Our feature that shines a light on those working behind the scenes continues - today we catch up with Head Groundsman at Oakwell, Dave Anderson!
Tell us when you fell in love with the beautiful game. Did you play? What team did you support growing up?
I can’t really remember how old I was when I first got into football. I grew up in a house where it was always around. I remember watching Saint and Greavsie on a Saturday morning and Italia ’90 was probably the first World Cup where I watched most of it. My mum loved sports for as long as I can remember; she would watch whatever sports were on TV. She got the interest from her dad, my grandad who had a 1 handicap in golf and had football trials with Huddersfield Town. I was never blessed with being very talented at football. I could cross a ball, that’s about it, my mates were a lot better than me but I enjoyed a kick around or ‘knock out Wembley’. My mum started supporting Man Utd following the Munich disaster, so I was brought up a Man Utd fan. Although my first ever game I went to see was at Oakwell in the Ponty End with my mate and his brother against Reading and we won 3-0 I loved the matchday experience.
When did you get into your current line of work?
I always had an interest in horticulture and helped landscape and maintain private gardens prior to my time at Oakwell. I initially started here as a groundsman in 2006 and was very much taken under the wing of staff at the time. I learned so much during those early years and I am grateful to be able to create solid foundations to build upon. I never thought I would be lucky enough to work for my hometown club. I learned mechanics from my father-in-law which is how I could fix machinery when it broke down so we could get up and running quickly. When you’re using machines on a daily basis they can break down a lot so being able to fix and service them comes in handy.
Tell us your career path at the club to date then.
As I say, I started working at Oakwell in March 2006 as an assistant groundsman just before we got promoted to the championship which was a great start to my role with Barnsley as I went to the PlayOff Final just a couple of months after starting. The club has been great with me, allowing me to get my qualifications along the way. I have all my chemical and sports turf/horticulture management certificates and the club encourages training and allowing the staff to improve their selves. I have been able to build a strong knowledge-base over the years from working with the different people at the club as not everything can be learned in the classroom. For example, Rimmo would often tell me about how he did things when he was the groundsman and tell me how the equipment was so much better than what he had to use. Rimmo was one of the main factors in getting the Oakwell pitch reconstructed in 1997 due to a drainage problem prior to that. He was always very positive with me and complimented the pitch saying it was the best he had seen it, which obviously meant a lot coming from a legend, even though I didn’t agree with him at the time. I was promoted in 2014 to Head Groundsman which was a personal goal and it meant the world to me to know the club had faith in me and appreciated my efforts. Since then I have been able to build a strong team who work together and support each other well.
Who are the people that helped you at the club when you first began?
When I started I was welcomed by the staff, they helped me initially fit in. Tony Stones who was the Head Groundsman at the time, set me on and showed me the ropes and I learned a lot from him. I like to think I have a good working relationship with everyone; we all help each other where we can. I have been very lucky to work with some fantastic, knowledgeable people over the years, each of whom have helped me develop my skills. I have had a lot of help and support from Rob Zuk (Finance & Operations Director over the last few years. Most recently, since I took over as Head, I work closely with Steve Cryne (Stadium Manager) and the maintenance staff - Luke, Paul, Eric, John and Oliver who have been an amazing support, not only in terms of just advice and sourcing supplies/machinery but in a more practical sense as we always try to help each other out when needed. The cleaning staff and kit men all play their part in helping out as there is a lot of work goes on behind the scenes, John on security helps with the water on a night, and Sam Tattershall has been great on the Health & Safety side of things. But I would say that the most help I received throughout would be from Alan Roberts (pictured below), who has actually been working at Barnsley since 1999. He is very knowledgeable and a very hardworking man who has a great knowledge in horticulture in general. If you want to know the Latin for any plant, ask Alan, he will know it.
Tell us about your current team, your colleagues and what a working day/matchday involves for you all.
I am lucky because I have a fantastic team with me at Oakwell and I definitely couldn’t do my job without them. It is always a team effort and the lads work very hard. As I have mentioned, I have big Al who helps us and then I have my deputy head, Dave Bedford. His background and knowledge in football pitch maintenance is brilliant so I can bounce ideas off him and he gives me other ways of looking at things. He has a great work attitude. Our most recent addition is Ian Marshall, who has been here just over a year. He is also very skilled and has a lot of experience with sports turf and has great initiative which is really good for me as I have a lot more office work mainly due to health and safety with filling out risk assessments, chemical records etc. Our youngest lad is our apprentice Kieran Morley who has shown a lot of promise. He has got used to using machines really fast as he is a quick learner which helps me a lot also. All of whom have a fantastic work ethic and work well as a team and I am so thankful for that.
