Cheryl Hill has recently celebrated an incredible 30 years as a member of the Leicester Tigers’ grounds staff team – making her the club’s longest-serving employee
“There are few people who typify the ‘club first’ mentality at Leicester Tigers better than Cheryl Hill,” said the club’s director of rugby, Geordan Murphy, when he recently commemorated Cheryl’s 30 years as a member of the club’s grounds team and her position as the longest-serving member of staff. And her devotion to the club is matched only by her passion for the pitches: “Those pitches are like my babies,” she says.
Cheryl’s path into grounds management was created after her meeting with her school’s careers master, to whom she made it clear that she “liked being outdoors”. A subsequent two-week job placement with the local council’s parks department, “which included pitch maintenance and marking out”, then led to a short-lived apprenticeship with the council before she joined the Tigers in January 1990, aged 17, as assistant grounds person.
“Back then there was just the head groundsman, Derek Limmage, and myself as his assistant. And the Tigers trained only on Tuesday and Thursday nights. But when we went from being an amateur club to professional, the players were suddenly around all day and we had to change our regimes in terms of pitch maintenance.”
Nowadays, as well as helping to look after the stadium turf at Wheldon Road, Cheryl – as temporary deputy head groundsperson – and the grounds team (led by Ed Mowe) maintain three pitches at the club’s Oval Park training base – two soil-based surfaces and a Desso pitch plus a 3G surface under a dome. These are traditionally used six or seven days a week “though the Covid-19 situation changed that”, says Cheryl.
She continues: “The different surfaces don’t demand any real differences in maintenance, though the usual annual renovation of the soil pitches sees us just ‘tickle the top’ of these while the Desso surface is taken right off.” In terms of her role in maintaining the stadium pitch, this usually involves helping to prep the surface and cutting on a Friday, when there is a captain’s run, before another single or double cut on a Saturday ready for the game.
Walking the walk
Despite having no formal grounds care qualifications, “learning everything on the job” as she’s gone along has obviously not affected the quality of Cheryl’s work, as she ably performs any and all of the maintenance tasks required – mowing, aerating, seeding and marking out included. And that has entailed a lot of walking. “I remember one matchday last season when I completed something like 36,000 steps. I did work out how many steps I’ve done in my time here and it was in the hundreds of thousands of miles! “Over the years, I’ve watched dads play and I’ve watched sons play. Now all I need is for the grandkids to come along! “This club means so much to me,” she adds. “The people who work here, the people who play here – past and present – all mean a tremendous amount. It’s a very enjoyable job… and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
With thanks to Jonathan Whitney, Leicester Tigers’ content and communications office.