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Putting it right

Tottenham Hotspur’s grounds manager Darren Baldwin hit world sporting press headlines in July, when he was called in to rescue a playing surface deemed too dangerous at the Barclays Asia Trophy finals at the Hong Kong (So Kon Po) Stadium

Published in Sports Management 2013 issue 4
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Putting it right
Putting it right

Spurs’ grounds manager Darren Baldwin is living proof that a groundsman is always on call. Baldwin was in Hong Kong with the Spurs squad, helping with the team’s training requirements and facilities, when he was called in to advise the local grounds staff at So Kon Po Stadium. Torrential rain had put the Barclays Asia Trophy – a pre-season friendly competition – under threat as the rain had left the pitch in a condition which posed a potentially severe threat to the safety of players.

Taking a tour
“Whenever the Tottenham Hotspur team travels abroad for a tournament, I visit the training and stadium venues in advance,” Baldwin says. “While we want venues to meet with our own standards we need to take into account the local culture and not step on other people’s toes. It’s important to tread carefully and to be respectful to our hosts.

“At Kowloon Cricket Club, the Hong Kong tournament’s training venue, the team required stretching and massage areas, so it was my job to sort out some make-shift undercover areas. In this case, a few gazebos were sufficient – and with large ice baths not available in Hong Kong, we improvised with a child’s large plastic padding pool.

“However, things don’t always go to plan: I had specifically ordered eight 1.5m x 1m mini goals for our practice sessions, but our hosts weren’t able to source these and it was impractical to bring them from the UK so our coaching team altered their training programme accordingly.”

Darren also joined the team for the tournament itself. The Barclays Asia Trophy is held every two years and in 2013 was contested by Manchester City, Sunderland and Tottenham Hotspur plus the host club, South China, who are also Spurs’ partner club in the region.

“Everything was going fine up until the semi-finals (on July 24 2013) when torrential rain waterlogged the stadium pitch – so much so that the games were of only 80 minutes duration rather than the usual 90 minutes. It was clear that the pitch had irrigation issues, and I was called in (by The Premier League) to work collaboratively with the stadium’s grounds staff, checking on what they had planned to resolve the situation.

“I knew we had to instigate an immediate emergency programme of spiking and applying sand – many tonnes of it – if we were to be able to stage the final. Thankfully, after many hours hard work and much co-operation from the Hong Kong grounds staff and volunteers, we regained a pitch which, while not perfect and not aesthetically pleasing, was playable and most importantly safe, both for our match against South China and the game between Manchester City and Sunderland FC.”

Career paths
Baldwin’s first taste of groundsmanship came at the age of five, sitting on his father’s lap while he mowed the local pitch at Buckhurst Hill, north London. His interest in turf management started back then and in October 1988 at the age of 16, he spent three weeks on work experience at Arsenal Football Club.

In July 1990 he was offered the position of assistant groundsman at Arsenal where he spent the following six years under head groundsman Steve Braddock. In June 1996, one of the less publicised transfers of personnel between the two famous north London clubs took place when Darren was lured to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club as head groundsman. At the time he was the youngest head groundsman in the history of the English Premier League at the age of 24.

In the summer of 2000, he was promoted to the newly formed grounds manager position, with overall responsibility for the club’s White Hart Lane stadium and the extensive Spurs Lodge training facilities at Chigwell on the outskirts of London. Nowadays he oversees most of the work and misses hands-on groundsmanship. “If the staff see me out mowing, then they know that’s my way of calming down if we’re under pressure,” he says.

Training days
According to Baldwin, his biggest project to date was overseeing the construction of the club’s new £45m training facility on 77 acres of ‘Green Belt’ land at Bulls Cross in Enfield. The project had been 10 years in the planning and one Baldwin has been totally involved with from the start. The training centre is one of the most ambitious projects in the club’s 131-year history with the grounds featuring a mixture of sand based, Desso and Fibresand pitches for the first, development and academy squads.

