It's back to the treatment room as we continue our feature that shines a light behind the scenes, as we catch up with First Team Physiotherapist Vikki Stevens!
Tell us about the beautiful game – when did you fall in love with football?
I’ve been involved in football for as long as I can remember really. I was a little tomboy growing up (I have my cousins to thank for that), playing football on the park with all the boys from the estate. Well, they used to stick me in goal to start with, but I soon learnt how to hold my own. I played for a boys team until I was about 11, then moved to Doncaster Rovers Belles and Leeds Utd Centre of Excellence. That’s how girls football used to be structured; you would have a club team as well as an academy team. I then eventually ended up being part of the first team squad at Doncaster, playing in the Women’s Premier League from 15 years of age.
Tell us more about your days as a footballer, and your thoughts on the growth of the female game over the last few years.
Playing for a living wasn’t really an option for me back then like it is now for female footballers, which is why I took the physio route initially. I really enjoyed competing at the top level in England; playing in the League Cup Final against Arsenal on TV was a great experience. It wasn’t so fun chasing Kelly Smith for 90 minutes though, unfortunately for me…she was another level! I used to juggle playing with college and part-time work, as we would only receive bonuses and travel expenses really, so when I finished college at 20, I decided to apply to university. Quite a few of the girls I used to play with and against when I was at Doncaster are now professional, which has been a massive step for the women’s game and it’s great to see them doing so well on an international stage too.
When did you realise Physiotherapy was what you’d like to do?
A typical physio story really…I ruptured my knee ligaments when I was 18. I got back playing at the same level but I really enjoyed the rehabilitation and decided it was something I’d like to pursue as a career path. I never really saw myself as a sports physio to be honest as I’d spent a few years working at Sheffield Childrens Hospital as a physio assistant, which I really enjoyed. But after qualifying I injured my other knee playing for a team out in Canada which needed surgery, so I was unable to work in the NHS as planned. That’s when I applied for an internship working with Sedgy (Craig Sedgwick) and the first team squad back in 2012. I also spent some time at AFC Bournemouth working in the academy setup there but came back to Barnsley in 2014 where I’ve progressed from the academy to first team since.
So you’ve been here at the club for quite a while now – lots of highs and lows?
Yeah, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster really. Obviously, the two promotions I have been lucky enough to be involved in were massive highs. Last season was a great success from the start - the squad were phenomenal all season and it was amazing to see the hard work pay off. The 2016 promotion is also one I’ll never forget, being rock bottom at Christmas, to then be going to Wembley twice and winning the play-off final was just sensational. We had some great parties that summer! The relegation escape at Huddersfield was also something to remember. The entire crowd chanting ‘Yorkshire’ while Luke Steele just dribbled the ball up and down in his box until the final whistle blew was surreal.
Who are some of the best people you’ve worked with at the club over those years?
I’ve experienced a real mixture of personalities since I’ve been at the club. Joining as an intern, fresh out of university, with the 2012/13 squad under Keith Hill and Flicker was a real eye opener for me…there were some characters in that bunch to say the least.
I loved my time with Ronnie (Branson) and Bunny (Mark Burton) in the Academy setup, they were thick as thieves and wound me up for fun on a daily basis, but I couldn’t ask for better academy coaches to work with. Again, 2015/16 was a special year for me, it was my first season working with the first team properly. Hecky (Paul Heckingbottom) and the rest of the first team staff were a phenomenal group to be amongst, both personally and professionally and I was lucky enough to be able to learn from them. I also love working closely with the backroom staff here; the kitmen (Malcom and Chris), laundry girls (Elaine and Sandra) and cleaning crew are the ones I see a lot about the place. They work so hard behind the scenes and literally can’t do enough for you (they’ve usually got a secret biscuit stash for me too).
From the time I started as an intern at the club, Rimmo (Norman Rimmington) was helping out in the laundry bit too. He was a true Barnsley legend and a real character around the place, one that I am forever grateful of having the privilege to know. I think he spent most of his time giving the players grief, but he always did it with a smile on his face because he genuinely lived and breathed Barnsley Football Club. He brightened up my day every time I saw him.
Tell us a little bit about Sedge and the team you’ve got here at Oakwell.
We have a great little medical team; I genuinely love going into work with these guys. I’ve worked with Sedge the best part of eight years now and have him to thank for the level I’ve got to in my career. He’s without a doubt the geek of the group, there’s not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new from him. He’s got terrible banter though and is also forever making us look at his boring excel spreadsheets…but we love him for it. Gav (Walker) used to be one of the part-time physios we had working for us when I was the head academy physio a few years back, so it’s really good to have him alongside us. It’s a great club for promoting within, that’s how I ended up where I am. Gav is also my breakfast buddy, he knows I need my cereal and grumpy silence first thing in the morning; until Sedge disturbs the peace anyway. Tom is fairly new to the department but he’s a great physio and has slotted in really well…I’ve never met anyone that can be so happy at 8am though!
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
In all honesty I’m not really one to set myself timescale goals. If in five years time I’m still as happy in my job and working with genuinely great people then that’s where I hope to be.
Can you tell us some funny stories from behind the scenes?
One of the real perks to working in men’s football is that there’s never a boring day. The players are always up to no good playing pranks on each other. As a staff member you try to keep out of it and just enjoy the entertainment, but somehow I’ve found myself dunked head first into dirty puddles, taped down to chairs and driven home in the rain with condoms on my windscreen wipers before. We get them back though. In December, me and Sedge cut out a BE RED poster of Conor Chaplin and created our own version of ‘elf on a shelf’ each day for him to find when he got into work. It started off as a one off joke, standing his A4 size under the height measure but we ended up staying behind late just to come up with ideas and make props…even Toby Tyke got involved! The staff are just as bad for pranks too though, you have to keep your wits about you, especially when Jack Riley is about. In case you didn’t know, Sedge loves an injury too. He once ruptured his ankle ligaments by snowboarding a sledge down a hill and fell into dog poop. We have a slo-mo video so he’s never living it down.
And finally, how have you been coping during the lockdown?
Erm…like most people I guess! It’s been challenging not seeing family and friends and adapting from living a really busy lifestyle to having more time on my hands than I could ever think possible. I’ve used it to do a lot of DIY around my home though, I’m a dab hand with a drill and paint brush now anyway. I’ve also been running a lot really (hoping to give Gav a run for his money when we return to work). I’ve actually just started the '100k in May' challenge to help raise money for the DarbyRimmer MND foundation. I'm also keeping in touch with staff and players in preparation for when we return to working life.
If you'd like to donate towards Vikki's fundraising, follow THIS link!