Q&A with Head Groundsman: Jim Buttar

With the Autumn Nations Series just around the corner, we have got a Q&A with Head Groundsman, Jim Buttar, to find out more about what his job involves.

What is your favourite area of your job?

The favourite area of my job is the match day - delivering a surface for world class athletes to perform on in a packed stadium takes some beating. I have been working in stadiums for 22 years and I still get the buzz! I'm an avid planner and I love to problem solve, which is ideal because nature sure gives me some problems big and small, always very often without any notice!

Would you say the growth in technology has helped your job or made it more difficult?

This can go both ways, for sure I think technology has moved massively in our sector over the past decade. From artificial grow lights to help us maintain grass in stadium environments, to data monitors which can measure and record data points in multiple locations on the pitch in real time, to the emerging electric mower technology which have become very efficient and operator friendly since coming to market. However, with some of these it brings its problems. The grow lights for instance which are deployed on the pitch during the winter months means we then have the logistical nightmare of trying to work around them! The planning becomes more detailed and very much adaptable.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge you have faced and how did you manage it?

The biggest challenge I have faced during my career was during my previous role a Sports Turf Consultant. My colleague and I were tasked with delivering the pitch in the Cairo National Stadium during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, the venue hosted ten matches plus an opening and closing ceremony (with rehearsals!). The average temperatures were significant with day time temperatures reaching 45 degrees and night-time temperatures still in the mid 30's after 11pm! This was challenging enough but to top it off due to planning from the contractors because of time constraints, we were trying to maintain cool season grasses ( yes there are cool and warm season grasses) which according to study and research really struggle with sustained temps beyond 28 degrees! Lots of monitoring and lots of well-timed watering was required. It's safe to say that proved to be stressful and challenging.

What made you want to become a groundsman and how did you end up working at Twickenham?

To be honest I didn't even know what a groundsman was or what the role required. After leaving school (I was an average student, being described on multiple occasions as being 'too laid back' and 'having potential but lacks application') I certainly didn't feel any attraction to working in an office or a factory. Like lots of young children, I loved playing sport with football and rugby being very dominant in my formative years. It made sense to look to do something related to sport. My mum was searching through the local paper and found an advert for an apprenticeship in Sports Turf with a job placement at a private school. Within days of starting, it all clicked, and I became one of the afflicted!

I've been working in the sports turf industry for 25 years now and there are a few jobs which hold a special place and would be a career defining pinnacle. Twickenham and working for the RFU is one of those pinnacles. In some respects, I love that variation and pressure, but I have a young family and I also felt I needed another challenge and purpose. The role here was advertised, once I found out more about the organisation and the role during the interview process it fitted very well with my aspirations.

Have you worked at any other sporting stadiums as a groundsman?

As mentioned earlier, yes, I have worked at many stadiums throughout my career. I spent nearly 14 years at White Hart Lane but once I began travelling, I worked at many more including stadiums in Mexico, Africa, UAE, Spain, Hungary, Italy and France to name a few!

What kind of strategies and mindset are required for this role?

This role is really misunderstood. The public think we are just grass cutters and that's easy because they can do the same on their lawn. However, I went through a bit of a reflective process and listed some of the responsibilities and skills required to do my job and similar in the industry. Below is a bit of a list to give you some idea:

  • Agronomist/Soil scientist
  • Analyst
  • Business management
  • Procurement
  • Research and technology management
  • Team management
  • Health and Safety management
  • Environment and sustainability management
  • Mechanical knowledge
  • Budget management
  • Logistics and problem-solving management.
  • Project management
  • Highly qualified and creative to problem management.
  • Resource management.

As a team we very much must take the rough with the smooth there are so many factors to consider, which we have no control over with our only options to be as adaptable and flexible as possible and still achieve our goals.

Strategically we are here to successfully deliver any event which has been booked. From the pitch perspective I want to have professional players to be fully confident that the interaction with the surface gives them trust to push themselves to perform to the best of their abilities. This therefore gives the likelihood of a high standard of rugby, which is what everyone wants to see.

I certainly see myself as a custodian of the grounds here at Twickenham and to assist where I can for grass roots clubs to improve their pitches too. Our big goals over the next few years are to continue to seek efficient and sustainable ways of working and utilising resources without compromising on quality and the standards we have set ourselves.

Have you ever had a competition with your colleagues on how fast you can mow the pitch?

We don't need to race each other, the only time we need to be timekeeping is when we are chasing or being chased by bad weather, which happens quite a lot during the rugby season!

Tickets are still available for England v Argentina in the Autumn Nations Series hereWant to experience something extra special? Hospitality packages are still available to purchase at twickenhamstadium.com.

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