It takes a large team to manage the 45 acres of maintained turf; Baldwin has 23 staff working permanently on site, including a mechanic, irrigation engineer, secretary, head groundsman, and head gardener. He remains committed to the industry with his continuous involvement with various bodies including the Premier League Grounds Managers group and the Professional Playing Surface Committee.

Award winner
Still relatively young at 41 years old, Darren can lay claim to many accolades throughout his career. He was voted Premier League Groundsman of the Year 2007, the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) Groundsman of the Year 2007 and in 2010 won the IOG’s Sportsgrounds Management Team of the Year. He and his team won the same award for the second time in 2012. This year, Darren won the IOG’s prestigious accolade of Campey/Imants Professional Football Groundsman of the Year at the IOG’s Industry Awards ceremony, which was held at the Ricoh Arena on 5 December (read more on the awards pn p.62).

Commenting on the award, IOG CEO Geoff Webb said: “Darren is a fantastic ambassador for groundsmanship. He’s always helping others with their turf management issues and the work he’s overseen at Tottenham’s training ground is second to none.”

Football to the fore at IOG Industry Awards and ‘Raising the Game’ conference

More than 350 of the UK and Europe’s leading groundscare experts as well as dignitaries from the governing bodies of sport and influential sports administrators, attended this year’s Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) Industry Awards to honour the expertise, dedication and passion of the country’s grounds profession.

Raising the game
Now in its fifth year, the prestigious ceremony at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena recognised leadership, innovation and outstanding achievement across every aspect of groundscare – and it followed a day-long series of ‘Raising the Game’ conference presentations where football was a predominant subject.

During the day’s proceedings, Darren Baldwin, grounds manager at Tottenham Hotspur FC, recounted his experiences this summer in Hong Kong during the Barclays Asia Trophy (see pp. 60-61 for more); Andy Cole, head of stadia services at the Sports Turf Research Institute, enlightened delegates on stadia and training ground pitch preparation in the run up to the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil; and former Aston Villa head groundsman Jonathan Calderwood reflected on how winning an IOG award last year helped shape his recent move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Also, following a presentation by consultant Professor Eric Harrison on ‘Protecting your investment through effective management of synthetic turf’, a panel of sports turf experts discussed the rise of synthetic turf and technology and its impact on groundsmanship.

The panel included turf consultant David Rhodes, Alistair Cox from turf tester Labosport, Dr Tim Lodge from Agrostis, pitch installer Support in Sport, and head groundsmen at Hampton School Clive Liddiard and Swansea University’s John Courtney.

Award-winning expertise
The expertise of UK football groundsmanship and the calibre of the nation’s football stadia were recognised when Darren Baldwin was given the IOG Campey/Imants Professional Football Groundsman of the Year Award and Wembley Stadium grounds team, headed by Tony Stones, stepped up to receive the IOG Professional Sports Ground Team of the Year Award. The Wembley team is charged with producing and maintaining a world-class playing surface for a myriad of elite sporting events – a mixture which presents a unique range of challenges.
Most notable is the pitch turnaround time between events, which can see an NFL (American football) game staged back-to-back with football, followed by rugby then NFL again – all in the space of a month. The stadium’s uses also include filming for adverts and movies.

Lee Jackson, Etihad Stadium’s head groundsman, received the award for the IOG Governing Bodies’ Professional Spectator Sports Ground of the Year – which is co-sponsored by the All England Lawn Tennis Club, the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Football Association, the Football Foundation, the Lawn Tennis Association, the Premier League, the Rugby Football League and the Rugby Football Union.

As well as being Manchester City FC’s home ground, the Etihad Stadium also hosts events such as the Rugby League Magic Weekend and closed season pop concerts, of which there were six in 2013. Plans going forwards include an expansion of its capacity from 48,000 to just under 61,000, which has proved significant in the stadium being chosen to host an England pool game for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The IOG event, held at the Ricoh Arena, attracted more than 350 professionals from across the European groundscare industry
The IOG event, held at the Ricoh Arena, attracted more than 350 professionals from across the European groundscare industry
Darren Baldwin (left) receiving his award
Darren Baldwin (left) receiving his award
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