Billing took over the management of the four pitches at Franklin’s Gardens in June, after having moved to the East Midlands from Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, where he had been a major part of their award-winning groundstaff since 2006.
However for Billing, for whom the journey into work from Higham Ferrers is a lot shorter now than his previous commute to north London, his allegiances are now very much in black, green and gold.
“Everyone’s been nice and friendly and I’ve been made to feel very welcome,” he says. “Allan Robson in particular been brilliant and backed me 100 percent. I know that there was a lot of interest from groundspeople up and down the country, but he had the confidence in me so I feel pretty privileged to be working here and am trying to do it to the best of my ability.”
Billing helped White Hart Lane win the Pitch of the Year in 2006 before moving onto head up the management of the Tottenham training ground in 2010. Now he is the main man at Franklin’s Gardens, and with the pitch one of the most visible parts of the club there is inevitably pressure that comes with the job.
He is winning plaudits for how everything is looking from supporters who have been keeping up-to-date with the developments as they are shown on the club’s webcam and social media channels. But he says there is always something to be working on and getting better.
“I’ve seen the feedback from supporters, which has been great, but the people who matter are Jim Mallinder, the coaches and players, and Allan Robson and Tony Hewitt, and as a groundsman I’m never happy with the pitch,” Billing says. “I want it to be perfect, and you’re always up against something, whether it’s the weather or the soil conditions.
“There’s also the small matter of having 30 large guys smashing into each other on a wet winter evening, but that would destroy any pitch.
“At the moment we’re trying to get the pitches to where they should be, get the science right, and to make sure that we’re as perfect as we can be for the start of the season. There are some big differences between Tottenham and the Saints, like with how the pitch is constructed and the sheer amount of resource that’s available in the Premier League, but we’re doing the best that we can. Mick and Andy are working really hard and it’s looking good at the moment.”
The Rugby World Cup is giving all of the Aviva Premiership’s groundstaff a bit more time than usual to get their pitches in order. Here at Franklin’s Gardens there is also the small matter of the new Barwell Stand being built at one end of the stadium, something which has brought additional challenges.
“Working with the building site has been interesting!” Billing comments. “Buckinghams have been good to work with and we’ve not had too many issues. We’ve also been having a lot of work being done pitchside installing a new artificial surface, so I’m looking forward to that finishing so we can get things tidied up.
“It’s been a challenge, but I knew that when I came here, and am enjoying it. I can’t wait until the first game of the season and we’ll be working constantly up until then to make sure it’s perfect.”