The 169th guest on on Industry Insider is a special one! We sat down with John Ledwidge, Head of Sports Turf and Grounds at Premier League club Leicester City FC…
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
I’m John Ledwidge – Head of Sports Turf and Grounds at Leicester City FC. I have held my post here for 8 years after previously working at Coventry City FC and Aston Villa.
What do you do in your current role?
As Head of Sports Turf and Grounds, I am responsible for all sports surfaces across the clubs 3 sites (new training facility in Seagrave, women’s training facility and stadium).
I manage a team of 50 staff who work across the various areas to maintain the standards from pitches to landscaping and our 9-hole golf course.
I also head the new Sports Turf Academy which aims to bring new talent into the industry and up skill the current talent at our state-of-the-art facility.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
Most people within our industry have a passion for what they do, and my team are no different, our weeks can change so I have to be agile to the demands of the club and the various teams that play across our surfaces.
I think that’s what I love the most, is that we always have to be agile but also regimented in our planning. A lot goes into producing playing surfaces for elite sport a lot of planning (often weeks or months in advance, sometimes a year ahead).
My role isn’t a Monday – Friday 9 – 5, we have staff covering the operation 7 days a week from academy training and games right through to 1st team matches, as I often say, the grass never sleeps!!
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I wanted to be a footballer but unfortunately at the age where most kids were “developing” I looked like Bruce Bogtrotter (obese) and I was a goalie, so short and fat doesn’t quite cut it! But I knew I wanted to get on my hometowns pitch so I could at least pretend I was a footballer. So, I wrote a letter to the groundsman just to get to step on the hallowed turf at Coventry City!
But it got me! I fell in love with the idea that you could work in football, for your boyhood club and be part of something.
Left school pretty much as a straight A student with teachers screaming at me to be a doctor, but I knew my path!!
Flew through my Sports Turf qualifications and was made a Deputy Head Groundsman at 19!
I then went on to leave Coventry at 22 to work at Aston Villa’s brand new training ground, after 14 months, my old manager at Coventry City left and at the age of 23 I landed my first Head Groundsman job at my boyhood club! At that time, the youngest Head Groundsman in the football league.
I went through ups and downs with Coventry City from the brink of administration to hosting Olympic football at the stadium, to delivering 6 concerts in my time.
But then the opportunity to move to LCFC came in Jan 2014. I always had ambitions to be in the Premier League by the time I was 30 and I made it at the age of 28.
From there I have built a department here from 6 staff managing 24 acres to 52 staff and managing 205 acres across 3 sites. I played a role in the development of the new training facility in Seagrave and also the birth of the Sports Turf Academy, which was a personal ambition and the club have supported me.
I’m so proud of what we have achieved and excited for what we will go on to achieve in the future.
In a nutshell I got to where I am because I love what I do, I’m passionate about it and I worked and continue to work exceptionally hard to get here!
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
Over the years this has changed, at first it was always “pitches come first” but now we have built a structure and I can trust others with that responsibility.
My next focus in really on my people. I want to see people grow and develop when the come to work for us and I’m dedicated to building a culture within my department that means we can retain good people but also feed the industry with talent that has come through our “system”.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
I love failure! A weird thing to say right, but we learn our most valuable lessons when we experience failing. I would rather someone tried and failed than not try at all and I have failed at many things, but one thing for me is that I’ve never done it twice.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
For me there are two things, obviously, the Sports Turf Academy, it feels like my baby and I’m incredibly excited about the impact it could have on our industry.
And also, I’m excited about a piece of research we are doing to explore the effect our playing surfaces have on the players. Lots of exciting data being collected that will accumulate in our key research next year.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
I would love to see a more diverse workforce and the industry appealing to more women and ethic minorities, we are a predominantly white male industry, which I hope will change.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
I am learning to fly a plane, I figured it’s the only way to take my mind off work, because if I don’t focus, I could crash!!!
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Sport offers people so many options for work, if you have a passion for being a sports person and maybe, like me you’re not quite cut out for it, sport can still offer you so much fulfilment. But it must be a passion, a vocation, it is like NO other workplace, it’s hard work but so rewarding, oh, and of course, you should all consider a career in sports turf 😉
How to connect with John Ledwidge…
Personal Twitter: @johnledwidge
LinkedIn: John Ledwidge
Instagram : Johnledwidge26
Sports Turf Academy
LinkedIn: Sports Turf Academy
Thanks for reading our Industry Insider with John Ledwidge! If you want to read more from the series, you can do so by clicking here.