Dive into the world of a non-league kit man. Matchdays are a whirlwind of pre-match preparation, post-game clean up, and everything in between. It’s a job that flies under the radar but ensures everything runs smoothly behind the scenes. 

It’s a Saturday afternoon and the rain has just started to crash down onto an already sub-par pitch.

The fourth official raises his board – three minutes of added agony.

With the score locked at 2-2, a nervous tension hangs heavy in the air.

Then, a moment of magic – the veteran midfielder unleashes a screamer into the top corner, sending the concourse into hysterics. The players erupt, forming a joyous mud-caked bundle at the corner flag.

#A pristine kit, moments ago, is now a casualty of the celebratory mudslide. As the euphoria spills into the dressing room, the kit man has a washing machine to appease. With dirty laundry piled high, he prepares to wrestle the dirt away – the quiet champion amid the celebratory carnage. 

Day in the Life 

A matchday can be a marathon for everyone – players, managers and even those diehard fans who travel the distance to support their favourite teams. However, the dedication of the unsung heroes behind the scenes often goes unnoticed.

For Aaron Smith, the kit man at Herne Bay Football Club, a Saturday pre-match buzz isn’t just about excitement, it’s a call for action. 

A typical matchday for Aaron starts at a civilised 10am, fueled by a greasy breakfast at the local cafe – an ideal way to kick off a football morning.

Winch’s Field on the south coast comes alive on matchdays, and Aaron is one of the first through the doors. He exchanges greetings with familiar faces, including the kitchen staff prepping for the onslaught of ravenous fans craving their matchday ritual of burger and chips.

Next up, the crucial tasks. Pumping up the balls and filling the water bottles to the brim, ready to keep the players hydrated. Once the rest of the team arrive, Aaron adopts a pastoral role in the dressing room.

He chats with the players, ensuring everyone is fired up and ready to win. As a former striker himself, he has a special pep talk reserved for the goal scorers. He said: “I like to talk to the strikers and tell them they are going to score today. I’ve got to make sure they believe it.” 

After the final whistle, he shows his appreciation to the fans with a round of applause to all corners of the ground. Once everyone has cleared out, Aaron tackles the mountain of laundry, cleans both home and away changing rooms and deals with the  ‘aromatic’ delights of bin duty. 

“I keep going until it is completely tidy,” he says. “Then I chill out doing the washing and make sure everything is washed, dried and put away. I tend to arrive back home around 10:30.”

A 12 hour shift from the kit man and one that goes completely unnoticed by hundreds, if not thousands in the stands. Charlie Stewart, a Banbury United supporter, highlights how a club’s most dedicated fans are the only ones who truly appreciate what goes on behind the scenes.

He said: “I feel when you are fully invested in a club, the importance of a kit man becomes clearer. You can see that they are the bond of a team and play the mate role to all the players.

Football is more than just 22 men running around a football pitch. Especially in non-league, the sense of community and friendship in and around a club is crucial to a team’s success.” 

With all the jobs and responsibility on a kit man’s shoulders, surely some things go wrong? Well, in Aaron’s case, it wasn’t all plain sailing.

“One away game on a Tuesday that was an hour and a half away, I somehow forgot the match shirts,” he recalls. “I opened the bag when I arrived and knew instantly I forgot them.”

For a kit man, leaving the matchday shirts back at home is like a chef forgetting the main course. It’s a disaster that could mean a wasted trip – or worse, a postponed match.  

However, luck was on Aaron’s side.

“Thankfully the media manager hadn’t left so he and a friend were able to grab them for me and they arrived just five minutes before kick off.”

A moment of lapse in concentration which nearly led to a disaster. Aaron’s experience highlights the pressure a kit man faces – it’s a constant juggling act, and even a minor slip-up can have significant consequences.

Building Bonds

A successful football club thrives on a sense of togetherness, both on and off the pitch. While a 12-hour shift showcases their dedication, it’s the interactions within those hours that truly emphasise the importance of a kit man.

They are the friendly faces that players can rely on for a chat about anything beyond football. Think of them as therapists disguised in tracksuits.  

Despite being the butt of the jokes around the dressing room, Aaron admits he loves the bond he has with the players.

He said: “I love being in and around the changing room, talking about life and football. It’s great having a laugh with the players. A kit man usually takes a lot of the stick and banter, but the players love it when I get involved and have a joke with them. Our relationship is really special.”

The role of a kit man extends beyond fostering a positive atmosphere within the dressing room. They also need to develop a personal relationship with the man in the office – the gaffer. It goes without saying that a manager desires a kit man they trust and connect with.  

Steve O’Boyle, Manager of Phoenix Sports FC, holds the club’s kit man in high regard.

He said: “Our kit man loves the club and, once the game kicks off, he stands behind the goal singing and cheering us on. He goes above and beyond. We have a great relationship and have a lot in common. Our players are spoiled rotten with him. He is a massive part of our club.

“Everyone loves him and I can honestly say in my 19 years as a manager, he is by far the best I’ve had.” 

At Herne Bay, Aaron has made several friendships through his kit man duties. He particularly cherishes his bond with goalkeeper Jordan Perrin.

“He [Jordan] has become my best mate. He started uploading to YouTube a couple of years ago so I’ve started to help him out with his videos. If I never had this job, I would have never met him,” Aaron says.

Being a non-league kit man comes with its rewards, despite the hard work.

Bumping into famous faces within the grassroots scene has become a common theme for Aaron while working at Herne Bay. He said: “I’ve been extremely lucky enough to work with some big names in non league.”

One experience, however, stands out to him. “I worked with Big G and it was an experience I will never forget. He broke his collarbone and I sat in the physio room with him during the game while we waited for the ambulance.”

The friendships forged by kit men are a reminder that football is all about community.  Togetherness makes for better communication and boosted morale which ultimately leads to a stronger team on the pitch. 

A Round of Applause

“There is a big misconception about kit men. People assume all we do is hang up the kit and wash it, but us kit men do so much more,” says Aaron.

This deep dive into the life of a non-league kit man isn’t just about laundry woes and muddy kits. It provides a glimpse into the untold stories that filter throughout the non-league pyramid. 

Supporters rarely get a vision of what goes on inside a football club bar the 90 minutes they see on the football pitch.

As Banbury United supporter Charlie Stewart puts it: “Every time we speak about football, whether that be with family or friends, it is normally all centred around the players and maybe sometimes the manager. The backroom staff have a tendency to be ignored and I hope this changes.”

Aaron’s story isn’t unique, but it’s a testament to the countless kitmen across the country who act as the unsung hero on the sidelines.

The next time you’re standing in the concourse (or sitting if you’re lucky enough), spare a thought for the inconspicuous figure on the side lines.

The kit men are more than just a glorified washing machine operator; they are the emotional rock and the logistical mastermind behind a football club.  

These are the kit men, the glue that binds non-league football together.