Preston North End’s Pete Ashworth has been named as League One’s groundsman of the year.
The Deepdale pitch has been in mint condition this season, Ashworth and his staff working wonders to restore the playing surface to good health after the battering it took in the 2012/13 campaign.
Ashworth’s counterparts at Bristol City and Rotherham were highly commended in the League One category.
Head groundsman Ashworth admits that keeping the pitch in shape is a labour of love, and that can involve being on his hands and knees straightening blades of grass!
Ashworth said: “It is really nice to get recognised. We had a hard season last time so it’s nice to have a good one straight away.
“It was a wet winter which was a bit worrying at times but thankfully we produced a good surface for the team to play on.
“During games I do spend most of my time watching the pitch rather than the action.
“When a back pass goes back to Declan Rudd, I just pray that the ball doesn’t hit a bobble.
“There is at least one person working on the pitch every day.
“At this time of year you are mowing it, and in the winter you are fertilising it and doing whatever is needed to stand the grass back up – even going down on your hands and knees to straighten it.
“As you get closer to a game there are up to five people working on it.”
The top groundsman award for Ashworth has come about following constant assessment of all pitches in the league.
Opposition managers and referees give pitches a rating after every match.
Based on those, visits to the best pitches were made earlier in the month by Sr Stephen Baker, head of sports surface technology at the Sports Turf Research Institute.
This time last year, the pitch was recovering from being over-used in the winter months. Former PNE boss Graham Westley favoured training on it regularly, and large areas of the pitch were left without grass cover.
Ashworth said: “It is hard to keep a pitch in a stadium environment in good nick during the winter.
“From the end of October you don’t get any sunlight on it. You are relying on what you do with your fertiliser routine to make sure it grows.
“We haven’t lost a game this season or last. The more grass cover you have, the better I sleep at night.
“The grass helps protect from frost and allows the pitch to drain better.
“This winter we have been helped by the lack of frost. We have only had to cover the pitch once, compared to every night for eight weeks last winter.
“Covers help keep the frost out but when you peel them back they take some of the grass with them.”
Ashworth and his team also tend the three training pitches at Springfields and Chorley’s Victory Park surface.
He said: “Deepdale is an old pitch but is a well constructed one. After the astroturf came up in 1995, a soil-based pitch went down, then in 2000 this one was put down.
“It’s heavily sand based and drains well.”