Altrincham said farewell to a familiar figure on Saturday when Neil Brown left his post as head groundsman following the Robins’ 2-2 draw with Yeovil Town.
Here, Alty director Neil Faulkner pays a personal tribute to a larger-than-life character whose expertise was greatly appreciated by everyone at The J.Davidson Stadium.
I would like to thank Neil for maintaining our pitch to the highest possible standard during 17 years’ sterling service. To quote Neil, his job was “to provide the best playing surface possible for the first team’’, and that he certainly did.
Everyone will be familiar with the drainage issues we encountered a couple of seasons ago, with games being called off on a regular basis and the club concluding that a new pitch would have to be laid ahead of the 2021-22 season.
What might not be quite so well known is that the extensive renovations, including a new drainage system and sand-based surface, left us facing a quite different challenge. The new pitch needed constant watering, so much so that the water supply couldn’t fill up the tanks quickly enough.
To his great credit, Neil skilfully managed to balance the limited supply with still keeping the pitch sufficiently hydrated during a wait of over six months for the water main to be replaced.
The evidence of all he does is there for everyone to see. The hard work and attention to detail that went into the latest annual summer renovation programme has left the pitch looking the best it’s ever been, and it’s no exaggeration to say our playing surface is now Premier League standard.
The Directors of both visiting teams to The J.Davidson Stadium so far this season, Maidstone United and Yeovil Town, commented on how exceptional the pitch was, and, of course, it is conducive to the passing game favoured by manager Phil Parkinson.
Manchester United Development Ladies’ and Men’s teams have played at The J.Davidson Stadium for several seasons, with Neil's pitch being a major factor in that choice.
Not only has Neil been the groundsman, he was the Altrincham Reserves manager between 2004 and 2007, where he discovered several talented players who progressed into the first team. He also went on to manage at Leek Town and Abbey Hey.
My first real involvement with Neil was in a charity game in 2006, when he managed an Altrincham team including players from the first, reserves and youth teams, plus four guest players in Geoff Goodwin, Grahame Rowley, Charles Heathcote and myself. It was played at Houldsworth FC, later East Levenshulme FC, to raise funds for The Christie Hospital.
Neil, who is employed by North Cestrian School in Altrincham away from football, always appreciated the team of volunteers who worked alongside him and is grateful for all they have done over the years, helping him on match days and during the week.
On behalf of everyone associated with the club, I would like to wish Neil all the very best for the future.