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Introducing a WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor: Scott MacCallum talks with Michaelyan Hip and discovers why Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh attracts – and produces – illustrious sporting elite.

There are some things that are perceived to be quintessentially English. The jangling Morris Dancers parading down a high street; the strains of Jerusalem and the sound of leather on willow.

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

All paint a Vicar of Dibley image of  England, whether real or imagined, but that last one, leather on willow? Can England lay claim to the game of cricket? Yes, there is huge heritage going all the way back to WG Grace and the home of the game is recognised as Lords, but can it be claimed as English?

Well, one man, Michael Yan Hip, Head Groundsman at the exclusive Merchiston Castle School, in Edinburgh, makes a great case for Scotland’s place in the cricketing firmament.

“People, particularly from down south, say that Scotland is not recognised for its cricket, but there are more cricket clubs in Scotland than there are rugby clubs,” explained Michael, who has been in charge of preparing high quality sports surfaces at the school for the last 10 years, having moved to the school from BT Murrayfield, where he was a member of the ground staff.

“More people play rugby in Scotland than cricket but that’s because there are 15 in a team for rugby. Take Edinburgh as an example. In the Premier League there are Carlton, Grange and Heriots and then there are seven leagues below that. It’s the same in Glasgow.”

It was cricket that pulled Michael into groundmanship, at the age of 30, after a career in insurance and advertising. He’d already developed a taste for groundsmanship acting as a volunteer at Penicuik Cricket Club.

“The love of cricket came from my father, who was from the Caribbean, born in Trinidad. He was a very good cricketer. I was a pretend cricketer. He had an excellent eye while I didn’t at all. I had to wait for the ball to come to me and deflect it down to fine leg because I didn’t see it early enough.

“I had to work very hard with my limited ability, but what I did have was a real passion for the game,” said Michael.

“I played a lot of cricket in the Border League but being a short man of five foot five, I wasn’t very comfortable with getting close to the ball. The pitches were generally uncovered and lacking in clay or loam so the ball was always going to jump and spit at you on some of the pitches we played on,” said Michael, who was quick to list the cricketers – Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Sunil Gavaskar, even Don Bradman – who were on the diminutive side.

“I wanted young cricketers learning the game to be comfortable getting their head over the ball and not worried that it would be jumping up and hitting them. I was hit quite a few times as a youngster and it sets a trend and you lose confidence.”

It was all the more worrying that back in those days helmets hadn’t been invented!

“So I didn’t have a helmet back in 1976, but then my father was old school even frowned on a thigh pad His view was that you had a bat so why would you need a thigh pad.”

Michael gives great credit to a legendary figure within Scottish cricket – Willie Morton, a superb spin bowler, coach and national selector, who captained Scotland, played County cricket for Warwickshire, and was Head Groundsman at George Watson’s College, in Edinburgh, for over 30 years.

“It was the great Willie Morton who had me playing for five years longer in the first team than I should have. I was playing National League cricket on the better pitches in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“That was what got me into groundsmanship. The minutiae and nuances of what goes into producing a good cricket wicket was what got me really excited,” said Michael, who was extremely proud when Merchiston won the IOG’s Independent Schools Grounds Team of the Year in 2019.

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

“Dave Stewart and Stuart Chalmers have been with me virtually from day one and they do remarkable jobs here at Merchiston. They both fully deserved the Team of the Year Award.”

Michael actually began his groundsmanship career at Merchiston, in March 1995, and via a short stay at another Edinburgh school, Stewarts Melville, arrived at Myerside, home of George Watson.

“Willie Morton came in for me, because I am a qualified cricket coach, he wanted me to coach a bit of cricket on top of working on the grounds and knew I was an experienced groundsman. So, I coached the second 11 and was Assistant to Willie for six and a half years.”

Via spells at another Edinburgh school, Loretto, and King Edward’s School, in Birmingham, plus a period on the Ground Staff at BT Murrayfield he returned to Merchiston as Head Groundsman, 10 years ago.

Merchiston Castle School is an independent boarding and day school for boys, and is open to boys between the ages of seven and 18, either boarding or day.

A range of sports and activities is available at the school; most notably in rugby union, which 70 Merchistonians have played at international level. Hooker Dave Cherry became Merchiston’s latest Scotland cap when he took to the field against England at Twickenham in February.

The former 1st XV coach, Frank Hadden, who was at the school from 1983-2000, was the head coach of the Scottish national team from 2005-2009, while Rob Moffat, another international level coach, and current coach, Roddy Deans, ensure high quality pupil input and that the conveyor belt of high quality Scottish players is in good order.

