Making sure the oldest members of the Wolves Academy playing staff are fully kitted out and prepared for every time they step out onto the pitch is the job of kitman Barry Piper.
The former England employee, who has worked with the national teams’ youth stars, has the hectic job of providing the under-23s and under-18 players with everything they need to wear before each training session and match.
“We get in at seven o’clock in the morning and the first hour-and-a-half is quite relaxed while we prepare each set of kit for the players,” Barry said. “But from 8.30am it gets pretty hectic because we have to deal with any problems which may arise or issues the players have.
“That usually includes times when boots have split, they’ve lost studs, asking us to swap their boots out, or if it’s cold they’ll ask if we’ve got any more gloves or base layers.
“Many of the problems we encounter usually surround socks. They’re always complaining about socks. They have their left and right socks, so you have to pair them up and if they come back with two left or two right you have to try and find a match which can be a nightmare.
“Each player has about five pieces of kit, so that’s about 120 pieces between the under-23 players that we have to keep on top of. They will each have a jumper, a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, a pair of socks, some will have three-quarter trousers, some have their own base layers, hats, gloves, GPS vests, and if there’s been bad weather we’ll have wet coats to deal with.
“To stay on top of hundreds of pieces of kit I go through each set methodically. It’s all about being prepared and being structured in this job. If you don’t have structure, you’ll end up getting behind and then you’re forever chasing your tail.”
One of the biggest problems a kitman can encounter is the weather. Different conditions mean different types of kit need to be ready in case of an emergency.
Barry explained: “I’m always looking for what the next problem might be, and weather is the biggest factor that can impact my job massively.
“Each morning I check the forecast and if it’s going to rain they need raincoats, so I’m preparing myself for whatever the situation is. If they have gym in the afternoon, if it’s chucking it down, I need to make sure I have a second kit ready for them to put on.
“When it’s freezing cold or snowing they want everything. I tell them if they’re cold they should run around and work harder – they’ll soon get warm!
“When it’s matchday we have to prepare for everything. We travel all over the country and it might be sunny here but blizzards when you get there, so you’ve always got to try and be one step ahead. You have to prepare for the worst-case scenario, because if you don’t, you’ll get caught out.”
Although his friends might believe he has the “best job in the world”, Barry, who was a lorry driver before he started working for the national team in 2012, says people don’t understand the commitment it takes to do the job.
“I didn’t realise before I took on this job that the world of football is completely different than you think it is as a fan,” he added. “I tell people that it’s not Monday to Friday, nine to five, it’s a seven-day operation, and some days – usually matchdays – can be a very long.
“Last Monday we were playing Hull away from home and left the training ground at about 9.30am. I didn’t get home till about 1.30am – a 19-hour day just for 90 minutes.
“It’s something you have to bear in mind when you become a kitman. You will miss birthdays, you will miss weddings, you will miss funerals, you will miss Father’s Day. People think we just turn up on a Saturday afternoon and give the players their kit, but it’s not like that.
“The sacrifices we have to make as football staff – and that goes across the range of roles within the club – is unbelievable to what fans actually think.
“But I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
This article first appeared in the Wolves versus West Ham United matchday programme, which is available around Molineux on matchdays for just £3.50, and also featured content with Adama Traore, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Lee Naylor. Back issues are available in the Molineux Megastore and online now.