Groundsman John up for national award
A Norfolk football club groundsman has been nominated for a national award for his grass roots work in the beautiful game.John Nichols, 66, has tended the playing surface at Gorleston FC's Emerald Park since retiring after 39 years as groundskeeper of the town's Cliff Park High School in 2005.
A Norfolk football club groundsman has been nominated for a national award for his grass roots work in the beautiful game.
John Nichols, 66, has tended the playing surface at Gorleston FC's Emerald Park since retiring after 39 years as groundskeeper of the town's Cliff Park High School in 2005.
Now, after recommendations from Eastern League referees and scrutiny from the man who rolls and sprays one of the country's top sporting arenas, Mr Nichols' perfect pitch could see him crowned as the Groundsman Of The Year by the Football Association (FA).
He will join six other regional nominees in his category for the gala dinner at Windsor Racecourse on September 5 in a shoot-out for the national accolade.
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“Obviously I am pleased, but it was a complete surprise,” said Mr Nichols.
“I have been a groundsman for forty years - it has taken me that long to be an overnight success.
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“I get some compliments from the players, but mostly from the away teams. They say it is the best pitch they have played on this season.”
Gorleston FC, better known as The Greens, play in Division One of the Eastern Counties (Ridgeons) League, classified as step six in the country's football hierarchy.
The league nominated Mr Nichols to the FA, who then sent out judges including Chris Perry, the groundsman at Twickenham Stoop, home of Harlequins Rugby Club.
The judges looked at the quality of the pitch, but also the knowledge of the grounds staff, the resources available, and how often the surface was used in order to narrow the field to the seven best pitches in the step six category.
Mr Nichols said he uses a tractor, rollers and a battery-operated line spraying machine to keep the Emerald Park surface in top condition, but prefers the traditional approach.
“I don't have a secret, I just spend hours with a two-prong fork, working seed into the ground,” he said.
“I never set my stall out to have the best ground, I just wanted to get one I was happy with. If the club gets some kudos out of it then I'm happy.”
Alf Grey is vice-chairman of the club, and a former FA cup final referee in1983.
“John is a volunteer here, and he has been working solidly,” he said.
“The amount of hours he puts in is unbelievable - he loves it.
“We first heard earlier this year that he was nominated in one of the categories. Then we had a visit from the judges, who quizzed him on his knowledge and his equipment.
“Everybody says it is a lovely ground and we get more admiration from visiting teams.”
The awards evening will include the opportunity for the 150 guests to put questions to industry professionals, and to speak to former England star Trevor Brooking in an open forum.
Emma Clark, of the FA, said: “The idea of the competition was to improve the standard at that level of football.
“A lot of the groundsmen are volunteers, so the awards were also created to recognise their efforts.”