Brian Cartwright

Groundsman who became the Mr Fix It of rugby league
Click to follow

Although Brian Cartwright made only a handful of first-team appearances in his 10-year playing career at Batley, he became one of the more recognisable figures in rugby league through his work as a groundsman.

As a utility back whose favourite position was full-back, Cartwright played for Batley Boys and for Staincliffe, winning representative honours for Yorkshire as an amateur, which suggests that he was a rather better player than he was ever to claim to have been.

He was thrilled to sign as a professional for his home-town club, which he had followed enthusiastically from being a small boy, and, although his opportunities in the first team came along rarely, his future career began to take shape.

First, he began to help out the groundsman at the cricket ground next to the rugby stadium at Mount Pleasant. That led to him working on Batley's famous sloping pitch itself and, in 1979, the club offered him a full-time job. After some serious thought, he gave up his other job in a carpet factory and soon found himself having to cope with the particular problems of catering for the needs of two clubs, as Hunslet moved in to share the ground with Batley.

He proved himself the equal of that task and, in 1982, his horizons expanded when the Rugby League asked him to prepare the football pitch at Elland Road for the Challenge Cup final replay between Hull and Widnes. It was the start of two new relationships, as Leeds United approached him to join their ground-staff, because their council-owned ground was also to be used by Batley's former tenants, the nomadic Hunslet.

The forced marriage between the two clubs was not to prove a happy one, with the football club clearly resenting having to share their traditional home, but Cartwright was recognised as making the constant round of transforming the pitch for the two different sports as smooth as it could possibly be.

On top of that, he was becoming the League's Mr Fix It. This was an era when, on top of the annual trip to Wembley, other big games were starting to be staged in all sorts of unlikely settings and he was the man in charge of the often complicated logistics.

Among the grounds he converted for rugby league use were Maine Road, Old Trafford, Anfield, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Swansea, Murrayfield and the Douglas Bowl on the Isle of Man, which was used for annual Charity Shield matches.

The former executive director of the Rugby League, Greg McCallum, recalls an exhibition game at the Royal Dublin Showground in 1995, for which Cartwright took his own set of rugby posts over to Ireland on the ferry. The pitch had been used for a gymkhana on the morning of the match, but he still had it repaired, marked out and ready for the kick-off at 3pm.

He chronicled many of his adventures in a book, Pitch Battles Galore, which he published in 1999, by which time his career as one of the game's most important back-room men had taken two other turns.

He had, by then, moved on with Hunslet to work at their new home, the South Leeds Stadium, and he had also worked with the Great Britain international side as their equipment manager. That involved dealing with the biggest names in the sport, but Brian Cartwright had the knack of treating everyone, famous or obscure, with the same good-humoured consideration. His expertise was often called upon by other sports, including cricket and golf clubs near his Yorkshire home, and he was renowned for never turning down a request for help.

Dave Hadfield

Brian Cartwright, rugby league player and groundsman: born Batley, Yorkshire 21 March 1941; married 1963 Sandra Skelly (one son, one daughter); died Leeds 9 November 2003.