Who’d be Neil Stubley? Turf Matters Editor, Scott MacCallum, sympathises with Wimbledon’s top groundsman.
The Head of Courts and Horticulture at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club – Wimbledon has produced a fleet of outstanding courts again this year in weather not necessarily conducive to the growing of grass.
The surfaces look supreme but, for whatever reason, this year there have been rumblings of discontent. A few players slipped over during the early rounds, some injured as a result, and there has been the odd uneven bounce, though not to any greater extent than from any other year. However, it has meant that the “state of the courts” had become a talking point, filling column inches in newspapers and websites and time on the airwaves.
Players were asked about it during press conferences and been compelled to make comment at either ends of the critical scale while armchair critics have been out in force. Defending Champion and World Number One, Andy Murray, not generally known to stir up controversy, was quoted as saying the courts were not in as good condition as previous years.
“The court when I played the first match was great. I think it’s just getting a bit beaten up early. A few of the players have said that about the outside courts as well. I don’t know if it’s anything to do with the weather that they’ve had over the last few weeks and months. It’s been pretty hot, pretty extreme conditions. Not much rain.”
A fair, considered response but not one, always followed by other players and pundits.
Radio Five Live wheeled in Bunny Guinness from Gardener’s Question Time to talk about the courts. In fairness Bunny did explain that it was not her area of expertise but that she knew the Sports Turf Research Institute were heavily involved, the inference being that someone was keeping taps on Neil. So that was ok, wasn’t it?
Neil’s boss, Chief Executive, Richard Lewis, was compelled to come out and say that the courts are “as good as they’ve ever been”, and that there had been nothing in the first week of the Championship that concerned him at all.
One piece of criticism came from an unlikely source, however – a fellow Head Groundsman.
Dave Lawrence, Head Groundsman at Edgbaston Priory, tweeted a picture of his courts following the recent Aegon Classic tournament with the caption. “That’s what our Centre Court looked like after nine days in a row of play and several days of temperatures over 30.”
Dave is obviously extremely proud of his courts and he may have thought it would give his own team a bit of a boost, but he might perhaps reflect on the wisdom of entering the fray with implied criticism of a fellow groundsman and his team.
There were many fellow groundsmen who felt the same and tweeted as much and even, Neil himself, felt the need to take time out of his busy schedule to tweet a reply.
The industry faces enough ill-informed comment from outsiders without having to defend itself from those inside its own walls.
Tall poppy syndrome, or whatever else may have been the motivation, I think we all know that in this industry we look after each other and offer support not public criticism.
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