Malcolm Taylor, Head Groundsman, Hull Kingston Rovers RFC – Rugby Football League Groundsperson of the Year 2008.
STAL talks to 63-year-old Malcolm Taylor, who has spent all his working life as a grounds professional after he realised “that being indoors would have driven me batty”
What were your early interests and career aspirations?
I’ve always followed motorcycling, and nowadays regularly attend GP and Super Bike race meetings. From an early age I knew I wanted to work with anything related to sport, though immediately after leaving school found that an engineering apprenticeship was a financially attractive better option.
What were your best school subjects?
Maths and history were my strong points – I just loved facts and figures.
Did you undergo any further education/training?
I have achieved a number of qualifications over the years, after attending various turf related courses (co-located with places of employment): at STRI (the Sports Turf Research Institute), Bingley, West Yorks – where I learned more in a week about the ‘science’ of turf care than during two years ‘in the field’ so to speak; at Merrist Wood College, Guildford, Surrey; at IGER (the Institute of Grassland & Environmental Research) at Aberystwyth, Wales – where I learned so much about the different cultivars of perennial ryegrass. As a result, in terms of qualifications, I am also a D32/33 Assessor, Tutor and Lecturer in Sports Turf Maintenance, and have I have City & Guilds (GNVQ) certification in the use of pesticides, health and safety, and management.
What has been your career path since school?
I went from an engineering apprenticeship at a Huddersfield-based company that was involved in, for example, producing turbines used on the QE2 liner, to becoming a school groundsman. My father was a school groundsman but I didn’t initially follow his lead because, as explained, engineering offered a more lucrative career. However, it was then that I realised that working indoors would have driven me batty, so I decided groundsmanship was for me! I soon progressed to become Grounds and Gardens Superintendent for Kirklees Health Authority, Huddersfield, then a succession of Head Groundsman roles at Nottingham, Sandown Park and Doncaster Racecourses (the latter as Track Manager) were interspersed with the role of Grounds Manager at Scarborough Football Club and Grounds Maintenance (Client) Officer for Banff and Buchan District Council – where one year we won the Scotland In Bloom Best Village award. Also in Scotland, after marriage to Kathy and living in Orkney, a spell as self-employed saw me working for Historic Scotland (Ancient Monuments, Scotland), before family matters prompted a return to Yorkshire and I joined Hull Kingston Rovers RFC in 2007 as Head Groundsman.
What have been your career highlights?
Achieving the Rugby Football League Groundsperson of the Year award last September, obviously, but also my involvement from the outset with the Institute of Groundsmanship in helping establish the Racecourse Husbandry courses for The Jockey Club.
How has the grounds profession changed over the years?
The use (indeed, the arrival!) of IT has transformed the industry, in particular in providing easy access to a wealth of research and knowledge to those who want it. That said, obtaining the information is easy; actually having the resources and facilities to use it is not always equally so simple! Television – in particular Sky – has also helped changed perceptions of groundsmanship: viewers, I hope, are more aware that turf husbandry is more about science than it is about mowing and white lining. In addition, the TV has raised expectations all round: professional players undoubtedly expect higher standards – and, by and large, they are provided with quality surfaces week in, week out!
What are the industry’s good and bad points?
Good points include increased awareness about products, the media and management issues, including legislation; more and better education streams; the efficiency and capabilities of modern equipment; and the use of technology.The bad points are that some (not all) decision makers - especially committees – are in posts that do not suit them; and groundsmen not receiving adequate remuneration for the post, though in many cases this continues to improve.
What have been your best (and worst) decisions?
One of my best decisions was being appointed Head Groundsman at Nottingham Racecourse in 1982. I worked for an innovative Clerk of the Course who gave me free licence to ‘go for it’ and do my job. Everyone prospered. Another of the best decisions I’ve ever made must have been to take the dog for a walk in Nottingham – that’s when I met my wife, Kathy. My worst decision was a spell at Beverley Racecourse – I left after 11 months to join Hull Kingston Rovers.
What are your other passions in life?
I enjoy cycling, hiking and mountain climbing.
What are your best and worst traits?
I’m very passionate about my profession and I’m always looking to learn while, on the other hand, I’m also very impatient – I hate waiting for people who hesitate making important decisions and perhaps miss a window of opportunity.
What does the future hold for you?
Hopefully, some consultation work that will provide guidance for smaller clubs which cannot afford large investments. Less well-off clubs don’t have large budgets and, of course, money is not always the answer to a problem.