Harold retires proud of Dunedin's pitches

Harold Driver visits University Oval, one of his favourites among more than 100 Dunedin sports fields he has looked after during the past 40 years. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Harold Driver visits University Oval, one of his favourites among more than 100 Dunedin sports fields he has looked after during the past 40 years. Photo by Linda Robertson.
After 40 years looking after Dunedin's sports fields, Harold Driver is calling time on a what has a been a very particular career.

Mr Driver (67), the Dunedin City Council's sports field and facilities officer, will drive home to Fairfield and retirement after work tomorrow, worry-free about the state of pitches for the weekend's matches.

While he has had a few job title changes over the years, the job has always roughly been the same - to ensure the council's 103 sports fields are in top shape for the clubs and teams that use them.

He is also responsible for the maintenance of structures such as pontoons and jetties along the harbour, and bridges and boardwalks on walkways and tracks in the city's amenity areas.

When Mr Driver started as a groundsman with the council, groundsmen were still using modified agricultural equipment to keep the fields. Several lived on site.

These days, he spends most of his time liaising with the governing bodies of winter and summer sports that use the fields, and the contractors who maintained them.

Looking after sports fields had its challenges.

Dealing with sports clubs and governing bodies had required, at times, a good use of his diplomatic skills, while being the man who made the cancellation call on Saturday games did not always win him popularity contests.

''When you're in a job that's weather-dependent, you have people who love you one Saturday and hate you the next. It was always walking a fine line.''

But the preservation and preparation of the field for the next game was always the No 1 priority.

Sports becoming professional had given his job a new focus.

At the end of a season in the 1970s, rugby fields would look like ''a cow paddock'', Mr Driver recalled.

''Of course today, the clubs won't tolerate that. At the end of a rugby season when I first started here, there was virtually no grass left, and you spent all the summer getting it ready for the winter.''

Now, sports codes were using fields almost year-round.

''Expectations from professional bodies are a lot higher. Everything has to be like they see on TV .. . In fact, now all users see television programmes with beautiful sports fields and they expect that here, too.''

Technology and machinery had leapt forward as well.

Sand carpet sports fields were now commonplace, as was sand top-dressing. Soil testing had increased, the grass had changed, as had irrigation systems, and artificial turf was in play.

''Times have changed and moved on.''

He was particularly proud of the University Oval, and watching cricket tests and internationals there had been some of the highlights of his career, as was the Rugby World Cup in 2011, when he was in charge of organising training facilities for the various teams.

Mr Driver was also proud to be leaving in place a strong maintenance schedule for fields and structures.

And while he might be leaving sports grounds behind, he was not leaving grounds entirely.

He had lined up some work as a groundsman at the Otago-Taieri A&P Showgrounds, but still expected a few calls from the council, mining his intimate knowledge of sports fields.

- debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

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