MICHAEL MERRIMAN INTERVIEW
No rest for groundsman Merriman
Three home matches on consecutive Saturdays has put a strain on everyone at Mansfield - from the players themselves through to the club's administrative staff.
But while the first team squad have been able to train indoors and those making off-the-field preparations have done so from the comfort of their offices, head groundsman Michael Merriman has been forced to battle on through the elements.
A particularly inclement January lashed Field Mill with rain, hail, sleet and snow and subjected it to heavy winds and frosts.
All of that has made the 33-year-old's task of getting the pitch in a fit state for League Two matches against Darlington and Brentford, and an FA Cup tie against Premier League Middlesbrough, that much harder.
But it is a testimony to the hard work of Merriman and his assistant James Gilliat, that the trio of matches passed by without a bad word about the playing surface.
So often at this time of the year, managers pass comment on the poor state of the pitches they play on and use it as an excuse for not playing decent football.
But even though results have not gone their way, Stags boss Billy Dearden has made no such complaints.
"It's difficult to get the pitch ready with the weather being as it is at this time of year. You can't get on with all your usual equipment because the pitch is too soft," said Merriman.
"Ideally we would have liked to spike the pitch in the middle of those three home matches, but we couldn't get the tractor on.
"It has also been difficult to fit in working on the surface. Sometimes we have only been able to get on it straight after a game and then not again until the morning of the next match.
"Playing three games on consecutive Saturdays would be a lot easier if the weather was better in the summer.
"Then, we would probably be watering the pitch to stop it getting too dry rather than trying to get the water off it.
"But at this time of year, when you don't know what the weather is going to be like from one day to the next, it is a lot harder."
Merriman first joined the Field Mill staff as part of the Football in the Community scheme after being made redundant from his previous job.
But when groundsman Dick Dennett left the club to join Ilkeston, Merriman became assistant groundsman to Rob Sprigg.
The departure of Sprigg to help run the new John Fretwell Sports Complex at Warsop then saw Merriman promoted to head groundsman in November 2006.
He said: "I first came down to the club in response to an advert that said I could get £10 extra to my dole money to work in Football in the Community.
"Even though I didn't get the £10 in the end, I stuck with it because I thought it was worth a go and better than being out of work.
"I was working with Dave Bentley and Mark Hemmingray but when Rob was allowed an assistant, Mark put me forward.
"I had an interview with Billy Dearden in his first spell at the club and the secretary at the time Christine Reynolds.
"After Rob went to Welbeck, I took over as head groundsman on my own. I think I have been at the club nine years now and that time has flown."
Such is the way of life at a small lower league club, Merriman has also taken on additional roles over the years.
Among those is kit manager for the first and youth teams - although he does now get some help.
"When they first started putting the names and numbers on players shirts we had a staff meeting, that I was not involved in, to decide who would look after the kit," said Merriman.
"I ended up being nominated for it and the job has stuck with me ever since.
"It is tough having lots of little tasks to do that are not in the job description but you accept that is the way of things at this level of the game.
"It's a lot easier now because Steve Allwood washes the two kits and I just wash the manager's, his assistants' and towels for the physio.
"I still prepare everything and go through a checklist before we travel for away matches though."
Merriman eventually hopes to complete NVQ qualifications but believes he has been given an excellent grounding in pitch management through his on-the-job training.
He said: "There is always something you can learn and that is why I am keen to do the qualifications eventually.
"But I believe I have had some good teachers. I obviously learned a heck of a lot from Rob and I still speak to him on a daily basis.
"We also meet up for a pint in the pub on a Friday night and talk about what has gone wrong and right during the week.
"Another influence has been Mark Robinson who works for the fertiliser company that supplies us. He is a former groundsman at Derby County and gives me plenty of advice.
"But I have enjoyed being my own man and doing things my way because previously I always had to check and report to someone else.
"Now the responsibility is mine and the buck stops with me but I like the challenge."
When Merriman first started at Field Mill it was before the ground had been redeveloped, meaning he has seen a lot of change.
"We used to have to work on the pitch behind the West stand when that was used as a training ground before we could start on the main pitch itself," he said.
"But I still think there is more work to do at the modern Field Mill because, although the stands were old and dated, they were dependable."
Originally from Shirebrook, Merriman now lives in Mansfield with wife Zoe, who works in the offices at the Stags.
Although professing to not being the best of footballers, he turns out for Sunday League side Linden Jaques.
Merriman said: "I first played football at under-12s level but then I didn't play again until I was 18.
"I played for Shirebrook Welfare (later Shirebrook RBL) but more recently for Linden. I enjoy getting away from things by playing and having a laugh with my mates.
"I will play anywhere, but I played in goal the other week and let in two goals. We did win 6-2 though."
But his thoughts are never far away from Field Mill and Mansfield's next game.
Merriman particularly enjoys away trips and the relationship they help engender with the players.
"There is always plenty of banter flying around, especially when Johnny Mullins is involved - I don't know where he gets his energy from," he said.
"But I give him some back, saying that his hair is ginger when he keeps trying to claim it's chestnut brown!
"It was brilliant the other week when we stayed over at Chester and Rory Boulding got on the piano and started playing and singing This Year's Love by David Gray.
"His sister (Helen) is a songwriter and obviously the talent runs in the family. If the Bouldings were racehorses, they would be real thoroughbreds because there seems no end to their talents."
Latest | February 2008