The Gazette

Fresh ground apprentice Riverside


sion? “If you take the grounds people away from the club, you ultimately won’t have a pitch to perform on,” is Phoebe’s rather to-the-point rebuttal.

Think back to those stereotype­s and you probably just see the grounds people on match days walking around the pitch with their forks, digging into the pitch before and at half-time of a game. What you don’t see, and might not appreciate, is just how much work, thought and forward planning goes into the role of making that pitch as perfect as possible.

“The biggest part of the job is cutting the grass, which is what we mostly do day-to-day, to keep it in good condition,” she explained.

“After the match, it’s all about the work we have to do to get it back to perfect condition. So immediatel­y after a game we’ll divot the pitch and then on a Monday, we brush it and clean it all in order to get it ready for the next match. It is hard work.

“There’s a lot of science involved in it as well. When fertilisin­g the pitch, for example, you need to make sure you’ve got the right chemical blends of what you’re using. There are certain different types of feed for different times of the year as well.

“I didn’t know what to expect coming into it, so everything was brand new. It’s a lot more in-depth than meets the eye; there’s definitely a lot more to the job than a lot of people think.”

In some ways that shouldn’t be a surprise. The condition of the pitch is ultimately conducive to performanc­e on it. The instant memory in my mind is Neil Warnock’s displeasur­e with the Riverside pitch a couple of seasons ago when Marcus Tavernier slipped during his run-up for a penalty which ultimately cost Boro two points. They ended up drawing a game that penalty would have won.

Think of all the millions invested into success at the club, and on the players who grace that pitch. The better the condition of it, the easier for those players to perform at maximum level on it.

Injury prevention is key too. The level of detail comes down to making the pitch the exact level of resistance. Too hard and the impact on players when running on it will cause problems.

Equally, too soft and there are potential risks for twisting as feet get planted/ stuck in the turf. Injuries impact team selection, and potentiall­y results.

Results impact revenue. It’s no wonder Boro take it so seriously.

It’s something most elite profession­al clubs are aware of in the modern game and place significan­t importance on. Boro employ nine grounds people in total now, with three at the stadium and six at the training ground on a normal week, with all hands on deck at the Riverside on a match day.

Phoebe will be there, every home game, with the rest of the Boro grounds people, doing all they can to make that pitch the best it possibly can be to aid Michael Carrick’s side in their bid for Premier League promotion.

And there is one more stereotype we had to touch on. If you’ve been around football clubs and games most of your life then chances are you’ve probably either been in trouble with a grounds person, or seen someone who has. Protective over their pitch, you might consider them the most grumpy employees of any football club!

Phoebe is trying to avoid that stereotype but admits she can understand why it’s a thing. “I try to relax and not worry too much about the pitch when watching, but that isn’t always easy,” she admits with a smile. “I do love watching the football. It’s obviously great being on the pitch before, after and at half-time as well. You’re seeing all the players and the manager up close which is really fun. I try not to be the stereotypi­cal grumpy grounds person, but I do understand why people can get very stressed when you’re watching people ripping up your pitch every week, after all the hard work and dedication you put into it!”

Hard work and dedication is the key. As football fans, we tend to hero-worship the players out on that pitch who ultimately carry the pressure of trying to bring joy to us as supporters by winning games. But every football club has so many more unseen people behind the scenes whose work is invaluable in ensuring there is a club, and a pitch, for those players to perform and for us to love.

Phoebe is one of many great people at Middlesbro­ugh Football Club who fits that mould. That she’s helping to diversify and protect the future of such a crucial profession is absolutely fantastic and should be appreciate­d every bit as much as Chuba

Akpom’s goals!

 ?? TOM BANKS ?? Phoebe Taylorson, Middlesbro­ugh’s first-ever female grounds person
TOM BANKS Phoebe Taylorson, Middlesbro­ugh’s first-ever female grounds person
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