EXCLUSIVE: Under the covers with the Chorley groundsman… who slept over at the stadium to help create FA Cup history with victory against Derby
- Chorley’s groundsman Ben Kay worked hard to make his team’s pitch playable
- Kay was forced to sleep on the surface, under a heated tent, before the fixture
- Speaking to Sportsmail, Kay revealed he had relished the challenge on the field
- Chorley made his efforts worthwhile after knocking out Championship Derby
Saturday was a massive day for the club but my celebrations were not exactly wild. I was asleep on my sofa by eight o’clock!
It had been such a huge task to get the game on, it took all week. I was shattered.
Everybody knows now that we slept at Victory Park on Friday night and that is one of the reasons why I don’t think I would want to work in professional football – I enjoy the hard work of trying to sort out a decent pitch, that challenge. The weekend was definitely a challenge.
Ben Kay was forced to sleep over at Chorley’s ground to make the pitch playable for Saturday
The game was in serious, serious doubt on Thursday night. There was a bit of a panic. Snow was forecast, there was another inch of it 24 hours before the game.
We had contractors in to put a tent covering the pitch on Tuesday. It was on there right until kick-off. I was still marking the pitch 10 minutes before the match. Derby were warming up with one fifth of the tent still on the surface. Unbelievable. Any normal game would have been off.
We had realised at 8pm the night before that we had to stay over, to keep these small little heaters moving on problem areas. We put the floodlights on but were only allowed those until 10pm because the ground is in a residential area.
Chorley’s head groundsman, Kay, has spoken to Sportsmail after his team’s historic win
The issue with the tent was that you need to anchor the stakes down but we didn’t have anything to reinforce them, so the tent was not as tight as possible. The corners of the tent were flapping; frost was still hitting the ground. We had to get those heaters on the areas where the tent flapped.
At 10pm, the big generator sending hot air broke. Disaster. The contractors got on to their engineer, who happened to be in Derby, but he’d enjoyed a few drinks and couldn’t drive. It’s a good two-hour journey and he turned up with a friend who had driven him there! He fixed it within 10 minutes and we were back up and running at 2am.
I got a FaceTime video call from the manager, Vermo – Jamie Vermiglio – who is really hands on. I said to him: ‘I don’t think this is going to be on, mate.’ I went to sleep under the covers and woke up a couple of hours later, and it had thawed.
The match looked in jeopardy on Thursday after freezing temperatures froze parts of the pitch
Fortunately, the temperature only hit minus two overnight, but it wasn’t warm, let me tell you. Freezing. They say it’s a heated tent but honestly, I wouldn’t want to be under there again.
The touchlines were still frozen in the morning. We had 20 volunteers forking those, pouring on hot water just to soften it up. Given the financial restrictions of Covid, that pitch has been in constant use for training. A long winter.
It is important to stress that it was not just me. I get credit as head groundsman but it wouldn’t have happened without the kit guys and volunteers – David Pennington, Lewis Seed, Callum Wright, Craig Rivers and Charlie McElroy – who stopped over.
That is what Chorley is about. The last time I had a mower on there was Christmas Eve, before we played AFC Fylde on Boxing Day. That night, Storm Bella came in. The pitch had frozen then, so from then on I wasn’t even able to walk on the pitch.
Derby warmed up for the game with one fifth of the heating tent still in place before kick-off
We’re very basic. We don’t have an irrigation system, no drainage. We didn’t have a lawnmower for ages and have only just recently bought one second-hand with the FA Cup money. I got it from a mate who is at Salford City.
We scrimp and scrape. We have frost covers that are 15 years old, knackered, and it takes 15 volunteers to drag them out. That makes you appreciate moments like this.
Flipping heck, my phone has never stopped pinging. It’s just been a bit surreal. I’m only doing my job. To get the praise from it is unbelievable – a lot of the people down the leagues don’t really get the recognition that they deserve.
But Chorley made Kay’s efforts more than worthwhile after defeating the Championship outfit
My battery had died so I left the phone in my room during the game.
I checked it at 6pm and had 150 WhatsApp messages, 150 Facebook notifications and 600 on Twitter! I’ve got an American podcast today, I’ve had a French journalist on too.
But if we had not won the game, none of that would have mattered. The lads were fantastic.
Ben Kay was speaking to JACK GAUGHAN.
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