A very important member of the team is the Kitman, it has grown over the years especially at the highest level to the Kit Team.
I remember at Renbad Rovers, my Birkenhead Sunday League team, that we would take the kit home after a game, give it a soak in the bath, then throw it in the washing machine, hang it on the line and then make sure it was folded and put in the kit bag ready for the following week. I progressed from this, to taking it to the local laundry on Woodchurch Road on a Monday morning, leaving it there with the laundry lady, and then picking it up the next day.
At Tranmere Rovers as an Apprentice footballer we would be responsible for washing the training kit, hanging it in the drying room and then putting the kit out the next morning before training. We would help pack the match day skip, clean the boots and pack them in the boot skip to travel. We would have a check list to make sure everything was packed. We quickly learnt to get this right. Making a mistake is a valuable way to learn. If a player hasn't got a pair of boots to wear because you hadn't packed them, then the consequences of it make sure you don't forget again!
At Tranmere I learnt to tie my boots together after a game before putting them in the skip. Easy to find a pair when unpacking the skip. If everyone can just do their little bit it makes all the difference for someone, usually the Kitman.
When I first started at Scunthorpe United as the Physiotherapist in 1996, we didn't have much staff. Mick Buxton was Manager for several months before being replaced by Brian Laws. Graham Colby combined his role as the Groundsman and Kitman. Paul Wilson was the Youth Coach, with one player, as we were just starting up the Youth programme again.
I would help pack the match skip before travelling. After away games I would take responsibility to make sure everything was packed away into the skips and bags and put on the coach. Making sure nothing was left in the changing room before departure.
I remember early on at Scunthorpe, going to an away game to local rivals Hull City. After the game the players took their boots and kit off and just threw it on the floor, got showered and either got on the coach or went home with their families. I remember being left in the changing room all on my own with boots and kit strewn all over the dressing room. To say I wasn't happy was an understatement !!! I packed everything away and then had a shower. How was I going to get all the skips back to the coach on my own ? Eventually a player came back to find where I was because the coach couldn't leave without the kit, or me.
We had a meeting the next working day, I said my piece to the players and from then onwards everyone took a part in carrying something from the coach to dressing room and then back to the coach after games. Keeping players grounded and Team work !
In his book Legacy, James Kerr talks about the culture of the New Zealand All Blacks and 'sweeping the sheds'.
I remember on one occasion having to have the boot skip in my bedroom for the night. We had travelled down to a South Coast hotel and then trained after the journey. The team coach couldn't be parked at our hotel, the driver had to park a couple of miles away, so the boots couldn't be left in the side locker of the coach. We had no alternative but to keep the boots at the hotel, however, there were no hotel rooms to leave them in so I had to put them in mine ! The smell of wet leather boots in a wicker basket was not the best aroma to get to sleep in !
After away games we would go back to Glanford Park, the home of The Iron. We used to get the players that were left on the coach, sometimes only one, as the players had been dropped off at certain service stations closer to their homes on the journey back from the game, to help get the skips off the coach and into the gym which was close to the laundry room, in preparation to be washed. On many occasions I used to take the wet boots out of the skip and place them in the boot room to dry before Monday on Thursdays training session, depending on whether it was a Saturday or Tuesday game. There was nothing worse than coming into training on a Monday and the leather boots had been left in the skip over the weekend and were soaking wet to wear for training. Players love a moan and we used to have a few tasty words about it.
As the Physiotherapist I also had to make sure, along with the kit, that the medical equipment was placed out in the dressing room on game day. We made sure on arriving at the ground everyone grabbed a bag of some description from the coach locker, and took it to the dressing room. On away games the players were good, we had set the culture from the early days. I like being organised, so was quite assertive in my instructions as to where to place the bags once in the dressing room so I could get organised. The players would then leave the changing room to look at the pitch, whilst I used the short period of time to arrange the dressing room area.
If you can imagine not all dressing rooms are the same size and I can assure you we had plenty of experience of making the rooms flow and organising the equipment and the storage required at different times of usage whilst at the away venue.
I used to do the pre-match massage for the players, and do the strappings for the ankles. Many times we put a table in the shower area to do this. Time management was critical in the short period between arriving at the away ground and going out to warm up. I used to do the team warm ups after the rubs and strappings in the early days at Scunny. I was also substitute goalkeeper as well on several occasions! I loved the organised chaos and banter. It's something you miss when you're not in the game.
Over the years it has changed and more members of staff have been introduced into the kit team. I enjoyed my time doing it. The experience of finding out how to utilise time and space and what works and what doesn't. The collaboration of the team.
We had progressed as a club over the years from when I started as a Physiotherapist. In our first season in the Championship, Assistant Manager and Player Andy Crosby, Coach and Player Ian Baraclough, Goalkeeping Coach Kevin Pressman and Physiotherapist Alex Dalton would organise putting out and collecting in the kit on away games. After a couple of years as Manager we had managed to get young Nick Crawford the job as Kitman and he travelled with us to games. A local lad who was hard working at his role. Jo used to do the laundry and Graham was able to concentrate more time to being the groundsman.
Since I have been a Manager I've always taken an interest in how the kit technicians operate. I like to think I've always been supportive of the very demanding role. The more information I can give them, and as early as possible, the better.
It's pre-season now and the travelling, different countries, locations, games come thick and fast, the turn-over of getting match and training kit washed and dried is relentless. New players are likely to arrive, what is their kit number ? Shirt size ? How many footballs do we need ? Bibs ? Cones ? Mannequins ? and the latest modern trending equipment ?
The kitman would like to know as early as possible what the travelling squad is so they can pack the kit and boots and not leave any at the training ground.
Understanding every players requirements is vital and the Kitman is a good source of banter with the players. He or she is close to them, they have to have thick skin to take the banter from the players and likewise able to give it back. It all adds to the camaraderie required in making a team a family. This leads to success.
I follow with interest on social media how the size of the departments have grown and the hard work that goes on. @Kitmanforbesy @Southampton was a good team member whilst I was Manager at Southampton, a man with many life experiences to share. I enjoyed his company, however bad his jokes were ! The present Mrs. Forbes should be very proud of him.