Being a groundsman isn’t a 9-5 job, it is a 365 day a year job as we’re working with schedules and weather which is very rarely kind to us. We’re constantly looking at the forecast and making decisions from day to day as our working days are never the same from one day to the next because we are working with a living thing which can be unpredictable at times. This season has been extremely difficult with the non-stop rain we had for around 5-6 months, trying to get a good playing surface is difficult and one wet game can ruin the pitch for the season and we have had about 7-8 wet games this year so Oakwell has struggled a bit through the winter as grass pretty much stops growing through the colder months with the lack of light and temperature and due to the grass slowly growing, the recovery at this time has been more difficult than normal. The club have invested in a couple of lighting rigs which help simulate sunlight which has helped massively, this is why we have managed to keep the goal mouths less worn than they used to get.
When it comes to the training ground there is usually someone on them either training or rehab every day and we have the academy pitches to look after, so like Oakwell we have to prepare and then repair after use every day, There can be between 60-80 matches on the training ground per season that we prepare for and we look after the indoor and outdoor artificial pitches. Also, we have a few bankings to cut and we have the surrounding green areas to look after so we have plenty to keep us busy all year round as there are around 40 acres at Oakwell, so there’s no off-season as such for us.
After the season ends we usually remove the surfaces, this helps with the levels as the pitches can become uneven over the season so then we add around 60 tonnes of sand to the surface. We also want to remove all foreign grasses from the sward and create a brand new seed bed with 100% perennial ryegrass. Once this is done we wait for around seven days for the seed to germinate and then we manage it until we can cut with a rotary mower which tips the leaf and allows the grass to grow laterally once the plant starts to fill in. We then prepare for pre-season, the players usually return the last week in June so we have roughly 7-8 weeks to get them established. With Oakwell, we do the same but we usually have a bigger window as it’s July before our first friendly. During the off-season we try and get the training pitches back to a good standard which isn’t easy as the pitches are nearly 23 years old from when they were initially constructed.
With matchdays it is usually a few days before that we start preparing the pitch, but it depends on the time of year and how it is growing. We’ll cut on the Thursday and then we can double cut sometimes on the Friday but I always like to actually cut on the day of the match as the definition of the cutting bands stand out better so on the matchday itself we will remove morning dew if needed, three of us will cut the pitch whilst the others get the marking paint ready and set up the main goals. Whenever we have spare time we will repair the training pitches if no one is on them. Once the cutting is done we string out the lines to make sure they are straight before we mark it out. We let the paint dry and remove the strings and then we do the penalty spots and technical area by hand. The last thing we usually do is put the ball safety nets on and portable goals for warm up on and then I can water the pitch usually two hours before kick-off. This is requested by the coaching staff and players as they want the ball to zip along the surface. I will wait, then to speak to the opposing coaches. I show them where they can go and ask them what they plan to do in the warm-up and warm-down. This is the dreaded bit for us as most of the damage on the pitch comes from the pre-match warm-up work. After the warm-up we remove the safety nets and portable goals with help from the maintenance team, then we divot and I will put the water on again, usually requested but I will put it on anyway if it’s a warm day which obviously dries the surface out quicker. We then divot at half time again and maybe put more water on. After the match is finished we have the teams warm down and we start the repairing process. We usually go on with the rotary mowers as this acts like an hoover which removes all the debris from the surface and keeps it clean. That would be a typical matchday for us. The week after we will divot it numerous times and try and get it ready for the next one. When matches are close together this is obviously more challenging.
Can you tell us any funny stories you can tell us from your time at Barnsley FC?
We do have a laugh at Barnsley but it’s hard to think of a single funny story. I do remember about 10 years ago when it had been snowing heavily through the night and I was clearing the first team car park so the players could have somewhere to park, which seemed an impossible task as it was covering just as quick as we were able to clear it. When the players started to arrive I was still busy clearing and a few of them thought it would be funny to try and hit me with snow balls whilst I was moving on the tractor clearing the snow. Not going to lie, at the time I was cold and wet already and I didn’t see the funny side. However, later on we were on our dinner break and they had finished training. So we collected some snowballs in a bucket and as they were walking down we got our own back.
Another time I can think of is when one of the league’s sponsors were Wickes in which at half time we would have to carry on a shed, and the game was called ‘on my shed son’ where fans had to chip it in the roof. We were playing Sunderland and they had filled some of the west stand as well as the away end and we had to bring it on and take it off past them. I won’t repeat what they were saying but it wasn’t complimentary!
Also, if any of the fans in the Ponty End got footage of the time one of our staff got caught in the safety net on a match day I would love to see it as I was putting the water on and missed it but I was told it was hilarious.
And finally, on a personal level, how are you doing during these difficult times, we suspect the family is keeping you busy?
Probably the same as most people. It’s strange as we’re still working, doing the essentials as grass keeps growing. We’re ok at the moment, trying to keep busy and with four kids that’s taken care of! Helping with the schoolwork hasn’t been the best nostalgia trip but I think I’m doing okay with it. Not sure our home schooling would pass Ofsted assessments but the main thing is we are safe, the kids are mostly happy so I’d say we’re doing okay. It puts everything into perspective and I know football means a lot but it’s not the priority at the minute so for everyone reading this, please stay safe, look after yourselve. If we all do as we are told to, then hopefully we can all get back to normal as soon as possible.