As we continue to go behind the scenes, this week we shine a light on Chris Lee, one of our Kitmen here at Oakwell!
When did you fall in love with the beautiful game?
At a very young age. Being Barnsley born and bred, my dad used to take me to all the Barnsley FC games when I was little, he even had a custom Toby Tyke door on our old house.
I played football throughout my school days, I played Sunday League football, even in my early 20’s I played for the Barnsley Supporters Team, where we played many other supporters’ teams around England - I really enjoyed it.
Before I worked at Oakwell I was a season ticket holder for many years, with good friends like Gav and Shane who without fail, followed Barnsley home and away, they were great times.
Tell us how you ended up working for Barnsley Football Club.
My old job was driving machinery. I knew a family member of the stadium manager here who recommended the job to me, so I went down for the interview and got the job.
The job was working on the maintenance team. Having the chance to work for your boyhood club was a great opportunity.
How long have you been a kitman?
I've been a kitman now for roughly two and a half years. Having been working on the maintenance team for roughly four years, I heard there was a position to join the kit team. It was an opportunity I wasn't going to miss and I’ve never looked back.
What does a week look like for you and Malcom Mitchell, can you explain the process on matchdays and non-matchdays?
So on a non-match day it's an early start - 7am. Once we arrive, one of us will start prepping the coaching staff’s dressing room, the other will focus on getting the first team dressing room ready. We'll always get someone moaning they've had their socks pinched, then we’ll get the U23’s kit ready, there's the training balls, the bibs etc to sort. Once all that's done it's time for the most important task - breakfast.
When the players go out for training I'll go out with them, just to assist the coaching staff with any equipment, moving nets and knocking a few balls into the top bin. When training is finished I'll clear the pitches of equipment. It can be a nightmare though collecting all the balls in. Once we've chased the Academy lads up to clean their players’ boots we start clearing the dressing room of dirty kit as we don’t want to keep the lovely Elaine waiting in the laundry.
Matchdays at home, same again, it's an early start, so the lads who are involved, we’ll set the match kit out in the main dressing room, the lads who aren’t involved, they'll have training kit set up in the other room. Referees room gets set up, then I usually have a chin wag with the opponent’s kit man until the players start to arrive.
When lads are getting game ready it’s usually hectic for a kitman. During the game you're on the bench if anybody needs anything. After a game it's just about getting all the kit, boots and equipment packed away as soon as possible. For away days, all the kit and equipment is usually packed the day before, so it's always nice to have a well deserved beer in the hotel lobby.
How are the players and coaching staff to work with?
They’re really good. A good set of lads, they love the banter. I have to praise Malcom, he's a really nice bloke, hard working and we work great together. The others such as Vikki, Sedgy, Muz, Pilks, Luke, Jordan, Jack and Nath are a great bunch to work with, all very professional/good at what they do, and always ready to have a laugh and a joke and I would do what I can to help any of them out.
Tell us about the last few years, the relegation, then the promotion - the high and lows.
So my first season as a kitman was the relegation season of 2017/18. As a fan, you’re gutted to see them go down but when you're involved it hurts a lot more. The following season where we got promoted was unbelievable, the squad was brilliant, the atmosphere after each game, the vibe around Oakwell was quality. I remember sitting at home, Tuesday night watching the results, and as soon as the final whistle went, I went to meet the others to celebrate. I did miss the last game and the official celebrations at Bristol as I was celebrating the birth of my beautiful daughter.
How are your colleagues, what's it like working at Oakwell?
So, having worked on maintenance and now as kitman I've got to know a lot of people from all departments across Oakwell, so I've built up good relationships with the office lads, the maintenance lads and the grounds staff. You learn different things every day from them.
Any funny stories?
There's the one where I kicked a ball in my own face which made Sky Sports news (Walsall away last season) but for me it has to be when I got my head shaved in thedressing room. I tried for a long time to grow my hair long enough to cover my receeders,I got hammered for it, so made a deal with the lads - if they win promotion that they can shave it off. So the first day back at club I got called to the dressing room, and Alex Mowatt was stood there with the clippers. He did a good job to be fair.
And finally, how has it been for you and your family during lockdown?
We've been making the most of this difficult time.
I've loved spending more time with the kids, we have been on some crazy bike rides.
I’ve smashed the decorating and DIY projects around the house and I also have a thing for gardening so cracked on with that too. I’m very proud of my garden. But I’ve eaten loads too so I’m actually looking forward to going back to work!