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The most important man at West Ham you’ve probably never heard of…

23 Jul | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
The most important man at West Ham you’ve probably never heard of…

West Ham's COO Ben Illingworth on organising an away day in Europe and being the man responsible for the smooth running of all operations at the club

Hi Ben. There must be a quite a bit that comes under your role, can you tell us a bit about it?

I’m the Chief Operations Officer at the club, I’ve been here 15 years.

Basically, it is what it says on the tin. I look after everything operationally at the club. I look after the training grounds, the stadium, the health and safety side, everything that happens on a match day, transport. All operational logistics come under me.

There’s a large team of people that help make it all happen, the Safety Officer, the Stadium Manager, the Head Groundsman, Player Liaison and they all report into me.

On a day to day basis I go round to all the training grounds and make sure the management teams have everything they want and that’s it in a nutshell.

For our European adventure here, I’m the senior delegate for the club.

Once the draws happen, I’ll go out before hand and look at two or three hotels and pick the one that the players will be at. Then we’ll go and look at the stadium. We meet all the relevant officials of the team we’re playing, as you have to at the request of UEFA.

That’s usually 2 weeks before the game.

I’ll then do a full report on all aspects of the location and that will go the board and the manager. So he can say “yes / no, we like this / we don’t like that” as he wants.

Then we look at the security of our fans, so we’ll meet with the local police, inform them of how many of ours are coming over and we’ll ask where an appropriate area for them to congregate will be.

I also negotiate how many tickets we’ll get for the match, depending on the stadium. For example, for the Lusitans game, the capacity was only 1,100 and we were very lucky because we’ve got a big fan base and we managed to secure 50%. You normally don’t get anywhere near 50%, but because it’s a small stadium, we were allocated half the ground for that game.

I normally negotiate around 3,000 tickets for our supporters but, again, it depends on the stadium.

So there’s not a standardised, UEFA allocation of away tickets for every game?

It’s all to do with how many we think we’ll take, where the game is, the size of the ground, and then we’ll negotiate.

The decision does always lie with the home team, but I’ll always push for the maximum amount of tickets for our fans because we’ve got such a fantastic following, we’ll take fans anywhere.

With such a large amount under your control, what kind of problems might you face on a European trip?

Everything is pre-organised before the players arrive but yes, problems can arise. I’ll give you an example. The Lusitans trip was particularly tricky because there aren’t many places we’ll go to where we get off the plane and have a 4-hour bus journey ahead of us.

The was particularly hard because we had to make sure the transport was the most conforable for the players, to keep them fresh.

24 hours before we left Stansted, I get an email to say the bus i’d arranged 2 weeks ago to pick the players up had suddenly broken down. So I’d already sorted this out for the team, it had everything we wanted on it, and then 24 hours prior to the trip i find out it’s unusable.

So in that short space of time, I had to find suitable transport for a Premier League football team.

I know it sounds strange, but when you’re putting professionals on a bus for 4 hours straight, it has to be right. If it’s not, it can affect their performance on the pitch.

So there’s an example of hitches that can happen. My job is basically managing little details that make things as easy as possible for the players.

When we get off the plane, I jump straight in a car to make sure I’m at the hotel before they get there. I’ll make sure lunch is ready for as soon as they arrive, and it’s exactly how I ordered it.

Again, it’s things you might consider to be minor details. it could be pretty much the same, but if it’s not exactly how I ordered it i’ll have to make sure it’s changed. These are professional footballers, and they eat strictly.

I have to say ‘no that won’t do, that has to go’. And things that wern’t on the menu I make sure are so when the guys get there and they have it all.

In any other field, say you were doing corporate or business travel for example, you might say ‘it’s fine, it’s nothing major’. But we’ve got to be strict. We have specific needs. It all has to go smoothly.

You play a big role in keeping the players focused on the task at hand then…

Yes, what we try to to do is make everything easy for them. For instance, again when we were in Andorra, there is a rule in the country that you have to have your passport scanned when you get to the hotel.

I don’t want our players standing around in a hotel lobby waiting to do that. So we take their passports off them there, get them scanned and then deliver them back to them.

On a trip like this, I have to make sure the management, the backroom staff and the players only have to concentrate on football. Not concerning themselves with mundane things like getting their passport scanned, where their bags are going to be and all that. I take that off them.

So when they go out on the field, they are as relaxed and ready as possible. Then the rest is up to them!

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