“Do you know how we mark out a cricket pitch? We use Pythagoras’ theorem – then we know that the wickets must be straight and equal. An umpire once told us the wickets were off-straight so I got my measuring tapes out and proved it to him.”
Every summer Charlie O’Mahony walks to Sefton Park Cricket Club (SPCC) to work on the pitches with groundsman Rob Jobson. It’s a journey Charlie has been making for 57 years, initially as a player but also as a captain, a coach, head groundsman and now, as he admits, to do whatever Rob tells him.
But it isn’t a job that stops with the end of the cricket season. The most important part of a groundsman’s life is in the Autumn.
“You scarify it [thinning dead or old grass to encourage new growth], spike it savagely, overseed it and – with a square this size – we would put 100 bags of loam over it, which provides the basis for the seed to grip and germinate. Then throughout the winter we spike it as we need to get air and water down to the roots.
“A good wicket needs a good root growth, which allows us to mow it closely and still have the grass grow back. We’ll be down as often as possible in Autumn and Winter. People think it starts in April and finishes in September but there’s a lot of work to be done on a proper cricket ground – we’re here every day.
SPCC fields up to eight adult teams on a weekly basis, with various junior games, business houses league games and even some country games, albeit in junior forms. With two pitches to tend, and 18 wickets between them, it’s a hectic schedule that requires hard graft.
While Rob Jobson is contracted by the club for a set number of hours every week, Charlie estimates that the groundsman does at least double his contracted hours. With sports clubs struggling for cash the only way for SPCC to operate is on the voluntary labour of people like Charlie, but he finds his own satisfaction in working the wickets.
“Without this work it would be impossible to play a good quality of cricket here. We have a close relationship with Lancashire Cricket Club, where I was a coach and selector for the under-19s. I lobbied them to play cricket here and we started getting Lancashire games here because of the quality of the grounds; the year I retired we were ranked as the best ground in the league, above four county grounds. I was quite proud of that.
“The spin-off was that we got more county games. This year Lancashire U15s played Yorkshire U15s here. In the past we’ve had second XI county games, England schoolboy teams and, at the moment, Lancashire use this ground for their Women’s Cricket games.”
The increasing footfall to the club means increasing revenues as other teams book the pitch and spend money behind the bar. The foundations that Charlie and Rob literally lay every Autumn pay off at the club throughout the following Summer.
“I’ve always said that a cricket club is created by having a decent ground and a decent pavilion with a bar and the related facilities. If you’ve got that, as a club, you can really take off.”
Sefton may not have changed much, but Charlie perceives a gradual erosion in respect for umpires, opponents and the very game itself over the years. But he still sees cricket as playing a vital role in the development of young people.
“Playing cricket was a wonderful experience for me; a very civilising experience. If you learn to obey the laws of the game you’re more likely to obey the laws in life. My daughter’s a teacher in an inner-city school and she introduced her pupils to Kwik Cricket (a form of fast, colourful, rounders-like cricket designed to introduce children to the game).
“We brought them here and had 19 schools playing Kwik Cricket here – 200 kids applauding Rob for getting everything ready. It gives you a real kick because you feel as though you’ve done something to help the game along. These are the sort of things that go on here that people don’t know about.”
Charlie’s experience within amateur and professional cricket has resulted in numerous friendships and relationships over the years, one of which is with former England captain Michael Atherton. That friendship resulted in Atherton patronising Sefton’s attempts to build a second pitch and play his part in ensuring a significant donation towards the work.
For Charlie, Sefton Park Cricket Club represents something more than a day in the sun; his retirement as a college tutor meant that he was able to dedicate more time to other things in life.
“I just find this place an oasis of peace, quietness, calm. And having worked in a busy college and being transposed here, my life changed completely I started to notice thing in life, in nature, that I’d never noticed before.
“I started finding out which birds were which birds and which trees were which trees, which plants were which plants. But mostly the peace. You can walk from Smithdown Road to here in two minutes and, here, it’s peace.”
Seeing Charlie tending the pitches day after day in Summer is comforting; a gentle manifestation of the passing of the seasons and the gentle ebb and flow of life at a suburban South Liverpool cricket club; a huge community resource that couldn’t function without a small handful of people like Charlie O’Mahony.
First game for SPCC
Number of wickets in year of retirement
Retired as player
Retired as Lancashire Cricket Club’s Under-19s selector
Retired as groundsman
Number of pitches to prepare at SPCC
Photography by Pete Carr