Gary Barwell has just one piece of advice for any young person who is considering groundmanship as a career: "Go for it!"
As Warwickshire head groundsman since 2011, Barwell has prepared pitches for the top tournaments in domestic and international cricket. Elite stuff.
But he talks just as fondly about his early days in the business, learning the ropes of the often unseen and unheralded work that quite literally keeps sport going.
From tending the tracks for Test matches at Edgbaston to trimming the pitch at a deserted Filbert Street stadium while on work experience at Leicester City, Barwell has loved it all. The satisfaction of doing a job well; the joy of learning new skills; working in the fresh air; and being among great people.
“I have been very lucky,” he said. “Lucky to have worked at three great cricket clubs and especially to have been at the Bears since 2011 – I just love it here. But most of all I am so lucky to have had a career in groundsmanship because it is so full of fantastic people, from elite level all the way through to the village green.
“I have ended up working at a high level but the skills and disciplines and the rewards are there for groundsmen and women at whatever level their clubs operate. And their work is just as vital. Without brilliant people preparing cricket and football pitches for the Under 10s, you have no Joe Roots and no Jamie Vardys, it’s as simple as that.”Gary Barwell
Barwell is spot on. Every day of every year, all over the country, an army of groundsmen and women, some paid, many not, apply their crucial skills to enabling sport to happen. Much of that work, during evenings or weekend mornings, is carried out alone, yet is also underpinned by the enormous camaraderie that binds the groundsmanship community.
“There is a real ethos, at all levels, of wanting to help each other,” said Barwell. “I wouldn’t be here now without the help and advice of so many brilliant people – Steve Green and Steve Walsh from my work experience at Leicester City. Lol Spence and Andy Ward at Leicestershire and the chairman Mike Turner who found the £35/week to take me on because I was so keen! Steve Birks at Nottinghamshire.
“And there are so many more. As a groundsman you become part of a community with a culture whereby you help and share if you can. I have seen that at all levels and it remains very much he case at Warwickshire. If we have a spare bit of equipment that can help out a local club, or they could use some advice, then we will always do it if we can.
“It is a privilege to be part of that great community and I hope I am part of it for a long time to come. To work at Edgbaston, with the fantastic teams I have got around me, both directly on the groundstaff and from the support from the club, is a privilege.
“I love it, just as I have loved all the roles I’ve ever had, right from edging the pitch with the shears at dear old Filbert Street. For any young person who wants a fulfilling career among great people (and doesn’t mind some hard work and unsociable hours among the fun!) I’d say only this: “Go for it!”