LIFTING THE LID: Find out what it’s like to be a kitman away from the the glamour of the Premier League as we chat to one of the busiest in the game.
The kitman. A football club’s unsung hero, but a behind-the-scenes figure that is so pivotal to the week-in, week-out running of the team.
With football’s hectic Christmas schedule of fixtures just around the corner, we spoke to Philip Duffy, Oxford City FC and Luton Town Ladies kit manager, to find out just what the life of a non-league kitman entails, particularly during football’s busiest time of the year.
Looking after the kit – and 101 other jobs
There’s no typical day in the life of a non-league kitman. On a matchday you’ll get to the stadium early, making sure everything is prepared. As long as all the match kit, the training gear, the warm-up gear, everything is laid out and all is set up for the players… But you can never sit back as there’s always things thrown at you. Always last minute, someone will have a shirt with the wrong logo or something missing.
But once the match starts, I’m on the bench. We don’t have a fourth official at this level, so I do the substitutes’ boards with the linesman. I’m also making sure that the substitutes are ready, making sure they warm up at the right time, letting them know when team-mates are injured, making sure they’ve got their bibs on… I even need to make sure they’ve taken the right supplements before they go on too!
During half-time I’m working with the physio to ensure the right players get the right treatment and letting the officials know about any substitutions. And then at the end of the match, I’m kit man again and there’s always a big clear-up to do…
Christmas is a hectic period – but a little discipline helps
Players can be a nightmare for leaving their kit around after matches – the day after I’ll always get a few messages saying: ‘Kitman, did I leave behind my shin pads or my underwear?’ It’s always a lucky pair of underwear too – but they know the score. If anyone puts their lucky pants in the washing basket by accident, they just go in the bin. There will always be three or four players a season that are a real nightmare.
But they’ll get a kitman fine for any behaviour like that as I run my own kitman fine book. So, if after a match, players use their kit to stand on after coming out of the shower, there’ll be a little fine, or if shirts aren’t being turned inside out the correct way. It keeps players on their toes and ensure there’s respect for the kits as we don’t have a lot of money at that level to have lots of kit – which of course means extra work for us. You can’t go out looking Sunday league, so we need to make do with what we’ve got.
We had an FA Cup match against Shrewsbury away recently on the Sunday and then we had a league match two days later where we had to wear the same kit, so Sunday night when we got back the kit had to go straight in the wash so we had it ready to go again by Tuesday. It’s the same at Christmas, everything is emphasised by the tight schedules.
I got chased on social media last year by some loyal fans asking: ‘Why are we changing colours when there’s no kit clash? It’s disloyal to the blue and white hoops of the club!’ It was the Christmas period – we had a game on Boxing Day and then a game on the 28th December. We needed to wear the away kit, not because of the clash, but because we didn’t have enough time to get the home kit ready!
The National League usually gives us some good fixtures over Christmas so the travelling isn’t too far, but there’s still games on Boxing Day, 28th December and New Year’s Day, so it can be hectic, but it’s a period I absolutely love. I’ve always looked forward to it, the games are on top of you and you’re just preparing for the next one. It all goes by in a flash – suddenly it’s mid-January and you’ve got through seven or eight games in such a short period.
Football’s unsung hero
The worst question you can get asked as a kitman is: ‘Why do you get here so early, what do you actually do?’ Really? Being a kitman is a very integral role in keeping the show on the road. If the kit’s not there and the kit’s not ready, then there’s problems. We’re not taken for granted, but you’d only notice us if we weren’t there – like a referee you only notice if he’s having a bad game.
The players come to you, there’s that trust. If they have something to get off their chest, you can be a sounding board, for players and staff, and they know it will go no further. So you do feel integral. Especially for away games, when you’re loading everything onto the coach. ‘If the kitman says we’re ready to go, then we’re ready.’