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Life's a pitch for Marron

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Peter Marron

Peter Marron has been part of the furniture at Old Trafford for the best part of three decades

It is something of an understatement to say news that Old Trafford had been overlooked for an Ashes Test in 2009 did not go down too well in Lancashire.

To snub one of the oldest and most famous grounds in the country was regarded as unthinkable by many of those associated with the county.

Anyone and everyone - whether they be players, officials or fans - seemed to have their say on the decision, and their reactions veered between disappointment and disbelief, often laced with more than a dash of anger.

Amid the outpouring of emotion, however, one voice from inside Old Trafford has gone largely unheard.

"It's good news for me," said Peter Marron, the head groundsman. "I'd be glad of the break.

"It means less work for us, to be honest, so I've got no great issues with it."

Marron's comments, rather than reflecting any lack of loyalty to his employers of almost 30 years, say much more about his pragmatic approach to one of the least glamorous jobs in county cricket.

You would expect nothing different from a man whose working life has been dictated largely by the weather - and the notoriously fickle Manchester weather at that.

Given his workload during the season, few would begrudge Marron a rare breather.

While most spectators' time at the ground spans the hours of play, Marron's working day regularly begins earlier than the rest of the country but sometimes continues until dark.

Twelve-hour shifts and 7-day weeks are the norm rather than the exception, and it says much for the time he has devoted to the Lancashire over the past three decades that it often used to be more than that.

"There have been days when I've been on the square at three in the morning with a torch in my hand," Marron told ecb.co.uk, in such a way to suggest he would be crazy to do otherwise.

"I used to live on the ground in a house, so it was like the whole place was home. It didn't really matter what time I went home."

Peter Marron

Marron has a strong affection for a ground that used to serve as his office and home

Marron claims that "it's not a labour of love", and he treats it merely as a job, but scratch beneath the surface and you find a man with a deep affection for the ground.

"If we move on, we move on," he said, referring to the debate over whether Lancashire will relocate – they want to stay but are waiting for approval from the council – but in the next breath he is reminiscing over the moments that will live longest in his memory.

"I remember Viv Richards getting 189 not out in a one-dayer here for the West Indies in 1983 - that was pretty special.

"Then there was the Ashes last year - it was one of my best pitches and it went down to the last day, but the high point for me was coming into work and finding it was choc-a-block with a people outside."

Groundsman the length and breadth of the country will tell you they are the cricket's equivalent of the working classes, largely ignored but without whom the game would certainly not exist.

Marron has received his fair share of sympathy over the years - one cannot help but feel for someone who has to prepare Test-standard surfaces at statistically the wettest ground in England - but the time has come for his efforts to be recognised more formally by Lancashire.

The club has granted him a testimonial this year, in recognition of his efforts since arriving in 1975.

Barring a brief spell away following a disagreement with his boss and mentor Bert Flack – "we had a row; he won, I lost" - Marron has been as much a fixture at Old Trafford as the hanging baskets outside the old pavilion.

For a groundsman to be honoured in such a way – "there haven't been too many over the years", says Marron – speaks volumes for the esteem in which he is held by the club.

And there can be no more ringing endorsement of his standing as a person than Andrew Flintoff, that most genuine of cricketers and a player whose time is increasingly precious, agreeing to co-host two of six fundraising events over the next months.

The first of those, a sportsman's dinner featuring England selector Geoff Miller as the guest speaker, takes place on Tuesday, July 18 at Old Trafford, with more evenings out, an auction and a race day also scheduled for the coming months.

"I'm looking forward to having a good year, and having a few good bashes with Fred. It's really good of him - he's been an absolute gem.

"I can't say enough about him because you won't get a better bloke. If he can help someone he will."

Old Trafford

Marron recalls fondly the last day of the Ashes Test last summer © Getty Images

Rubbing shoulder with the first man of English cricket is a far cry from Marron's days as an "assistant kid" at Old Trafford, taken under Flack's wing for no other reason than he used to drink in the pub where Flack's daughter worked as a barmaid.

"I just fell into it really," says Marron. "It was just a case of drinking in the right place at the right time. I found out they needed someone, so I went along and did it. I've never done an exam in my life."

If Old Trafford itself has changed markedly since Marron first arrived – "the indoor school was just a poxy shed and the press box was a wooden shack that used to blow off every winter" – so too has the art of groundsmanship.

The introduction of covered wickets and the phasing out of marl squares are just two of the factors that have made Marron's job more difficult.

Throw in the fact that Old Trafford is now a venue for pop concerts and one need only see his eyes begin to roll to understand what he thinks of thousands upon thousands of punters trample across Marron's treasured turf.

However, he is not as short-sighted as to deny that "it's quite a decent sight at night when we've got a full house and the music's going", and, though he admits he has little in common with the younger generation of groundsman on the county circuit, to suggest he is stuck in the past would be considerably wide of the mark.

Marron is, after all, the first groundsman in England to use glue on his wickets to help prevent them from wearing – an idea he got from New Zealand and one which may well catch on elsewhere.

It says much for Marron's dedication to his craft and his job that there is little else in his life outside of Old Trafford; he has to think long and hard before listing rugby union, holidays and having a good time as his interests beyond the boundary, so to speak.

As for his working life, he insists he is "not looking to make the half-century" of service to Lancashire, adding that his deputy is comfortably good enough to take over now.

But when Marron says, "I don't really know how long I'll be doing this for," one suspects his love for the club is such that he will not be hanging his lawnmower and overalls up in the foreseeable future.

"It's a great place and I've got lots of great memories. That's one thing that will stay with me forever."

For more information on Peter Marron's testimonial, visit the Lancashire website at www.lccc.co.uk.