Wes Matthews of Elstow Abbey FC has been on cloud nine since leaving St George’s Park last Thursday after winning the National Groundsman of the Year for Step 7 and below.
Wes explains the amazing journey he has embarked on since being crowned County winner back in March 2018.
From meeting professional grounds staff and witnessing demonstrations of the latest robotic mowbot to receiving line marking equipment and Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) qualifications from sponsors MH Goals Ltd & British Sugar Topsoil, it has been an unbelievable journey……………………….
‘I am totally overwhelmed, when I look back to the first day that I took on the groundsman role at Elstow Abbey Football Club four years ago. I never would have believed that I might find myself receiving such a prestigious award.
I took on the role of groundsman at Elstow Abbey FC, as the club was in need of someone to cut and prepare the pitch on a regular basis. I was looking for a new challenge after stepping away from the First Team Management role and didn’t think there would be much too it. However once I started, I realised how much work goes into preparing a quality playing surface. It is easy as a player to take for granted that the football pitch would be cut, marked and prepared with goals and nets every week without much effort. It is only when you get involved in the running of a football club that you realise just how many volunteers help in the background and appreciate the work that everyone puts in.
I was chuffed to bits when I and my pitch at Elstow were nominated to represent the Bedfordshire County Football League in this year’s County groundsman competition. This, in itself, was fantastic recognition but then to have been crowned Bedfordshire County winner was indeed a proud moment for me.
This whole process has taught me so much and I have met many knowledgeable people along the way including Phil Jeggo (Regional Pitch Advisor for the IOG) and James Petty (Football Development Manager for Bedfordshire FA) who organised an excellent competition and awards event. I was then informed that I had been selected to represent Bedfordshire County FA in the Regional finals, which allowed me to meet two top Premiership groundsmen. They were Andy Grey (Southampton FC) and Bruce Elliot (Crystal Palace FC). They were both judging the playing surfaces in the Regional competition and I was truly honoured to meet such top level groundsmen at the Abbey.
I could not believe when a couple of months later I received an e-mail inviting me to St. George’s Park, (The FA’s National Football Centre), informing me that I was a finalist in the National Groundsman competition. On the 9th August the club chairman (Roland Simmonds) and I went to St. George’s Park. We had a fantastic day and were introduced to some top grounds staff, including Manchester City’s head groundsman (Lee Jackson) and Wembley’s Head Groundsman (Karl Standley) along with so many more inspirational people.
We went for a tour around the world class facility and had the chance to ask questions to professional grounds team during the morning session. We were then treated to a lovely meal and the presentations began shortly afterwards.
The awards were in categories according to the National League System from Step 1 to 7. We were in the final group. We saw clubs like Hereford, Weymouth and Aldershot applauded for their efforts and found it incredible that the likes of a small village club would be seen as an equal at the same event.
Gradually, it became presentation time for those at Step 7. Two highly commended certificates were given out first, third place was called and then second place was announced. Roland and I looked at each other and said is this really possible? In that moment my name was announced and appeared on the screen showing as the Groundsman of the Year Winner of Step 7. I could not believe it and was lost for words. It was a very proud moment for me, becoming a winner of the national award. I had never expected this outcome and it was a truly wonderful feeling that I shall never forget.
However, after receiving my award and returning to my seat we were told there would be a special announcement. The news was shared to all those present that only recently, The FA’s sponsor for the event- Budweiser had confirmed they were to give a sum of money to all of the 1st place award winners clubs’ for this year and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. I was not prepared or could have even dreamt about what would be said next.
All winners would receive the sum of £12,500. I was speechless as this amount of money would make a tremendous difference to Elstow Abbey FC and its ambitions for the playing field in the future.
I would like to thank everyone for their great support through this process. I hope this achievement by the smallest club present at the ceremony will provide inspiration for others to get involved in becoming football volunteers and make a difference to the future of their clubs.’
Beds FA encourage new and existing groundsman who are inspired by Wes’ story to get into pitch maintenance by joining the Pitch Improvement Programme and attending the in season playing maintenance event on Wednesday 21st November from 7.30pm-9.30pm at Wootton Blue Cross.
For more information on how to sign up to the event or join the Pitch Improvement Programme delivered in partnership with IOG to improve natural grass turf pitches then please contact James Petty on James.Petty@BedfordshireFA.com