In a world where the Barclays Premier League is a haven for multi-million pound footballers and household names such as Rooney, Drogba, Van Persie and Tate, little (if any) mention is given to the behind the scenes heroes at every club – the kitman or kitlady.
So step forward Michael Eames, not only Swansea City’s kitman but the best kitman in the Premier League by a football pitch or two.
Contrary to what many people think – ‘Eamesy’ as he’s known to everyone at the club – has been in the Swansea City family since the tender age of 8.
Initially plying his trade as a goalkeeper with the Swans junior teams, he later became a free-scoring centre midfielder, which caught the attention of Welsh Premiership side Llanelli.
However, after a season long spell at Llanelli things hadn’t worked out as he’d hoped and at the age of 14, Michael returned to the Swans before eventually moving into coaching through the club’s Football in the Community scheme.
During the summer of 2011, he had an offer to become assistant kitman (or rather kitlady) which was too good to refuse, and he jumped at the chance to work alongside his Mam – Suzanne – in the Swans backroom team.
Nowadays, when not helping with the Swansea team kit, he can be found playing the odd game of football for Swansea local league side Brunswick United – whom he played for in last year’s West Wales Cup Final.
I caught up with ‘Eamesy’ at Swansea’s training ground in Llandarcy and asked him a few questions about his job and some other bits and bobs…
Q1: How and when did you start being a kitman with the Swans?
Well, the adventure began really with the pre-season tour to Austria when my Mam and I had to drive the kit bus all the way over there.
Unfortunately we arrived too late at the hotel complex where the team were staying and ended up sleeping in the van! I did the gentlemanly thing though and let my Mam sleep in the front seats, whilst I slept on the kitbags in the back! Everyone else thought this was hilarious… apart from us.
Austria was also the venue for Michael’s Swans initiation, which took place in a hilltop restaurant high in the snow capped Austria mountains. The initiation involves standing on a chair and singing a song of your choice – the start of which is signalled by the senior players chiming their glasses with cutlery before allowing the victim to proceed with their ‘number’.
Every time we went for something to eat, all of us new guys kept thinking – “is it going to be me today” and when the chiming started up this mountain, I knew it was my turn!
I sang Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ and gave it everything. I think I got a good reception, but to be fair it’s usually the guys who can’t sing that are the most entertaining… as they get the mickey taking out of them the most!
Q2: What’s a typical day in the life of a kit man/lady?
Basically for a normal week, like when there’s a game on a Saturday, I come down to Llandarcy by around 8am – having picked up all the clean kit, etc at the stadium first.
I then have to ensure that all the training kit (shirts, boots, shin pads, hats, gloves, tracksuits, etc) is ready for the players for the start of training at around 10:30am.
As my Mam stays at the stadium to do her daily tasks, she usually phones me a couple of times just to make sure everything is ok and that I haven’t forgotten anything!
I then hang about at training helping with bits and bobs – which includes getting the ball from the undergrowth after some wayward shooting – until after training. It’s then a case of ensuring that all the kit is then taken back to the stadium for washing, etc ready for the next day.
Still harbouring hopes of a future role in coaching – and getting his coaching badges – Michael uses the ‘downtime’ during training as an opportunity to watch and learn from the club’s coaching staff.
In Swansea, there’s 2 or 3 of us looking after all of the kit and ensuring that everything runs to plan and goes smoothly. It’s a completely different league to teams like Arsenal or Chelsea, whom have a team of 6-8 kit people working with them all the time. They even have kit ‘teams’ for home and away games!
On a match day – depending on where we’re playing – we usually drive to the ground about 2-3 hours before kick-off to get the playing kit ready, etc. If it’s a long drive like say Newcastle or Norwich, then we drive up with or mini-bus the day before. For places like Wolves, we’d drive up on the morning of the match. We never fly as it costs to much to fly all the kit!
Q3: What are the things you love and hate about the job?
Oww, that’s a tough one…. as there’s nothing to hate about this job! I really love everything about it, it’s like living a dream.
I mean, the Swans are my local team – whom I’ve supported all my life. They’re in the Premier League and I’m doing the kit for Premier League players. What more can I say! It’s just amazing and everyday is different.
I suppose the only downside is when I go home… as my Mam still nags me about having done this or having done that! You don’t tend to get that in a normal day to day job do you, well not unless you’re living with the boss I guess!
Q4: When it comes to the kit, who’s the fussiest Swans player?
