Rovers’ award-winning head groundsperson is ready for the challenges of winter after coming through a testing year at the Eco-Power Stadium.
Dylan Thompson was named young groundsperson of the year at the Grounds Management Association’s awards earlier this month, capping an eventful few months since re-joining Rovers at the start of the year.
Alongside keeping playing and training surfaces in top condition for typical football and rugby league seasons, Thompson and his team have also managed preparation and restoration of the Eco-Power Stadium pitch around two major concerts and three Rugby League World Cup fixtures.
Grounds staff by their nature are never fully satisfied with the work they have produced but the 26-year-old admits he is proud over the work of the last few months.
“It’s been challenging and hard at times but as we come out of it, there’s a real sense of achievement that there’s still lots of grass on the pitch, which was a big aim as we went through,” he said.
“In July, we had the Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot concert - which feels like a lifetime ago. It was a difficult stage with the football season starting seven days later and a rugby game two weeks after it.
“No one could really tell there’d been a concert on until you got to the six yard box in front of the North Stand so it was nice to still get the first day of the season comments.
“It was a bit nerve-wracking in the build-up but it was a relief once we got through it all and everything was okay.
“We always planned for a lot worse than what it was so it was a sense of achievement that we were ahead of where we wanted to be straight away. The club were very supportive and gave us everything we needed to help us get through.
“In October, we had the Rugby League World Cup matches plus Samoa training at Cantley Park.
“It’s been busy but it’s been enjoyable. These are the reasons why we work for this club because it’s not only the football, but a wide range of events. It’s great to be part of it all.”
Events such as the concerts and Rugby League World Cup are key in the self-sustainable business model of Club Doncaster and Thompson is pleased to play a key role in ensuring hosting them is possible without negatively impacting upon our own sports teams.
And he believes the challenges of this year have set him and his staff up perfectly for the future.
“It’s been a great experience and as a grounds team and a club, we’ve all got that experience,” he said. “We’ve been able to reflect on the different events and make sure that anything we needed to tweak from event to event, we did do.
“We can make sure future events are profitable and spot areas where we can make them more profitable and more efficient for the club.”
The challenges ahead over the next few months may be much more familiar for the grounds team as they proceed into the winter months, they are no more predictable.
Much of November has seen higher temperatures than typical for the time of year, before plunging after a period of heavy wet weather.
“I don’t think there’s such thing as an ideal winter really,” Thompson said. “If you get through to March and there’s still a lot of grass, we’ll think we’ve done okay.
“Hopefully we don’t get snowy or frosty fixtures, or heavy rain, we’ll do okay. We’ve been lucky with the fixtures and we’ve got good turnaround times between games, which always helps.
“The timing of the jobs is more important than getting the tasks done at this stage. Sometimes we may leave tasks half done because it’s not worthwhile for the pitch.
“We’re constantly monitoring the weather and the forecasts. It’s about keeping on top of the weather and sticking with the good nutrition programme that we’ve got here.”
Reflecting on his award win and his first few months as head groundsperson at Club Doncaster, Thompson said: “It’s great, even though I’ve taken a bit of stick! I’m not really one for personal praise but it’s a nice achievement and something that’s good to have in my career moving forward.
“This role is everything I expected it to be. It’s challenging but very rewarding as well.
“We’ve had a few new members of staff and they’ve improved our own standards. There’s still a long way to go but we’re happy with the progress that’s been made so far.”