Book Review - Mud, Sweat and Shears - Tales from the Turf; Life as a Football League Groundsman
Mud, Sweat and Shears is the heart-warming story of Burnley FC’s ex-groundsman Roy Oldfield. Oldfield represents the army of unsung heroes whose extraordinary efforts come wind, rain or shine enable football games to be played. Thanks to people like them football fans get their weekly fix and players get to become stars.
Low profile but integral to footballs very existence, Roy’s story honours those that enable the football industry to function. Simply without people like Roy, there is no football. It is a story that deserves to be read.
Think groundsman and you think pitch, but Roy’s life at Burnley will open your eyes to a never-ending list of responsibilities. Referee assessment ask Roy, media need accommodating ask Roy, somebody to man a stretcher where’s Roy, a lightbulb in Boardroom needs changing, get Roy.
It’s 101 tasks ranging from the mundane to the outright ridiculous and provides a comical background to Roy’s tough life at Turf Moor. Many a story will leave you in tears of laughter or tears of despair.
Of course, Roy’s main responsibility was the pitch and the one he produced was consistently up there with the best in the league. Some achievement for a man frustrated by overuse, broken equipment, a non-existent budget and the harsh Lancastrian weather.
Roy’s documentation of the awful weather conditions that he faced will send a chill down your spine. Man versus weather a vicious battle to match any seen on the pitch.
Mud, Sweat and Shears is much more than a story about a man and his turf. It looks in depth at one of England’s great old club’s Burnley FC. Founder members and champions as recently as 1959-60. They played in the European Cup. A well run, family club with a loyal fan base and a sprinkling of star players, Roy brings to life the tail end of the glory days and the big games, big nights at Turf Moor.
Sadly Roy also examines the clubs rapid demise during the 1980’s concluding with a chapter covering the clubs darkest hour when in 1987 they faced relegation from the football league and likely extinction. The chapter is excellently written and really captures the pure emotion of a proud town as their club stared death in the face.
Roy talks about the characters that he came across during the highs and lows. From the all-dominating Chairman Bob Lord to the apprentices. Roy got to know them all. He also recounts times spent with footballing royalty as some of the biggest names in the game including Brian Clough, Kevin Keegan and Denis Law enjoyed the sanctuary of his office and the hospitality provided via a cup of tea or some fish and chips.
In parallel to the goings on at Burnley FC, Mud, Sweat and Shears also looks at life in Britain and particularly Burnley during the 1970’s and 1980’s. It’s a fascinating read at news, culture and sport in those days and how the clubs performances mirrored the mood and economic climate in the town.
The 70’s and 80’s were also dark days for English football as Roy looks back at the disasters that hit the game hard and the impact of hooliganism at its height. A topic he brings to life through personal experiences after the infamous Celtic riots hit Burnley in 1979.
What Roy experienced is a million miles away from the cash-rich, media-driven game today. He’s not resentful. He is just a genuine, friendly, hardworking guy. His book is very personable and the foreword provided by his family very touching.
It’s a really great read, a totally different perspective of the game than you would get from a footballers biography.
So in the words of Roy himself put the kettle on, get a brew and enjoy his life story.