On International Women's Day, we are sharing Saturday's 'behind-the-scenes' Grove Street interview with one of our leading women here at Oakwell.
In what are still quite extraordinary times for all of us as we deal with the day-to-day demands of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s quite fitting that immediately after a COVID test we are perfectly positioned to do this week’s big interview with one of our amazing staff members working tirelessly away from the spotlight here at Oakwell.
First Team Physiotherapist Vikki Stevens is approaching a decade now at the club, closing in on that testimonial year!
But this wasn’t the career she’d originally set out on, as she explains as we sit down for a chat, socially-distanced here in the North Stand.
“I started working here in 2012 as an intern initially.” Says Vikki, who has just finished another round of COVID testing.
“I’d just finished university and I came in as Sedgy’s (Craig Sedgwick - Head Physio) intern, basically for one season. Alongside that I was doing some evenings and weekends in the Academy, and I was also working as a newly-qualified physio at the Children’s Hospital in Sheffield.
“And that’s pretty much the reason I got into it in the first place. But then I couldn’t work at the hospital because I’d ruptured the ligaments in my knee, and I got the internship here to keep me ticking over.
“But yeah, I came here to keep my hands in physio work while I was injured and unable to work in the NHS and ended up stumbling into it I suppose and deciding I wanted to stay here in football.”
Before her injury and getting into physiotherapy, Vikki was a very decent footballer for Doncaster Belles, and we asked her if she looked at how far the women’s game has progressed in recent years and regretted not being able to be a part of that growth.
“No, things happen for a reason I believe. I enjoyed playing football but at that time there wasn’t really any money in the women’s game.
“And at the same time, it seemed like it was everything to me at that time, to be playing the game I loved at such a high level but looking back now, I’m actually glad I’m in the job that I’m in and I don’t think I’d have enjoyed the life of being a full-time footballer.”
Having known her for the past five years, this interviewer knows she made the right decision. Stevens is one of those people who lives for her job, it’s everything to her.
But she’s had plenty out of it too.
During her time at Oakwell she’s had the pleasure of the 2012/13 Great Escape at Huddersfield, two promotions, a JPT win at Wembley and the madness that was last season which culminated in an even greater escape!
“I’ve had some great experiences here.” She says, smiling.
“Sometimes you might have a little whinge here and there if you’re tired or about the amount of hours you work that are so unsociable, I get that but, I enjoy my job so much.
“Some of the highs and the experiences I’ve had, you just wouldn’t get that in another job.
“And I’ve shared these moments with lots of different people as staff and players come and go, but you always get on with each other and you’re making memories along the way.
“We all work together towards the same goal and Barnsley FC has this great habit of employing really nice people as its staff!”
One of the nicest members of staff at the club has been here even longer than Vikki, and that’s her partner in crime, Craig Sedgwick. Our Head Physio has been the perfect role model for Stevens and she can’t praise him enough.
For the media team, Sedgy and Vik go together like salt and pepper. They’re a proper partnership and beyond that, they’re great friends regardless. And as in any walk of life, if you get to work alongside your mates, you can’t complain.
Vikki agrees, saying: “I love him! He’s great. He is my best mate at work and I wouldn’t be in the position I am right now if it wasn’t for Sedgy, he’s taught me everything that I know, pretty much.
“He also gives me the space and the grounds to just keep on excelling and improving in this environment. I would be lost without him, I really enjoy working alongside him.
“Coming into work and working alongside your friends isn’t really work at all, is it?”
It’s not always easy in football though, whatever your role at the club.
In September of 2018 one of our long-term volunteers on matchdays, Steve Croft collapsed at Oakwell right before the start of our fixture with Burton Albion. He had suffered a heart attack and thanks to the rapid response of medical professionals in situ that afternoon, including Vikki and Craig, he is still with us today.
That was indeed a very tough time for those of us at the club, to see that happen to someone you know.
“That wasn’t a nice day whatsoever, it was such an awful experience.” Stevens told us, shaking her head.
“I remember that I was going away for the weekend after that game and I was driving for like four hours or so and you know, you’re just staring and just thinking, replaying the events and you can’t get your head around what’s just happened.
