This induction into the Cambridge United Hall of Fame is very far from being the first accolade earned by Ian Darler, head groundsman at the club since 1979 and subsequently also stadium manager and match day safety officer. Such is the esteem in which he is held by his peers in turf management and by the Cambridgeshire community that his mantelpiece must creak under the weight of awards, trophies and mementos.
Here is one more gong to add to the collection, and never was any induction to any hall of fame better deserved. Over the course of nearly 40 years at his beloved Abbey Stadium, Ian has been a model of professionalism, a beacon of knowledge and ability and a paragon of dedication to his craft.
Down the years he has overcome numerous challenges – some of the monetary variety, some technical, some professional and others arising from a lack of manpower – that would have defeated less determined individuals.
He has dug deep into his own pocket when machinery was needed and his employer hadn’t the wherewithal to obtain it; he has coped, with good humour and equanimity, with collapsed drainage systems, the power of the elements and the vagaries of managers; he has declined lucrative job offers from much bigger clubs; he has studied, learned and used every trick of the greenkeeper’s trade to provide playing surfaces that have been, and continue to be, the envy of other clubs. He has made a silk purse from a sow’s ear many, many times.
This despite a steady diminution in the resources at his disposal: when the 18-year-old Ian arrived at the Abbey, fresh from a formative period at the Pye sports ground in Chesterton, the club’s apprentices were on call to lend a hand in stadium cleaning and maintenance, pitch husbandry and renewal. Those days are long gone, as are the groundstaff who laboured long and hard, and with dedication to their boss. Now Ian has only the indefatigable Mick Brown to call on during the week.
On match days it’s a different ball game. Following the Valley Parade and Hillsborough disasters, the stadium manager’s role underwent a revolution. Ian assimilated the changes in law and responsibility, shouldered the task of ensuring match day safety and soldiered on.
The hours may be long and the to-do list almost endless, but Ian still finds time to raise large sums for charity. His activities in this area often involve time spent by a river or beside a lake, for another of his passions, besides the Abbey greensward, is the gentle art of angling. In this sphere too he displays huge ability, limitless patience and the capacity to inspire others. Ian’s recent ill health has deprived stadium and riverbank of a remarkable man.