Why did you accept this opportunity?
After receiving the GMA Rigby Taylor Young Groundsman of the Year award in 2015, [US-based, English university lecturer] Pam Sherratt – a keen Evertonian – introduced me to Mike O’Keefe, who was leading a UK/US intern programme at The Ohio State University for greenkeepers and wanted to extend the scheme into groundsmanship.
Thanks to the go-ahead from Everton FC and head groundsman Bob Lennon – plus sponsorship from Rigby Taylor – I was excited about the trip and gaining international experience, especially at a Major League Soccer site (MLS).
What was the criteria for joining the internship scheme?
Winning the GMA award certainly helped, but Mike was looking for someone with a passion and enthusiasm for the profession, who was keen to learn and would engage well with fellow groundskeepers. The experience really helped me gain confidence as it forced me out of my comfort zone.
What did you learn from the experience?
I learned a lot about warm season grasses, which we discuss in the UK from a theoretical point of view but don’t have practical experience of. I also experienced the different working practices for soccer pitch maintenance, as well as cultural practices, such as working around extended usage, pre-game activities plus sponsors and cameramen liaison.
While I was there, Mapfre Stadium in Ohio hosted three High School fixtures during the week followed by a professional MLS game over the weekend. The temperature hit 33 degrees that week with high humidity that caused grey leaf spot. Irrigation was a challenge during the heat of the day and was followed by freezing rain at night.
What was the type of knowledge transfer during your trip?
My hosts were really interested in the chemical dew dispersers we use at Everton. They were also interested in our cultural practices, such as mowing when the grass is dew free not only to reduce the risk from disease but also because it provides a much cleaner cut. Furthermore, combined with a regular fungicide application it helps with all-round protection of the plant.
What about differences in machinery or products used?
The big thing for me was the preference for ride on, rather than pedestrian-operated equipment. In the UK this would create an issue in compaction but the reason for this preference is the time and budget constraints meaning more work and less team members, so the ride-on machinery gets the job done much faster. They had five lads working at all grounds compared to 12 at Everton.
Would you recommend the experience?
The networking and knowledge transfer opportunities have been fantastic, as most MLS grounds staff look to the English Premier League for best practice in pitch care agronomy and I’ve enjoyed a better understanding of warm climate grasses and work around tight game scheduling.
I would definitely recommend an internship experience and am happy to offer advice to anyone who is thinking about embarking on one.
This is an excerpt from the full interview, published in the March issue of the Groundsman magazine