“But to see a group of medical professionals pull together like that and save a life, it was just phenomenal, amazing to see and just shows what all the training that you go through, what it can actually achieve.
“And obviously, it’s nice now to be able to see Steve around the place and still be a big part of the club.”
Naturally, it’s footballers that Vikki and any physios are there to care for. The incident with Steve Croft was extraordinary. And in her years with the club she has had to be quickly on hand to deal with a number of distressing injuries, with one in particular standing out.
When the Reds met Gillingham away from home a couple of years ago, Kieffer Moore was involved in a very serious head clash and Vikki was first on the scene.
That was something she used to have anxiety about - the fear of the unknown once reaching a player.
“One of the major ones for me was dealing with a concussion and skull fracture.” She explains.
“That was quite a scary one because you could see and hear it happening at the time.
“What you get taught is pretty much a rule book which you follow very clinically step by step, it’s all there in your head, you know what needs to be done and you’ve got the support of the paramedics.
“But being first on the scene was something that used to scare me a lot, and in fairness it still does do a little bit now.
“In this job, at every game you are just sat there waiting for something to happen.
“After games people will ask me about the game, my opinion on the performance or whatever and I’m like I have no idea, because I’m not watching the game. I’m just watching for players getting hurt all the time.
“It can be hard to enjoy games as such, just because you’re waiting for something bad to happen, but that’s the job of a physio.
“I’m not as anxious now as I used to be though. Sedgy lets us take it in turns to run on and treat a player so it’s given me more and more experience and you are learning all the time.”
During a pre-season training camp at St. George’s Park last summer, Reds defender Ben Williams ruptured his ACL, an injury that would rule him out for the entirety of this 20/21 campaign.
Situations like that can be very tricky for our physios to deal with.
As Vikki tells us, the relationships you forge when working in football make it harder at times when bad things happen, and having to explain to a young footballer that they’ve suffered an horrendous, season-ending injury isn’t pleasant at all.
“That’s one of the real downsides to the role really. We see lots of ACL ruptures, lots of concussions, some bad injuries. But it still hits us on an emotional level when it happens.
“When you’re assessing a player and you realise they’ve got a really bad injury, it’s hard, you know?
“And breaking that news to them, it does get to you because you feel for them, you know these people very well and how much it means to them. To tell a player they’re likely to be out of action for nine months or whatever is heartbreaking.
“Then during the rehab process you get up days and down days and you’re with that player every day so it can be really tough, quite testing emotionally for you and the player.
“But Ben is doing really well, he’s coming along nicely.
“We’ve been fortunate this season not to have too many bad injuries and long may that be the case.”
We believe we are now up to eight different managers/coaches that Stevens will have worked under in her time at Barnsley FC.
But what does she make of the man currently in the Oakwell hot seat?
“The gaffer is a really great guy.” Vikki tells us, moving forward in her seat.
“He’s really respectful, very calm-natured. Shows so much respect to all of his staff and his players.
“And he looks like he has a real vision and wants to achieve it.
“I think we all have a really good relationship with him, he’s just a really nice guy. Like, it doesn’t matter if you’re a physio, a cleaner, media, whatever, he’s just exactly the same man and treats everyone equally and I think that’s really impressive.
“Win lose or draw, the gaffer comes up to all of his staff before anyone else and he thanks each and every one. It’s a level playing field. We are all here working for Barnsley FC and he gets that completely.”
The media team can back that up. The gaffer has been an absolute dream to work with this season and has really sought to create a fully inclusive environment where everyone counts, everyone together for the greater good.
And the atmosphere around Oakwell is special right now, obviously aided by the impressive on-pitch performances of the players in this season’s Sky Bet Championship.
Vikki believes that the club has offered people hope and a purpose during what has been a truly unprecedented 12 months or so.
“The atmosphere around the club is great. Even if we get the odd loss or a draw even, the mood doesn’t change like it might have done in previous seasons. Because there’s a real belief here in what everyone is striving for.
“It has been a tough year, for everybody. We all know why.
“I live alone so it can be especially difficult, so I’m really grateful that I’m still working and in the position that I’m in. And who knows what would have happened had we been relegated last season. It’s been a really testing period, but like I say, the feeling at the club is superb and rightly so because a lot of work has gone in to make it that way.”