Opinion: Groundsmen – the unseen heroes of Tranmere vs Ipswich

Prenton Park during the Vanarama National League match between Tranmere Rovers and Forest Green Rovers at Prenton Park, Birkenhead, England on 11 April 2017. Photo by Shane Healey.

January is always a harsh month for the pitches.  February may be the ideal ‘winter break’ due to snow but, more often than not, waterlogged pitches, postponements and delays will occur in the first month.

I live in rural Suffolk, in between farming communities, and I am well aware of the damage weather can do to even the toughest terrain, let alone a sports field, And with the week just gone seeing off many fixtures, a 500-mile round trip to watch my team, Ipswich Town, face my ‘other’ team Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park.

Tranmere’s F.A Cup replay versus Watford on Tuesday suffered due to the weather and did not go ahead. Pictures of waterlogged turf, bewildered ground-staff and fans, upset with the decision (I say the decision, there was no decision to make) caused me a selfish concern.

I love a trip to Prenton, and for the first time Rebeccah, my partner, had agreed to come to the match, rather than shop in Liverpool One. The postponement caused conversations about whether a trip to the Wirral (where our friends live) to a game which could get cancelled was a bit of a waste.  Thankfully, the game went ahead and I would like to congratulate the amazing work of the groundsmen.

Often, when your team have a bit of bad luck, such as a bobble, you berate the pitch. Saturday saw both teams play a well-contested match on a pitch wherein parts, sandcastles would not look out of place, and in other areas, you could see deep boot marks, ruts of mud creating images of fields, should the game have featured on M.O.T.D. I am sure some commentator would churn out the ‘ploughed’ or the ‘beach’ cliches.

It is beyond me how Tuesday’s pitch became playable by Saturday, although Nicola Palios (Tranmere Vice-Chair) claimed it would almost certainly go ahead. The tireless effort, from the obviously skilled team, saw a surface fit for a full match. Yes, some balls had an odd bounce and at one point Caprice tussled with Garbutt and I swear you could see sand flying as though someone had kicked over a child’s castle. Considering the final score, maybe the team at Prenton Park wish they hadn’t achieved such a remarkable job but to get a game on is testament to professionalism.

Two of the goals in the game came from aerial efforts and the third was a well placed high pass, which was then lobbed over a rushing keeper. There wasn’t a lot of ground-based football but it’s still football and they are still goals. We returned to Suffolk with three points, valuable for a team pushing towards promotion and equally as important to my other team, who could do with a boost away from the drop zone. But, you can’t both win.

What did Rebeccah make of it? Well, she’s not overly sporty anyway but, bless her, she watched the game and commented on what parts she enjoyed. Sadly her takeaway was more due to crowd behaviour, a few pitch invaders managing to darken the experience, along with a foul-mouthed tirade from a man who should know better. Add to that a pair of ‘fans’ behind us, desperate to prove their royal status, constantly chattering about their recent trips and experiences, views and everything.

Don’t get me wrong, every fan does this. But not every fan consistently gets the player’s names wrong! Hey, though, that’s football!