The groundsman epitomising the magic of the cup

  • Groundsman at semi-pro club went viral on social media for his efforts

  • He's now part of the staff preparing the pitch for the FA Cup final

  • "I was just doing my job," Ben Kay tells

Ben Kay was lying on the ground at Chorley’s Victory Park at 4:00am on 9 January. It was minus-2 degrees. Wearing exactly what he came into work with the day before and covered with an M&M’s-designed fleece blanket, according to the man himself, he was simply doing his job.

But he is selling himself short. As the head groundsman at semi-professional side Chorley, a club in the sixth tier of the English league pyramid, he, the club’s chief executive Terry Robinson and a couple of volunteers, including the kit man Dave Pennington, went above and beyond, staying up through the night to rotate small heaters to ensure the pitch was playable amid freezing conditions on the eve of the team’s FA Cup third round clash against Wayne Rooney’s Derby County.

Thanks to their efforts, the match went ahead, and Chorley won 2-0, defeating opposition four divisions above them.

Kay, a lover of the game and a former professional footballer with Wigan Athletic before getting into the groundsman craft, was then contacted by Wembley Stadium’s Grounds Manager Karl Standley, who was inspired by the story, to be a part of the team that would prepare the pitch for the FA Cup final, which takes place tomorrow between Chelsea and Leicester City. Chorley manager Jamie Vermiglio will also be attending the final to represent the club's fantastic achievement.

"I've been to Wembley to watch Wigan Athletic a few times, most notably in the play-off final and I was lucky enough to be there when they won the FA Cup against Man City," Kay told en route to the historic stadium on his four-hour-plus drive from Lancashire. "It's absolutely unbelievable to get down there and to actually work on the pitch this weekend."

The truth is that the experience has changed Kay's whole career path. He has since moved clubs to work for Accrington Stanley, a club in League One, three divisions above Chorley.

"I was probably in the right place at the right time," Kay said. "If any other groundsman would've been in my situation, they would've done exactly the same. There was so much riding on that game with the prize money. It was imperative that we got the game on.

"I'll be honest, probably up until 5am there was still a frozen part of the pitch, which was the reason we stayed overnight to try and thaw out. We had small space heaters, but we ended up pouring hot water on some of the frozen parts. It kind of got quite drastic in the end. We were literally trying everything.

"Until the referee turned up, I thought it was 50-50. Everything was against us. It was snowing. It was cold. It was an early kick-off at 12. If it had been 3 o'clock or 5 o'clock when the temperatures rose we wouldn't have had a problem. It seemed like everything was trying to kill us off that weekend."

Although his professional football career perhaps did not last as long as he hoped, the next best thing has to be preparing the pitch for one of the most iconic cup competitions in world football.

"I've been like a kid at Christmas. I've been looking forward to this for months."