Dave Mitchell on winning EFL League Two Grounds Team of the SeasonThe Carlisle United grounds team, led by stadium manager Dave Mitchell, deservedly picked up this season's League Two Grounds Team of the Year award this week having beaten off stiff competition from Portsmouth, Plymouth and Doncaster.
We caught up with Dave today to find out what picking up an award like this means to his department.
“As a team we’re feeling quite proud,” he admitted. “It’s not the first time, of course, but we know the target is there at the end of the season so it’s always nice when we win it.
“It can be a long drag sometimes but this season hasn’t been too bad. The weather has been favourable, we’ve had a few patches of frost and things like that, but we’ve managed to keep 90-95% grass in most places on the surface.”
On the criteria looked at during the judging process, he said: “The pitches are marked by the referees and away managers to start with. Those top four or five marks then go into the pot before Steve Baker from the STRI visits. He works north to south and he does his visits at the end of March and the start of April.
“He obviously looks at the pitch and what it looks like, as well as how we manage it and the number of games it’s had. He also takes into account the equipment we have and the number of staff we have, as well as how many other pitches we look after in terms of training grounds and things like that. All of that goes into a computer - it’s a bit like the recipe for Irn Bru, he just presses a button and the result comes out.
“From what I believe it was close this year. There have been a lot of good pitches around because of the weather, so maybe this is even more of an accolade."
“One of the most important things for us is working hand in hand with the manager and coaching staff," he continued. "If that works, which it does at the moment, it helps. At the end of the day, if we haven’t got any grass we can’t put it back on, so we have to try and keep as much as we can.
“One of the ingredients into that is we keep the training grounds as playable as possible so the manager doesn’t need to use the pitch as an emergency training ground.
“We were fortunate from a usage point of view this season in that the youth team had four FA Cup games and they were all away from home. That’s been good luck, but I’ve had it before where we’ve had six games in 13 days in November. We’ve had that luck, and we’ve worked well with Keith and his team all season, and it can just be down to the draw of a ball out of the bag."
Keeping the pitch and the club's training pitches in top condition is obviously a full time task, and Dave admitted that it's one of those jobs where you have to be prepared to go the extra mile.
“The job does come with long hours but that’s what it is. If you don’t fancy it, get off the bus as somebody says! You’ve got to work around the weather and I’ve seen me on this pitch at 3am, because that’s the only window for me to get on there without making more of a mess.
"That comes down to your professionalism and your dedication. Under my directorship the lads jump on board with that and realise they maybe won’t be going home for normal tea times and things like that.
“During the floods I said that there is a lot of help out there from people who do what we do. We were at Twickenham yesterday for the awards and Keith Kent who is the head groundsman there was kind enough to let us have a wander on and a look at his pitch.
"He was one of my contacts post Desmond, we had a ten minute conversation where he told me some of the pitfalls of a total re-lay and that phone call was invaluable. He might be the boss at Twickenham but he’ll pick the phone up to any groundman across the world and give them the best advice he can. That’s priceless.
"We actually only scraped off about 50% of that turf at the start of this season so we’ve got good value for money from it."
“The lads would probably say I was very demanding but it’s just in my DNA I’m afraid," he told us. "If you’re going to do something, make a good job of it. Whether it’s a pitch or painting the garage door. If you can’t be bothered doing it or you haven’t got the right tools, put what you have got back in the shed and do it another day.
“I said this when I came in - whatever league Carlisle are in I want the best pitch ... not for me but for the club. With no disrespect to previous groundsmen it was a mess. Even teams way below us were installing modern pitches and we were way behind. The people at the club have given me and us the tools to change it and that has been fantastic."
And on the help he gets from elsewhere, he said: "We’ve got a great relationship with Rickerby’s in terms of equipment. During the floods we were borrowing bits of equipment from them that we didn’t have.
"The lads at Greta Garden Services in Keswick let us use their machines and we’ve got a good relationship with them as well. They are fans so they come down and have a look and pick up experience, and I can pick their brains as well."
On his plans as we head into the summer months, he said: “It doesn’t let up. I don’t think there is a slack time in this job. We still don’t know about potential play-off games which would take us into mid-May.
"The concert people will then come in during the last week of May after the various community football has taken place. As soon as the concert has finished we’ll start renovating the pitch. It does need a good plough up this time, believe it or not.
"In between all of that we’ll need to do the training grounds because the players will be back in towards the end of June. If we don’t get all of that right we will pay the penalty later on in the season, so it’s probably the most important time to make sure we can achieve what we want to throughout the rest of the season.”