Football Pundette goes behind closed doors to get an insight into what it’s like to be kit man at Premier League club Bolton Wanderers.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work within a football club that you support and love? To be friends with the players and management and have exclusive access to all the games, training sessions, trips and any other perks of the job that come with working in football? These and many other benefits come along with the role of the kit man.
It sounds like a perfect job but it is a lot of hard work. Football Pundette went along to the Reebok Stadium, home of Premier League outfit Bolton Wanderers, to meet up with kit man Ally Marland to find out what it’s really like behind the dressing room doors.
To be honest I was shocked at how young Ally is; he’s a mere 23 years old and the second youngest kit man in the Premier League. The youngest is the Fulham kit man, who Ally texts regularly throughout the interview, as they are Bolton’s next opponents at the Reebok Stadium (“I’ll take him out for a few beers on Friday night,” Ally quips). But how did Ally go from fan to kit man?
“I got a bit of stick over this and I still do, and I was in the programme on Saturday too,” Ally laughs.
“My dad is the club secretary here, so when I was a kid at school I used to come in over the summer holidays and help the original kit man that was here. A job came up here but everybody immediately thought ‘oh you’re only here because of your dad’ and all that.
“I think because I already knew the kit man and I used to come to help him, that’s the reason why I got the job. It helped having the connection there. I think that football is a small world, people know people, everybody knows everyone in football.
“But I’ve always been a fan of football. I played since I was a young boy. It’s obviously every boy’s dream to be a footballer but I think this is the next best thing doing what I do next to a player. I am a Bolton fan as well so it works out great for me. There’s not many that work where they work and are a fan of the team I don’t think. I don’t think that happens too much in the kit man's role."
Although there is a lot of hard work involved in his job, Ally recognises the perks that come with being involved with such a job. “We went to Dubai in January. That was great, got to have a bit of sunshine!”
It becomes apparent that Ally likes to indulge in the fun banter that inevitably comes along with his job and he is quick to point the finger towards the prime culprits within the dressing room.
“Gavin McCann’s a big joker, and Matty Taylor. They are the funniest. Ebi Smolarek, the Polish lad that we have got on loan from Racing Santander, he’s a dark little horse. They have got good banter. Me and the assistant kit man wind the lads up all the time and they always give it back.”
Ally has seen some players come and go during his time at Bolton and, when questioned about his favourite character, two spring to mind.
"Ivan Campo sticks in your head. He is so funny. If there was something wrong with his kit or something missing he would pretend to shout at you. But it was just banter. It was brilliant to work with him and he was a great player as well, he won the Champions’ League with Real Madrid didn’t he? I think to have players like that and to get on with him as well as I get on with Ivan was brilliant.
“I also worked with Nicolas Anelka too, he was brilliant. Everybody goes on about how he moans he doesn’t. He came, he trained, he scored goals and he was fine. He got on with the lads and with the manager. I think he’s the best player that we have ever had here. He was quiet but he did have a laugh and a joke. I think he was even better with the young lads; he helped them and was a role model for them. If you can’t look up to Anelka then who can you look up to?”
In his role as kit man, Ally has to be as organised as possible and explains his pre-match ritual in detail.
“I set the gear out on a Friday, whether home or away. So a Saturday morning I come in, put the kettle on, that’s always the first job. Then we get changed, but because we have got everything done on the Friday there’s not that much to do.
“We just get here, double-check everything and make sure that everything is out. Then we will have a chat with the away kit man when he arrives; I have a good relationship with most of them. The lads arrive about 1pm so we will go in there and make sure that they have got everything, then it’s just playing the waiting game until kick-off.
"Once kick-off arrives, I’m a Bolton fan so I love the game and always want us to win. I’m rubbish; I’ll be sat on the bench on the edge of my seat and the gaffer’s always turning round to me and laughing. When we score I’m sprinting about! But we don’t have a routine as such. We just come, make sure that everything is out, do our job and that’s it, away we go.”
But Ally is relatively strict when it comes to players giving their shirts away at the end of a game.
“I do get annoyed, I can’t lie, especially those players that haven’t played. I can never understand that. If you haven’t played a game, you have been sat on the bench and you give your shirt away. If they tell you then you don’t mind, it’s when you come to the next week and you’re going through everything, if the players got two shirts missing. We call them the shirt monsters here! The foreign lads are worst for it. We must go through about 600 shirts a year no problem. That’s nothing compared to Chelsea and Liverpool, I think they go through about 3000.”
The role of kit man within a football club is often overlooked and taken for granted. But Ally gets to work every day for the football team he loves and supports, but he is quick to be modest and plays the importance of his role down.
“People say that it’s a massive job but I don’t see it. There’s a job there to be done. If you do it, you’re organised, you plan ahead of yourself, then I think that it is fairly simple. Yes there is long hours, you travel away from home. But Liverpool didn’t have a kit man until eight years ago so it’s not an essential role. Footballers still come and go. If you’re away from home there’s added pressure. Even when you go through the checklists, you have to have everything with you. It’s pressure, but the pleasure of working for the team you support makes every bit of it worthwhile.”