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My Path to Wimbledon: Conrad Cavill, Groundstaff

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My Path to Wimbledon: Conrad Cavill, Groundstaff

Inspiring new recruits from all walks of life to join the sector is the critical, but concerning focus for #GroundsWeek 2024.

The main characters of sport’s folklore are almost always its coaches and athletes. The set designers for those stories, however, are in short supply. Research carried out by the Grounds Management Association highlights that 40 per cent of the current workforce is over 50 years old and without an influx of new recruits, this could result in a significant employment gap within five years.

Through speaking to the All England Club’s Conrad Cavill, we hope to illuminate the art of Groundsmanship and demystify the industry sport is indebted to.

Pathetic fallacy in most narratives would involve a scene with the sun smiling down bright and beaming rays. This biography, however, is not like the rest. Unique in that a summer’s day shine, spurred an imminent escape:

“When I was in college, I did a week’s work experience at Southampton’s training ground.

“Years went by jumping around jobs. I was working in a call centre. I looked out on a day like this. It was sunny and I thought, I just don’t want to do this. I want to be outside.

“I remembered my time at Southampton. That’s when I looked into Grounds again. I found a Sports Turf Degree and went straight into education again.”

Incredible that a throwaway week’s work experience at the age of 17 years old would be the catalyst to an extraordinary Grounds career that would later cross Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Initially dropping out of a Football Business degree, Conrad’s first attempt at university didn’t stick. His second however, fared much better, returning to education a few years later through the University Centre Myerscough to undertake a Sportsturf degree. This time accompanied with lived experience shaping an unshakeable ambition:

“I wanted a degree. I wanted something. Without any experience, apart from that week at Southampton, I just went straight in and started a degree.”

Recognised as one of the leading academies in the country by holding ‘Category One’ status in the Premier League's ‘Elite Player Performance Plan’, Southampton Football Club are widely renowned for the players they’ve platformed. The roll call of graduates who list the Staplewood campus as their alma matter includes three time Southampton Player of the Season, Matt Le Tissier; Premier League all-time top scorer, Alan Shearer; England’s youngest ever player at 17 years and 75 days old, Theo Walcott; five time UEFA Champions League Winner, Gareth Bale; and UEFA Champions League and Premier League winner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Something, clearly, is in the waters. It’s a culture that permeates. Conrad explains that “people that were there at that time” during his week work experience “have gone on to be at the top of the game”, listing fort leaders of the industry in Karl Stanley – Wembley Stadium Grounds Manager, Andy Gray – St. George’s Park Head of Grounds and Estates, and David Roberts – former Liverpool Football Club Grounds Manager.

“I remember it being busy and tough. I did a lot of leaf clearing and collection!” he laughs as he recollects his week with the Saints, “because I had no experience, there's not much I could really do”. His first week at Wimbledon, however, was night and day.

“You're on a mower, straightaway. It didn’t matter what experience you had. They were keen, they just wanted you out there, getting used to the machines.

“They weren’t scared to put people on, they were just happy to get you going. We were straightaway doing proper things, rather than just collecting things up. That’s what I remember, they were very welcoming and made you part of the team.”

A wonderful example of The Wimbledon Way. Our common purpose - together creating joy and extraordinary moments by giving everyone an unforgettable Wimbledon experience - exercised for staff as well.

First week inductions are not the only point of difference with Wimbledon. Conrad confesses that “the amount of pressure you have working here is extremely high, but it has a lot more relaxed nature about it”. Comparing to his various experiences in golf, he explains the cat-and-mouse nature of Groundsmanship on a course, rather than a court.

“You’re starting at 6am, and the first golfers are going on as soon as it’s light. You’re practically being chased by the golfers.

“Whereas here, even in the height of summer, we have until 11 o’clock. We’re a lot more relaxed, we can make sure everything is done right, we’re not rushing. Here, you’ve got a lot more time for the attention to detail.”