“We have 97 acres at the school of which around 20 are woodland,” explained Michael, who is head of a team of five.

“We have eight rugby pitches, two smaller football pitches while we recently had a 2G sand-based hockey pitch installed. Our main pitch is 130 metres by 68 metres wide while the rest are all of varying sizes including the 80 metre by 40 metre pitch for the under 11s.

“For cricket, we have five grass areas – the main one on which we spend most of the time and the others where we spend as much time as we can, given we are a team of five,” said Michael, who explained that he had also introduced an scheme whereby Old Boys working as seasonal help in the summer.

“Recently, we have had Chris and Tom Sole, who have gone on to play cricket at a high level, and who are sons of Scottish rugby legend and 1990 Grand Slam winning Captain, David.

“We have two sets on cricket covers, the latest set arriving a couple of years ago which help our pitch preparation while the old set are used to keep a wicket dry to give the boys somewhere to practise.”

A football pitch is transformed into an athletic track in the summer. Michael is well versed with coping with the Scottish weather and can think back to his induction in ’95 and how since then the industry has evolved and developed since then and taken in the requirements from various parts of the country.

“I was given a photocopied piece of paper which explained that we should start rolling our square in mid-March. My view was that you could perhaps do that in the south of England but if he were to take his roller out in March it would get stuck!

“Up here our cricket wicket doesn’t start growing until the middle of June.”

His fertiliser programme has evolved over the last 10 years and working with his industry partners he has been able to remove his summer feed.

“I’ve recently started using a new product because it gives a longevity of 20-24 weeks. So, we are hoping that when we put it on in March it will take us all the way through to September, because it takes longer to break down.”

Having seen the level at which his English-based colleagues operate Michael is refreshingly frank.

Introducing a  WOW factor

Introducing a WOW factor

“When you see schools hosting county second team matches or Premier League football clubs for their summer training you wouldn’t be much of a groundsman if you didn’t have a little bit of the green-eyed monster when you see the facilities they have and the standards that they reach.”

However, Michael and the team have had their fair share of illustrious guests. England, pre Calcutta Cup, the All Blacks during a visit to Scotland and Pakistan and Afghanistan cricket teams, during short tours of Scotland..

“Coach, Mickey Arthur, was particularly complimentary about the pitch on which his Pakistan team practised.”

Michael is a huge advocate of groundsmanship across the board and believes that not enough credit is given to the work that is done.

“We create the pitches which enable high quality play to take place sometimes that is only noticed when planned renovations are shelved for whatever reason.

“We are as key an element of performance as the nutritionists and physios at a club. If a pitch is too soft, or the sward too long, fatigue and then injury is much more likely. We can determine how the various games are played by the very nature of the surfaces we produce.”

While he is very much a cricket man, it is all of the sports played at the school which given him pleasure and a pride in what he and his team achieve.

“I love seeing the boys out on the pitch in one of our local derbies, on pitches that we’ve create for them,” said Michael, name checking Jamie Dobie, Rufus McLean, Matt Currie and Dan Gamble, all recent professional players and who are more than likely to join the alumni who have worn the dark blue of Scotland before long.

“We also have an incredible cricketer, Tom McIntosh, who has recently signed for Durham, for whom great things are expected.”

Michael of also proud of how the school is presented and shows itself to anyone arriving up the school drive.

“I was asked at my interview what I would bring to the school and I said the Wow factor and I think when we have people visiting the school in the height of the summer and we have it cut, strimmed, edged and shaded we achieve that.”

When the snow disappears Michael will be back on his pitches making sure the best possible surfaces for all sports, including his beloved cricket.

Kawasaki build quality a key factor

Kawasaki build quality a key factor: Kawasaki’s engine build quality has been cited as one of the contributing factors to Lawn Care Legend John Ryan’s self-employed business success. Along with its power, durability, reliability and performance.

John has been a lawn care contractor at his company, John’s Lawn Mowing Services in Bangor Northern Ireland for 23 years, he’s also the founder of one of the fastest growing social media groups in the lawn care industry, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to claim that what he doesn’t know about lawn care isn’t worth knowing.

Kawasaki build quality a key factor

Kawasaki build quality a key factor

Working as a solo operator delivering high quality, reliable and affordable grass cutting, John has learned along the way the value of having the right machinery for the job. He says: “It’s easy to think you need the job first then the machine, but the truth is you need to reverse that thinking. I’ve been there with the wrong machinery and all it delivered was headache after headache, lots of stopping and starting and unnecessary wear and tear on the machine.

