New statistics show that the pitch improvement strategy instigated by the Premier League, The Football Association, the Government’s Football Foundation, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) continues to have a massive impact on football and cricket participation in England.
The organisations’ joint Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme (GaNTIP), which is funded by the Football Foundation and ECB, and led by the IOG, seeks to raise the quality of natural turf pitches to enhance player experience and increase capacity and participation levels.
And with over 2,890 pitches assessed by GaNTIP regional pitch advisors between April 2018 and March 2019, the results continue to impress, in terms of football, having:
 Boosted pitch match capacity by 28% - from an average of 2.5 games per pitch to 3.2;
 Reduced postponements by 24%;
 Increased pitch quality levels – 83% of the 2,890 pitches assessed have improved; and
 Engaged with 1,082 volunteers, of whom 192 have received training to boost knowledge levels and improve their pitch maintenance techniques. Indeed, the programme has engaged with volunteer time valued at over £3 million (if their time/value were calculated), based on minimum wage and average number of hours contributed (most volunteers work six-10 hours a week).
This, in turn, has enabled more than four million players to enjoy the game – calculated using 9 versus 9 pitches over a 40-week season; 18 players plus officials x 2,890 pitches and two games per week/weekend.
In order to increase pitch capacity, GaNTIP’s work with grassroots football has also involved the development of The Football Foundation Groundskeeping Community – a platform to provide expert advice to grounds staff - the development of a digital pitch assessment tool and the implementation of online modules (via the IOG website), as well as ‘traditional’ attendance courses/modules to support Football Foundation funding criteria.
Interestingly, GaNTIP’s inspections reveal that 82% of the pitches tested had below standard levels of compaction. “A common issue throughout GaNTIP’s history,” says IOG director of technical & learning Jason Booth, who is responsible for GaNTIP.
In addition, in collaboration with the ECB to develop and initiate a structured approach for local grounds staff, GaNTIP has:
 Serviced 38 County Cricket Boards and 38 County Grounds Associations/support groups, working with nine ECB Regional Club and Facilities managers to develop and deliver plans locally;
 Revitalised the County Pitch Advisor programme by supporting more than 70 Advisors;
 Developed a ‘toolbox’ to enable County Pitch Advisors and County Cricket Boards deliver a consistent approach to support;
 Trained 233 delegates (via the IOG’s online and day attendance cricket courses); and
 Assisted and developed the ECB’s new junior format for pitch sizes.
GaNTIP is monitored and supported by Sport England and the programme is now in year three (April 2019-March 2020) of Phase 2 (Phase 1 was 2014-2017) with two key account managers – Tom Rowley for football and Ian Mather-Brewster for cricket.
Jason Booth points out that the programme continues to increase awareness of the importance of the sustainability of natural turf pitches and hopes to invigorate more education and learning over the next 12 months.
“The programme is successfully achieving its aims of improving grassroots pitch quality and the education of the people who maintain those pitches, enabling the national governing bodies (NGBs) of football and cricket to provide clear direction on their grass pitch strategies,” he says.
“GaNTIP is making great strides and the programme and its RPAs are regarded as an integral part of the strategies of the NGBs currently within the programme. But the implications and benefits of GaNTIP could – and should – impact all grass sports and it is reassuring that other NGBs are monitoring our progress and showing great interest in what has been achieved and what GaNTIP could contribute to their sports.”
He adds: “Importantly, GaNTIP is also providing the grassroots and volunteer community with access to unrivalled training and education, which is proving indispensable in terms of pitch care. The programme is working hard with the NGBs and stakeholders to align volunteer training with the likes of coaching, because playing surfaces are equally as critical to participation levels.”