John Ledwidge had always dreamed of walking out to the Champions League’s iconic anthem.
Since he was 13, he had aspired to be a professional footballer and reach the pinnacle of his profession.
In 2017, his dream finally came true…
…even if the reality was a little different.
Ledwidge, now 33, has rocketed to the top of his field and has been the Head Groundsman at Leicester City Football Club since 2014.
As part of the Foxes European run in 2017, he had the chance to walk out to the competition’s synonymous soundtrack.
“As part of UEFA’s walkthroughs at the ground, they wanted to do a trial run of the players walking out to the song,” he gushes.
“My fellow ground staff and I formed a team and walked out [as if we were playing] to the theme song a few times.”
“It was a lot of fun!”
Ledwidge has indeed had lots of fun in his time as Leicester’s groundsman – his expansive pitch designs drew virality over the course of the 2015/16 season, a historic time for the Foxes.
Ledwidge laughs as he recalls the best of times.
“Yeah, the year we won the league, we really went to town with the designs,” he chuckles.
“It was fantastic because the club were creating this stage to showcase what we could do with their on-field success.”
The Premier League took a different view on the designs, choosing to ban any pitch patterns that did not fit into their narrow-mindedness.
Ledwidge bears no grudges though and still gets messages from people and fellow groundsman around the world about the designs from that season.
As a man very proud of his job, John hopes to have “elevated the industry” and changed perceptions around how much hard work goes into being a groundsman.
Ledwidge comes from Coventry and confesses that he got the bug for grounds keeping from a young age.
After failing to cut it as a goalkeeper, he told his dad he wanted to end up on the Highfield Road turf in whatever form that was.
“At the age of 13, I was stalking the groundsman at Coventry as much as I could – making teas, sweeping up, literally anything to be around the club,” he remembers.
At 16, he took the official groundsman qualification and three years later was promoted to Deputy Groundsman for the Sky Blues.
Ledwidge continued to impress with successful spells as Head Groundsman at both Aston Villa and Coventry.
He was approached by Leicester in 2014 and has controlled their turf ever since.
“IT WAS FANTASTIC BECAUSE THE CLUB WERE CREATING THIS STAGE TO SHOWCASE WHAT WE CAN DO WITH THEIR ON-FIELD SUCCESS”
JOHN LEDWIDGE ON HIS ICONIC PITCH DESIGNS
After experiencing a Championship promotion, Premier League title win and unprecedented run to the Champions League Quarter Finals, John had probably thought he’d seen it all in football until earlier on this year and the Covid-19 outbreak.
John and his team were keen to stay proactive during the lockdown as he explains the inner workings of the King Power during the uncertain times.
“We actually took the decision to renovate the pitch in March when it seemed the season would take a while to restart again,” he says.
“This ended up putting us in a really strong position when things got started again in June.”
On a personal level, John spent lockdown continuing his training to be a pilot and has described it “the most fun you can have with your clothes on”.
On ground level, Leicester’s form has been patchy since the New Year and has continued to be suspect since Project Restart.
This has seen their seemingly inevitable top four finish be put under real strain and Ledwidge speaks on the eve of Leicester’s winner-takes-all match against Manchester United.
The winner gains qualification to the Champions League, while the other will have to settle for the Europa League.
For Ledwidge, the prospect of another season in Europe’s elite competition is tantalising.
“Our form has obviously been a bit patchy since the turn of the year, but I have faith in Brendan [Rodgers] and the team,” he offers.
“It would be absolutely brilliant to have it back; little old Leicester on that stage would just be incredible again.”
With the pristine surface laid on by Ledwidge, Leicester can have no excuses come Sunday if they fail to win and secure their, and John’s, place amongst Europe’s elite once again.