“I started taking my influence from successful businesses around me and Kawasaki came up time and again for its reliability and productivity. I learnt that when you have a small team, having efficient machinery is like having another couple of people. It’s the best investment you’ll make for your business and if you compromise on quality, you compromise on profitability and success.”

In his fleet John has three mowers powered by Kawasaki engines. His Ferris 36-inch Soft Ride Stand-on SRS and Ariens Zenith 60 Zero-Turn mower both feature a powerful, heavy-duty Kawasaki FX engine, while Kawasaki’s FJ180V KAI – a durable, commercial-quality single cylinder engine – powers his Weibang pedestrian mower.

So, what makes machines powered by Kawasaki such a safe bet? Lots of reasons, but significantly the quality of their engineering, raw materials and components. The FJ180V KAI and FX Series engines all feature metal engine covers, for example, to protect them throughout a life of heavy commercial use and repeated transport from job to job. Both also use dual-stage, high particle capture air filters, for a cleaner air intake, vital for combustion efficiency and engine performance. Cast iron is chosen to line the engine cylinders – a material highly resistant to the wear, temperature and pressure inside the engine cylinder. Added to that, everyone who assembles a Kawasaki engine also rigorously inspects it, and every finished engine, not just a sample, is test-run before being sold – a major contributory factor to Kawasaki’s reliability, durability and consistency.

John says about these choices: “Kawasaki is a name that speaks for itself and my machines have never let me down. As we all know if you’re not cutting, you’re not earning, so downtime has always been a deciding factor in my machinery choices. With these machines, downtime is absolutely minimal and I can get a lot done in a lot less time.”

It’s not just the machinery to which John attributes to his success, it’s the support of a good dealer too. He says: “Dealers are the backbone of the industry and a decent one will pull out all the stops to help you. As a commercial contractor and it being just me, that’s been something I’ve relied on in my career and it’s played a big part in the success of the business. Not having that support can result in a knock-on effect to your schedule and can set you back, delaying other jobs.”

Alongside build quality, power, performance and reliability, John says the ergonomics and aesthetics of the machine is important too: “The Kawasaki name speaks for itself. When you turn up to a job with machines powered by Kawasaki, it instils confidence in customers and represents the sign of a professional outfit.”

And all these factors have certainly proved effective for John; if 23 years industry experience, a thriving contract business, and 5000 Lawn Care Legends Social Media followers are anything to go by!

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Lister Wilder Brings The ‘Mow Factor’

Lister Wilder Brings The ‘Mow Factor’: Lister Wilder Ltd, a Kubota groundcare and construction dealer, has been announced as this year’s biggest UK ‘MOW-team’ supporting The Movember Foundation, with more than 60 members of staff donning great moustaches to raise funds for the men’s health charity.

Including sales team members, workshop engineers, parts advisers and company directors, the Lister Wilder Movember ‘MOW-team’ has already raised an impressive total of more than £8,000, including a donation of £500 from Kubota UK.  With fundraising continuing throughout the month of November, Lister Wilder are encouraging friends, family and work colleagues to support this worthy cause.

Lister Wilder Brings The ‘Mow Factor’

As part of the ‘MOWvember movement’, Lister Wilder has also lent its support to The Rich Brothers, of BBC Garden Rescue, Movember campaign that has seen them travel around six counties in two days, mowing huge moustaches into fields in a bid to raise much needed funds.

To support the brothers in their task, Lister Wilder has donated Kubota’s popular G23 ride-on-mower, with Harry and David Rich utilising its power, precision, agility and minimal turning radius to groom the perfect moustache.

Phill Hughes, Groundcare Sales Director at Lister Wilder and the company’s Movember Team Captain, commented: “We’re all very excited about being announced as the biggest “MOW-team’ to be supporting The Movember Foundation, as well as assisting the Rich Brothers.

“For many of us this is the first time we’ve entered the risky world of facial hair, but we’re experts at helping our customers achieve a good mow, so we’re hoping some of us can achieve a good mo’ too. It’s all about raising as much money as possible for this fantastic charity supporting men’s health and we are very grateful to all those who have already donated.”

The Movember Foundations annual campaign is focused on bringing the issue of men’s health to the fore, raising awareness of its importance, whilst also generating much needed money to support vital research efforts to fight prostate cancer and testicular cancer.

To donate and keep up to date with Lister Wilder’s Movember ‘MOW-team’ progress, visit its Movember fundraising page here: https://moteam.co/lister-wilder-ltd?mc=1.

You can see The Rich Brothers Movember campaign and the Kubota G23 ride-on mower in action here: https://www.facebook.com/MovemberUK/videos/10154736154056017/.

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