A year on from the launch of The FA Pitch Improvement Programme (PIP) – a 4 year, £8 million pound scheme with the aim of improving 2000 grassroots level pitches by 2019 – it’s clear that a host of football and sports clubs, as well as state schools, are seeing the fruits of PIP’s success.  Clay Cross Town FC is one such club to benefit.  Volunteer Head Groundsman Lee Watson describes himself as the “happiest man in the world” after he successfully received consumables and machinery through The FA PIP.

The club’s Mill Lane Ground was established 27 years ago and hosts around 65 to 70 games a year, plus training for the Clay Cross Town FC home team and an under 9’s squad. The club, changing their name from Parkhouse FC in 2012, has a main pitch and one training ground. Bringing in money is the biggest challenge for the club, which includes renting the pitch out to other teams such as Chesterfield, with Lee ordinarily only having a maintenance budget of £1000 a year.

Lee’s been in the industry for 9 years and took over after the previous Head Groundsman retired at the age of 80. He dedicates 25-30 hours a week to the club, also assisted by his step children, whilst holding down a full time job. Lee’s hard work and dedication has seen him awarded 2015 National FA Groundsman of the Year, Derbyshire County FA Groundsman of the Year in 2016 and he’s just been shortlisted for the Volunteer Sports Groundsman of the Year at the upcoming IOG awards. “In this job we face so many challenges, and not just those at pitch level – the main one being bringing money into the club. We have a tote, café and the gate money which really only covers overheads and fees. We survive on a week to week basis” explains Lee.

Because of this, Lee tries his best to avoid postponing games but with limited resources, it was a necessary evil in previous years. “Everyone wants to play and every game cancelled means lost revenue but playing causes me 2-3 weeks of repair work to get the pitch play-ready again, and we just didn’t have the resources to cope.”

He first heard about the FA PIP at the 2015 IOG Industry Awards and then attended a workshop held in conjunction with Derbyshire County FA. “At the event, it was evident it’s about more than just products and machinery, it’s the start of a network. I had the chance to interact with other groundsmen like myself, and speak with industry experts and suppliers where I received so much guidance and advice. Keely Brown at Derbyshire FA was great and supported me through the application process.” Lee’s submission was successful and he was the recipient of Delta and Fine Turf fertiliser, R14 rye grass seed, a spreader and chemicals from Rigby Taylor; an Allet C34 Mower & Redexim Multisport from Charterhouse Turf Machinery, the programme’s approved suppliers.

“Now we’re in the programme not only do we have access to a wealth of advice and support but there’s also the obvious benefit of improvements to our surface. It’s come on leaps and bounds. It drains so much better, the coverage has improved and we have tackled the weed invasion we previously had from the neighbouring fields. Considering before the programme we didn’t conduct renovations or even apply fertiliser because we couldn’t afford to, the players now call the surface a carpet it’s so good!” The improved facilities have seen the pitch in use more frequently which Lee hopes will kick-start improvements at the club which will in turn bring in more money and all the other associated benefits.

Those interested in the scheme should contact their regional FA to find the next PIP workshop, facilitated by Charterhouse Turf Machinery, Rigby Taylor and the IOG.