PNE’s Pete has perfect pitch

Preston North End' head groundsman Pete Ashworth stands on the Deepdale pitch
Preston North End' head groundsman Pete Ashworth stands on the Deepdale pitch
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For many of us, mowing the lawn is a chore which gets put on hold until the garden starts to resemble a jungle.

But Pete Ashworth cannot wait to fire up the mower every morning and lovingly tend an area of turf which 22 footballers will stamp their multi-coloured boots over on a Saturday afternoon and Tuesday night.

Ashworth is Preston North End’s head groundsman, his and his staff’s job to keep the Deepdale pitch in the best possible nick, as well as the Springfields training ground and Chorley’s Victory Park surface.

He is the reigning League One groundsman of the year, having produced an immaculate pitch last season.

That was the green-fingered version of turning water into wine, bearing in mind the battering which Deepdale got during the latter stages of the Graham Westley era.

“My job is a labour of love. I just love doing it,” Ashworth told the Evening Post during a short break from preparing the pitch for the visit of Port Vale on Saturday.

“I will have been here nine years at the beginning of November having worked at Oldham for eight months and then Blackburn Rovers for eight years.

“It is a job with its challenges but I like to think we do our very best with the resources available.

“At the moment I’m very happy with how the pitch is looking . The weather has been kind to us since the summer and as recently as last week, I was still out working on it wearing my shorts!

“November isn’t normally too bad a month for the pitch but it is December, January and February when the grass really suffers.

“You are fire-fighting at that time of the year to make sure you have as good a grass covering as possible.

“We have the heat-lamp 
rig to help the grass grow in the goalmouths and we will also use it in other areas if a bit of grass-growth is needed.

“Frost provides a challenge because while you have the covers to protect down to a certain temperature, they can damage the grass.

“Grass grows until the temperature drops below about 5 degrees so I’m always hoping it stays quite warm.

“The difference between keeping a stadium pitch and the ones at the training ground in top condition, is quite big.

“At the training ground, the pitches are open and get daylight on them all day. But at a stadium the pitch has the four stands around which cast a shadow.

“This week we have noticed the sun getting lower behind the Town End, which means that end of the pitch is not getting much sunlight.

“That will reduce further when the clocks go back and as we move towards the shortest day in December.

“But when you get to the shortest day, I start thinking that, bit by bit, we will start to get more daylight on the pitch to help it grow.”

There are four full-time and one part-time staff tending the pitches at the three locations. Deepdale is the priority but Springfields and Victory Park are lovingly cared for too.

Said Ashworth: “We move around the different places depending on what needs to be done and when a match is scheduled.

“Dean Ash is based at Deepdale permanently and he is the one who walks up and down with the mower for hours and is why he is three stone lighter than me!

“I tend to arrive at Deepdale at 7.30am, have a chat with Dean and plan what needs to be done. Then I shoot off to the training ground and speak to the staff we have based there.

“Quite often, I’m the one who goes over to Chorley and works on their pitch – our youth team play their home matches there.

“We work long hours – after a night game it can be 11pm before we get away.

“But it is all worth it when the players are happy with the pitch and when you get an award like I did last season.”