertake various roles external stadia.

Jim joined BT Murrayfield after a 17-year spell at Falkirk FC, where his expertise as head groundsman twice earned him the title of Scottish Football Groundsman of the Year as well as being shortlisted for the Professional Football Groundsman of the Year – an award that considers the work of every football groundsman in the UK. He was formerly a golf greenkeeper. 

GMA ICL Everris Syngenta Lifetime Achievement Award – Bob Smith, formerly head groundsman at Derby County FC’s Baseball Ground

Now 73 years of age and still an active GMA member, Bob joined Derby County when he was 24 years of age, having previously worked at a British Rail cricket ground for two years. He proudly points out that within 12 months, the ground was hosting lots of major competitions – for bowls as well as cricket – including all-England finals. It is, however, his years at the Baseball Ground that he looks back on most fondly. 

“When I joined Derby County, in 1967, I was told that I’d never be able to grow grass at the ground. We started the season mid-August and manager Brian Clough said that if I can keep some grass on the pitch until the end of August then I would be doing well!

Bob can relate numerous anecdotes of his time with the club and of Brian Clough – many still remember the 1977 Match of the Day televised pictures and commentary by John Motson when the groundsman (Bob) was broadcast painting in the penalty spot. 

“The work there was certainly a way of life,” he reflects. “On match day it was not unusual for me to be at the ground at 4am, and while at the start of my career there I was certainly multi-tasking – which on one occasion actually saw me delivering transfer papers to a player – during the latter years we expanded the team to five at the stadium and two at the training ground.”

Bob can count a number of ‘firsts’ in the world of groundsmanship – he was the first to use the Contravator overseeding machine to create slits/slots for the grass seed to drop into, he was the first football groundsman to manage a sand-based pitch and he was the first groundsman in the country to use pop-up sprinklers. In all three cases, these technologies are now in widespread use at sports grounds up and down the country.

Today, Bob continues to attend GMA Branch, regional and national events, and remains a friend to many in the industry.