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Lairy boots, lucky pants and why being a kit man is ‘not just about turning up at 2pm on a Saturday’

02 Jul | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Lairy boots, lucky pants and why being a kit man is ‘not just about turning up at 2pm on a Saturday’

We spoke to West Ham assistant kit man James 'Jamo' Saban about the little-known day-to-day of a Premier League kit man

Hi Jamo, tell us about your role at West Ham and what are you doing in Ireland?

I am one of the kitmen at the club. I came here when I was 21. I’m just coming up to 30 now – there’s been a few changes in that time! I started off in the academy with Tony Carr, mainly working with the under-18s and worked myself up to the 21s and the first team squad, doing more with them day-to-day.

It’s not just turning up at 2 o’clock on a Saturday. There’s far more to the job than meets the eye. A lot of prep goes into it. We’re in at 6am at Chadwell Heath every morning – ready for the boys, who normally arrive at about 9am – and are there till gone 4 or 5pm. Then, on Saturdays, we’re wherever we are playing.

We just took delivery of the new Umbro kit and have been with the Europa League squad out here in Ireland. Me and Will, the masseuse, drove out a day before the players flew in to get everything ready.

The stuff fills a big Transit – we’ve got all the kit for training, all the footballs, there’s poles, mannequins, massage beds, medical and sports science kit, GPS units – everything the players need.  

So, what’s a typical day like during the season?

Very hectic. Very busy. I come in on a Monday. On Sunday my boss [kit manager Pete Williams] is in, he likes to get the match kit turned around straightaway, washed and to check if we’ve lost anything because the boys have swapped a couple of shirts – and sort the training gear. We need to get everything printed up and labelled up.

We need to make sure they are happy with everything, like if they need any boots ordered, because they might have split one in a game on the Saturday. Then it’s a case of liaising with the manufacturers. Or you get some boys who like a new pair every couple of games to keep them tight.

On a match day the home kit is stored at the stadium. Once it’s washed on a Sunday it goes back over on Monday or Tuesday. There will be a count up to make sure everything is ready and there’s plenty of stock. We look two weeks ahead – we try to cater for four shirts for each player, all printed up, which will cover us for two games at any time.

We normally know the squad by a Thursday so there’s time to get it ready – we know what we’re looking at, but we can cater for extras, say some of the boys on the fringes who could get thrown in at the last minute. You always try to think what they [the management] are thinking.

Talking of boots, how many does a typical player have – and who’s got the lairiest?

They’ve all got the lairiest! It’s a competition now, to out-do each other. Pink’s rocked up, there’s reds, there’s oranges, there’s yellows!

I’d say Aaron Cresswell has the best boots. He likes a variety of boots, Aaron. He likes different boots to train in and has a couple of studs and a couple of moulds.

For a game, they normally pack two studs and a mould. Goalkeepers and defenders are different – they tend to stay on the stud for the fact that if they do lose their footing the stud is there for them. The goalies that I’ve come across always wear a stud.

In pre-season, in this sort of weather, most players will probably wear a mould – there’s not the pressure of a competitive game. Some of the boys only wear a mould because they feel comfortable in that. Before a game they go out and check the pitch and decide what to wear.

Sometimes during the week they’ll come up say ‘can you put a different size stud in my boot?’ – Winston [Reid] will come in and, once the weather starts changing, he’ll go to a longer stud.

They don’t get new boots every week, just when they need to be replaced. You’ve got Diafra Sakho who’s happy to wear a stud all the time and probably wears a pair for two or three months.

Unless the colours have changed – then they get new ones! If they are playing well then they normally want to stay in the older boots. To be fair, they’re quite low maintenance, the boys. As long as you talk to them, see what they want.

And how about the shirts, do they get new ones every game and do you always take all three strips?

No, they don’t get a new one every game – unless they swap them. We monitor it. If they are swapping them too much we pull them and have a word, like Mo Diame a couple of years back – he was doing it and hiding them in his locker!

Nowadays the colours are all done beforehand. It’s all dealt with. Andrew Pincher, the secretary liaises with the Premier League. We get a print out of the colours they’re in, we’re in, and it’s all been OK’d in advance so we take that with us in case there’s any problems with the referee.

So we don’t need to take all the kits – it’s just as well or there would be a trailer on the back of the van! As it is we have about five or six tins, they’re like a big wheelie bins.

You have to cater for things like the sub coats, warm-up wear for the boys, towels after the games. Loads of towels. What you get now is the boys dry themselves off completely after the warm up and at half time. Some of them even change at half-time – a completely new kit. Each player’s different. It’s a case of being there for them if they need anything.

Footballers can be very superstitious. Are there any interesting ones among the current or recent West Ham players?

You normally get ones who go out last, or get changed last. They all get ready very differently – someone like Alex Song is very laid back, very relaxed – but there’s not so many superstitions.

There might be one person who puts his right boot on first. Some of the boys like to have certain slips – their underwear – say Morgan [Amalfitano], who always has to train and play in his own boxers. He needs them, so we’ll cater for him. Little things like that. For us, it’s a case of remembering to take them to a game on a Saturday when they’re training on a Friday.

Finally, you’ve seen plenty of West Ham kits in your time at the club – which are your top three?

I like the kit we got promoted back to the Premier League in a couple of years back because it brings back good memories. And I also like the first year of the Adidas kit. The one now with Umbro is very smart. Seeing the boys walking around in it, it looks nice, it looks traditional. The fans seem to have taken to it. It’s the last one at the Boleyn – the fans love that – it’s got the commemorative crest. It’s special.