Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

We caught up with Scottish Rugby Head Groundsman Jim Dawson about how 2020 has looked for the team that maintain elite sports pitches.

When Scotland beat France on 8 March of this year, many anticipated some upheaval in our lives, albeit perhaps not to the extent or time that it has led to. As he approaches a decade in the role of Head Groundsman at Scottish Rugby, Jim Dawson says that although it’s not quite been a case of business as usual, the turf team have been working as tirelessly as ever during the ongoing pandemic.

“As soon as the France game finished we knew the potential of a lockdown was there so we were able to sit down as a group of staff at the time and almost prepare for what might happen. It all moved very quickly and when the furlough scheme came into effect, almost all of the ground staff were subject to that. In fact, it was just me for a while as a one-man band!"

“Luckily, at that time of the year, the grass doesn’t grow at the same rate as it does in the summer so I managed to keep on top of things for a few weeks before the likes of Alex [Latto, Assistant Head Groundsman] came back to support me, to help with back pitch renovation."

“In terms of the main pitch at BT Murrayfield, in the same way as so much of life, we have had to be clever in our work with suppliers, what we can and can’t do by way of improvement, and planning ahead for what’s to come.

“It was actually nice from a groundsman’s perspective to let the pitches recover and have a bit of breathing space. At the time of the first lockdown, we had Edinburgh training out on the back pitches most days because of their league and European commitments at the time."

“So to let the pitches result and do their natural thing, without having to use fertilisers or the like, was in a sense a good thing for the ground itself.”

It’s very much been hands-on, despite limited resources and that’s been the case across the country of course at all sports grounds.

It’s a busy time around the BT Murrayfield complex with Edinburgh Rugby’s new home, under the title Project Eden, close to completion in an exciting development. Although Jim and his team have not been a part of the actual building process, they will oversee the pitch in the same way the main international playing surface is under their auspices.

Jim added: “The turf team with Project Eden is something we don’t have involvement in at the moment, but there will be a handover coming soon I believe, so we’re very much looking forward to getting on site and seeing what we can help with in terms of Edinburgh’s training schedules and so on."

As he celebrates a decade as Head Groundsman, Jim says parts of the job have naturally changed, especially given the upheaval brought about by Covid-19 and all that entails.

He said: “Ten years have flown by of course,” he said. “This challenge is something new for everyone and we always knew rugby would return, likely without fans at first. It’s very strange being inside a national stadium, having games with nobody there – all you can hear is what the players and coaches are saying and it’s all so different.

"From our point of view, it’s a new concept of how sport is being played in the current climate. For instance, having had games at BT Murrayfield, we have some experience of how things are done now. We would normally walk on to the pitch and carry out our duties before and during games, whereas now you have to radio in to say you’re about to disinfect the post pads and corner flags and so on.

“Even at half-time you’d see us devoting the pitch but now it’s a case of ensuring that everything possible is sterilised and cleaned as a priority during that break before we get on to other work.”

It was a busy November as normal in 2020, even with the new way of working for the ground staff. However, one thing remains unaltered as Jim and his team have, as recent tradition dictates, sprayed giant poppies onto grass pyramids along the M8 as part of the country’s Remembrance celebrations.

He added: “It’s something myself and the turf team are very proud of doing; and I think it’s something everyone at BT Murrayfield is also proud of.

“We feel privileged to have the opportunity to do it and it’s something I think the public appreciate as well – I believe a few folk post on social media about it so it’s nice to know, and of course our traditional poppy display around the memorial at BT Murrayfield like we do every year.”

Even in a year like no other, it’s nice to see some things are able to be continued despite the unique nature of how we are currently living.

This article first appeared in Scottish Rugby's brand new digital magazine - The Front Row - available exclusively to NEVIS and MACDUI members.

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