Simon Rudkins is one of six groundsmen from all around England who picked up awards in The FA Groundsman of the Year Awards 2011. Rudkins, who doubles up as a director at his club Hastings United, claimed the Isthmian League prize for the magnificent surface at The Pilot Field.
Having been awarded third place in this competition a year ago, his philosophy of continuous improvement has paid dividends, and this year he’s reaped what he has sown.
More after the break
“I was a little surprised with the award but proud to have been recognised,” he said. “It’s a labour of love, but well worth it. “This is my third year in charge now and I’m always looking to improve on what we have. I’m always finding myself being a bit critical of the pitch as I want to make it better and better.”
And it’s by no means easy work for Rudkins, a gardener by day, who not only has tight club funds to deal with, but other more natural problems like the weeds and the East Sussex wildlife.
His job is made all the easier, and more rewarding, thanks to the understanding of the manager and the players for whom he is maintaining the pitch. “Being a club director and the groundsman, sometimes I end up arguing with myself over what money to spend on the pitch. You know you can’t afford something, but you’d like it to help the pitch get better so there are times when I’ve put my hand in my own pocket to pay for it.
“We’ve had a problem with weed as well as with badgers and foxes, who come along overnight and dig holes in the pitch, so I have to deal with that too. People laugh at me, but everyone knows the pitch is my baby. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to it, but I’m passionate about getting the pitch as good as it can possibly be. I’m constantly trying to improve it and get rid of any faults.”
He adds: “The manager we have now, Jason Hopkinson, is like me when it comes to the surface and is appreciative of the effort that goes in and he ensures the players understand this, too. They also want a good pitch to play on.
“Jason likes the team to play football and keep the ball on the ground. Supporters have noticed this since he’s come in, not just because of the surface, but having a pitch like this has probably helped us get a manager like him in the first place.
“Because we don’t have a great deal of money as a club, having a good pitch is the type of thing that can attract good players to Hastings United. I’m just pleased that I’m doing my bit towards teams being able to play attractive football at The Pilot Field – so long as the opposition don’t enjoy it too much!”
So, with such a nice patch of grass at the club, has Rudkins got a similar garden at home? “To be perfectly honest, the last thing I want to do after spending time on the pitch and in my day job is to go home and work on my own garden, so at the minute I’ve not actually got one.
“One day I will have a nice garden to take pride in, but at the moment the pitch is my lawn!”