Joe Bradley St. George’s Park Kit Man, talks about the challenges involved in supporting the high level of activity that goes on at the national football centre.
Q: Can you tell us a little about what your role at St. George’s Park entails?
JB: I am responsible for all the kit and equipment that is required for all of the coaching courses that take place at St. George’s Park.
That can range from the introductory level courses all the way up to the UEFA A and B courses.
I am also responsible for Club England [all England’s 24 representative teams] when they are here, and I will look after their kit making sure it is clean, laundered and set out for them.
Q: Can you explain a bit more about the procedures involved when the England teams are here and how it differs from preparing for the courses?
JB: With England the kit is collated at our warehouse by Mark Simkin (Senior England kitman), Karen Wall, and Mark Wright.
Mark oversees all of the kit at the warehouse, and we also have kit coordinators who pack all the kit for the England teams. It is then delivered here where we set it out for them.
When FA Learning have a course coming up I will organise all the kit.
That may involve kit for the members of staff and candidates as well as the list of equipment that the course requires, such as balls, cones, mannequins, spots, hurdles and ladders.
I then make sure that all of that is ready and laid out for them on the relevant pitch, so that the course has everything it needs before it starts.
Q: How different is it to being a club kit man?
JB: There is extremely high pressure at club level. I have been at two clubs, Luton Town and West Brom and you can’t make a mistake.
For any mistake, it may not be 25-35,000 people in the crowd witnessing it, but potentially it would be news for the rest of the country.
In this role here is more time to prepare for the events going on.
You still have to be organised, and you still have to make sure you are prepared to put the hours in because this job does demand a lot from you.
Q: St. George’s Park’s Head Groundsman, Alan Ferguson, spoke of the quick turnaround of pitch maintenance. Is there the same pressure organising the kit, changing rooms and equipment?
JB: Most kit men and grounds men are alike. The ground staff work incredibly hard to make the pitches look good only to see them damaged in such short spaces of time.
It is the same with our dressing rooms and our kit. A lot of time is spent ensuring they meet exacting standards, but ultimately they are always wrecked within five minutes of the players walking in.
In truth, you don't want them to touch it because to see people’s faces when they see the kit laid out is great to see, especially the kids. But that’s part and parcel of the job I love doing.
Q: How much of a challenge has it been setting up a brand new kit department here at St. George’s Park?
JB: It has been a big challenge, especially with bringing in and storing the FA Learning course equipment because there was a lot that we needed to work with.
And now we are preparing for the switch from Umbro to Nike, which will be another big job.
When we have all of the new Nike kit arrive all the old Umbro kit such as the bibs, cones, poles then we will package it up and send it over to Africa, which is something The FA always does with old kit and equipment.
Q: How important is the relationship between the players and the kit man?
JB: It is extremely important and I have always believed that there should be a bit of banter between players and the kit staff.
I remember with Paul Scharner [whilst at West Brom] he used to come back from the away games in the kit van and we used to have a bit of a laugh, put the tunes on and have a couple of pizzas on the front seat.
Q: How important is it to know how each player operates?
JB: Very. When I was at Luton Town, I worked under Kevin Blackwell and I remember we were playing Hartlepool in the League at home.
When I was putting the match kit out for the players Don Hutchison, who had been wearing the same match shorts all season, went to me, ‘Joe, these aren’t my match shorts.’
I knew they definitely were, but I went out into the corridor, gave it five minutes, went back into the changing room and he was suddenly fine with them.
Q: How much of the role is preparing for the unexpected?
JB: It does play a big part. I remember at West Brom last season, I had printed all of the match shirts on the Monday for an away game that Saturday.
But on the Friday night one of the players had come into the training ground and taken both of the shirts for the game without me knowing and given them to his friends or family.
So when we got down to the game we had no shirts for him. But we were well organised and managed to get two more shirts printed up.
To cover ourselves we would prepare everything for every single player and staff. That way we could compensate for unexpected issues.
If we were travelling on a Friday, we would be cautious of a player getting sick overnight and we would have a kit ready for his replacement. We always need to be prepared for things like that.
Visit TheFA.com each Friday for an insight into the personnel working behind the scenes at St.George’s Park, The FA’s national football centre.
For further insight into Alan Ferguson’s role as groundsman at St.George’s Park visit www.TheFA.com/SGP