Sunderland groundsman bids to be Britain’s best

Ashbrooke groundsman Martin Stephenson is in the finals of the Young Student Groundsman of the Year competition.
Ashbrooke groundsman Martin Stephenson is in the finals of the Young Student Groundsman of the Year competition.
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GREEN fingers and a passion for pitches have helped a student to scoop a place in the finals of Groundsman of the Year.

Martin Stephenson, 25, will rub shoulders with groundsman from the likes of Old Trafford and Lord’s Cricket Ground after bowling over judges with his efforts at Ashbrooke Sports Ground.

The horticulture student from Seaham has spent the past seven years ensuring everything is pitch perfect at the ground for sports including bowls, cricket, football, rugby, tennis and American football.

Martin and the other groundsmen also have to ensure the grass gets back up to scratch after major events such as the annual fireworks display and Split Festival.

“People think that being a groundsman is just about cutting the grass,” he explained. “But there’s a lot more that goes into it than that. “It’s about the science of plants, PH levels, soil testing, and much more.

“One of the biggest challenges is when things like Split Festival take place as you have 7,000 people on the ground along with tents and catering trucks. It’s something the club needs to do to financially to survive, we just go in afterwards and pick up the pieces.”

He added: “The grass is looking really good at the minute but obviously the fireworks are coming up. It’ll be fine as long as it doesn’t rain from now until then, but if it does it makes the grass a right mess afterwards.”

Martin, who has just graduated from East Durham College, first discovered an interest in being a groundsman on a trip to Australia.

He said: “I’d always played cricket at a decent level and when I was 18 I went to Australia to play cricket in Perth for The Western Australian Suburban Turf Cricket Association.

“As part of that, I had to help look after the ground and I found it really interesting.”

When Martin returned he got a job at Ashbrooke and hasn’t looked back since.

He will travel to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry in December in the hope of bringing home the Institute of Groundsmanship’s Most Promising Groundscare Student of the Year award.

“I was really surprised to hear I’d made the final,” said Martin. “It’s a really well respected competition with groundsmen there from the top Premiership clubs.

“I think what impressed them was the variety of sports and events we have to deal with here.”

ONE day Martin could tend to some of the world’s biggest grounds, including:

•Strahov Stadium, Czech Republic. Capacity: 220,000.

•Rungnado May Day Stadium, Pyongyang, North Korea. Capacity: 150,000.

•Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata, India. Capacity: 120,000.

•Michigan Stadium, USA. Capacity: 109,901.