Grounds for concern at Ashton Cricket Club

AN EXPERIENCED cricket groundsman is facing a race against time to get his surface ready for the new season.

As a result of the wettest February on record, Ashton Cricket Club’s Ian Schora has been unable to execute his usual plan of action and now finds himself three weeks’ behind schedule.

In what he describes as the most challenging winter of his career, the 52-year-old has been forced to contend with minimal time and resources and, by his own admission, is praying to the weather gods to show some mercy and bless the borough with a dry spell and sunshine.

But if his prayers go unnoticed, Ian will face further obstacles as he works around the clock to ensure Ashton have a fighting chance of opening their account in the Greater Manchester Cricket League’s Championship against Rochdalians at home.

More importantly, the issues caused by the weather and the almost impossible task of preparing pitches has sparked a serious concern about the lack of appreciation groundsmen receive.

And that is not to mention the issues surrounding financial compensation which, generally speaking, are almost non-existent in cricket circles as volunteers carry out duties as an act of goodwill and a love for the club.

Ian is therefore pleading with local clubs, schools and colleges to execute a plan of action to bring through the next generation of groundsmen – with additional emphasis placed on financial rewards.

Failure to do this, he says, will result in more groundsmen walking away from the role and leaving clubs in a perilous state.

Speaking to The Correspondent about the alarm among older groundsmen, Ian said: “On the whole, clubs are reliant on volunteers or people who have retired to maintain the pitches, carry out treasury duties and a whole host of other jobs.

“However, with the pressures of living and the current financial situation, more people are finding less time to carry out these roles and these magical people are no longer available.

“A lot of clubs are struggling at the moment. Middleton can’t find a groundsman, nor can Royton or Chester Broughton Hall.

“There are people walking away from the profession as they can earn more money working in much easier and comfortable environments.

“A college system needs to be set up in order to incentivise youngsters to take up the profession. Not every student is academic and can easily become distracted and bored with sitting in a classroom.

“It would be a good alternative for them to leave the classroom for a few hours a week, come down to a local club and get involved with ground preparation. They might appreciate being outdoors, surrounded by a smaller team and learning a new trade.

“There are currently loads of courses for different trades likes plumbing, joinery and engineering, but not so much for groundskeeping. There seems to be a lack of discourse around the opportunities of being a groundsman.

“I think it stems from a lack of promotion around the benefits of the job. You’re not stuck in an office answering calls, you’re outdoors in the fresh air, you’re part of a small team that makes a difference and you can progress through the system to reach higher levels.

“There is definitely a career path, but you’ve got to start somewhere and that’s the issue at the moment.”

Such is the quality of Ian’s work and the effort he makes throughout the week, a list of clubs have approached him in a bid to improve their pitches.

However, as he balances his time between Ashton, Mersey Valley FC and Holden Vale CC, he is unable to oblige their requests and sympathises with their struggles.

He added: “I understand that club’s struggle to make money – especially with the rise of energy bills and general maintenance – so paying a groundsman isn’t always possible.

“From my perspective, I care for certain people involved with Ashton and wanted to help them out.

“I’ve been doing the ground for the past three years as a good will gesture and for a little bit of money.

“If I walked away the club would be in serious trouble – as would a lot of other clubs – as it’s difficult to find someone who is motivated to put in the hours purely for the love of the club, or at best, little financial reward.

“It’s a difficult balance to find but, with the winter we’ve had, it addresses how challenging the role can be and why it’s so important to ensure a new wave of young people take up the profession to preserve these clubs in the future.”

Although challenged and at times frustrated, Ian loves his profession and was awarded for his efforts in 2019 at a prestigious ceremony.

He travelled to Lord’s in London and was named alongside the top six in the country for proactiveness in the profession.

What’s more, Ian’s work was also rewarded as the Greater Manchester Cricket League opted to host its T20 Finals Day at Reyner Lane last summer.

And he will be hoping to create a similar surface ahead of the new season in four weeks’ time – but only if the weather plays ball.

He said: “It’s been the hardest winter I’ve ever known – to the point where I was considering walking away from the profession.

“A lot of clubs can’t afford new machinery, so we have to make do with old pieces of equipment which makes a difficult job even harder.

“The only thing we can do at the moment is pray for sunshine. At this rate, in order to get the surface ready, I’ll be working until 8pm to ensure the pitch has a chance.

“People don’t see the amount of work that is carried out to prepare a surface – let alone the conditions we’re faced with along the way.

“There is usually a window of opportunity to get things done. It hasn’t really played out that way this year but, regardless of the weather forecast over the coming weeks, I’ll be doing my best to make sure the teams have a good surface to play on.”

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