In fairness, none of them are fussy as such, they’ve all got their own little routines and because we know them all so well it’s no hassle. It’s just a case of remembering who likes what really.
Someone like Stephen Dobbie for example, likes to wear a long sleeve under-armour top and will only use white sticky tape. Others like to have a ‘mini’ sock underneath their playing sock in order to get a more snug fit when wearing their playing boots.
Craig Beattie on the other hand will cut out the heal on his socks and use them as extra heal padding. They’re all different but no hassle in fairness.
The cutting of the socks can be quite annoying though and slightly worrying at times, as you can be left wondering if you’ve got enough whole socks packed!!
Q5: Do kit men have groupies following them around? If so what or who would your ideal groupie look like?
[Laughs] well we’re usually either arrive too early or too late at the ground to see any of the girls that hang about waiting for the players. Although if there are any still around, we (that’s Eamesy and the sports science lads) make ourselves known to them!
Hmmm, my ideal groupie would definitely be blonde… and there’d be lots of them! And just for the record, I am single at the moment.
Q6: Is the best kit lady in the Premier League going to join Twitter?
I was hoping you’d ask me about this. My Mam has even told me what to say if I was asked about twitter [laughs]. She doesn’t have a clue when it comes to technology, but she admits she’s jealous of the fan club I’ve built up for myself on Twitter in particular.
As she points out though, she is THE BOSS and I am officially only her assistant, although I am solely responsible for the Swans reserve team kit.
I think she’ll be on twitter soon, but I just might have to help her out a bit…. which could be interesting [said with a mischievious smile].
It’s worth noting the Swan’s very own Danny Graham helped Michael setup his twitter account and showed him the ropes during the early stages. Michael also jokes about Wayne Routledge having over 49k followers but only managing to ‘recruit’ 40 odd for him!
It also turns out that not only is Danny Graham a dab hand at Twitter, but he’s an ace table tennis player as well. Despite several pretenders to the table tennis throne, no-one as of yet, has managed to beat DG10.
Q7: What makes you the best kit man in the Premier League?
Wow that’s a tough one. I suppose a good starting point is that I’m Swansea’s kitman… well only kitMAN in fact, as my Mam is the boss really and she’s the kitLADY [laughs].
I’m also a dab hand at the crossbar challenge having already taken Gerhard Tremmel and Darnel Situ to the cleaners, and they still both owe me as a result!
Gerhard’s meant to buy me a Nandos, but he’s a bit tight like that despite being on Premier League wages. And as for Darnel, well he’s supposed to sing into his video phone and upload it to YouTube… but I’m still waiting and don’t think I’ll see it to be honest!
However, as you can see from the picture below, Michael did get Darnel to pose with a note stating his claim to crossbar challenge fame.
I reckon I should be on Soccer AM though. They could do a Premier League kitman crossbar challenge or something like that [laughs]
Seriously though, a lot has got to be said for someone who works for their mother every day – I deserve a medal sometimes – and reckon that’s just one of the reasons why I am probably the best kitman in the Premier League.
Whilst interviewing Michael, I bumped into Ashley Williams and Danny Graham whom both commented on Eamesy’s wonderful kit washing abilities.
Ashley did however request that his kit was warmed up prior to training during the winter months, but I suspect this was more to do with winding Michael up than anything else, especially if Michael’s facial expression was anything to go by!
Before finishing off my interview, Eamesy took me to meet a person whom many people locally claim is the ‘Best groundsman in the Premier League’ – Michael Kayes.
Michael (The Groundsman) was very modest as to this grand title, but took great pride in mowing the pitches to perfection and filling in any nasty divots caused by the players.
I did ask if they were mainly caused by Andrea Orlandi practicing his conversions, but I didn’t get a reply. I mean, you must have noticed how all his shots always sail way above the bar a la Johnny Wilkinson? Si señor 🙂
Shortly afterwards it was time to say farewell and thank Michael (The Kitman) for his time and honesty.
It was refreshing to meet such a down to earth young man whom obviously has a passion for his job and takes great pride in the way he goes about it.
He is obviously a well liked member of the Swans backroom staff and it was evident that he has a good rapport with the players.
So if you’re a Swans fan or simply someone who loves football, then start following the Premier League’s Best Kitman – Michael Eames on Twitter and help spread the word about him being the no. 1 kitman.
You never know, you might even win a prize in one of the many competitions he runs – the current one being a chance to win a pair of Danny Graham’s boots.