HCK interview: Kitman John Eyre

HCK: Hello John. You were with Paul Kerr Associates for a while, then you became City kitman. How did that happen?

JE: It was a bit of luck really. I did a few things after I stopped playing, I sold cars, I did the financial stuff, dealing with players and I was doing alright but there wasn’t really enough business for me. I started working for my friend Shaun Boanas, driving a van for him, and we went to a player of the year do and Ian Dowie was there, he was my manager at Oldham and I had a really good relationship with him. He asked what I was doing and I said not a lot really, driving a white van.

He said well if I get the [permanent City manager’s] job then come and work for me, coaching kids or whatever. He didn’t get the job but I was with Shaun in Marbella and Adam Pearson was out there. I asked what jobs he had and he said we need a kitman, Barry Lowe was retiring and that was that.

I started a week before the lads came back to training. There was a lot to do as adidas were replacing Umbro and this place [kit room at training ground], was just a room full of crap, a bomb site, there was no kit printed up so I was thrown at the deep end.

I love football, I had a dabble with coaching when I stopped playing but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I never set out to be a kitman, but I was lucky that I landed the job and I love the job.

HCK: So what are your day to day activities?    

JE: I usually start about 8 o clock, we wash all of the kit, I have a laundry lady who works 20 hours a week so after training, we get all the kit in the wash, we have two washers and two driers and there‘s about a 3 hour turnaround then we prepare for the next day‘s training. We make sure the lads have everything they need, hats and gloves if it’s cold, and we pump up the balls, get all that ready, that sort of thing, and tidy it all away afterward.

Matchdays are different, we’ll normally start getting stuff ready on Thursday afternoon, we find out what the squad is and make sure everything is ready to go. For home games I get it all set out on the Friday, all the kit is in the [KC Stadium] dressing room then and if there’s anything missing I can sort it on Saturday mornings, and I‘m at the ground from 11.30.

Away games, if we travel on the Friday I’ll sort it Thursday morning, sometimes Wednesday, and I’ll pack it as a complete kit for each player, so the warm up kit, vests, shorts, socks whatever gets wrapped in the shirt and packed with the name visible.

Ideally we’d have one set of home kits for home games and another set for away but the lads all have two shirts each and often they’ll wear two in a match, so you can‘t pack for one game until another game has been played, that‘s why we wore blue at Middlesbrough, with 3 games in a few days. I’m made to use the away kit a certain amount of times a season, I think it’s seven, one of the problems there is nearly every team in this division wears blue or has white shorts, so you can‘t wear it at Leeds or Ipswich or Peterborough and so on. We wore it at Bristol but with a change of shorts.

With the all white away kit last season, there was 15 teams in the division that wore white shorts, so you end up wearing it with black home shorts. We only got to wear all white at Norwich, Watford, oh and at Sheffield United, it got trashed in the battle of Bramall Lane, and it was a nightmare to wash.

Having a blue home goalkeeper kit this season has been a nightmare, kitmen don’t ring me up and ask what our keeper is wearing, they just turn up in blue, I know Ipswich will turn up in blue so I’ve put our keeper in green.

HCK: Do you try to talk to other team’s kitmen ahead of games?

JE: Yeah. Some kitmen are great, West Ham’s rang up and said they wanted to wear their blue away kit for poppy day, he was running short on home shirts as their lads had been swapping them, so he asked us to use the green keeper kit so they could wear blue.

HCK: The alternate shorts sets, did you get them before the season started or after?

JE: Before, because we’d had the problem with the white shorts last year, and they don‘t want the home kit mixing with the away kit. We’ve four sets of shorts now, so we can wear the blue shirt with either white or navy shorts and the home shirt with black or amber shorts if need be. The lads said they like the amber shorts after the win at Derby so they’ve been requesting them, Nick likes the all amber as well. I used the amber socks at Burnley just to save me having to wash a black set in between games, haha. The lads like the brighter coloured set as it makes it easier to pick out a team mate.

HCK: The concept artwork for this years kit had amber socks as the primary socks, why did that change?

JE: I don’t know, it was going to be amber so this years kit isn’t so similar to last, but for some reason it didn’t happen. The lads definitely prefer the amber socks.

HCK: Why white numbers on the amber shorts?

JE: I didn’t want that, I think one of the lads in the shop did that and I think it’s a mistake. I did mention that, I’d have done it differently, but the number on the shirt is white anyway so it doesn’t look so bad to be honest.

HCK: Do you have much contact with adidas?

JE: I’ve had more this season than last, when all their contact was with the club shop. I’d like to get involved even more, I’ve had a little bit of input on this years training kit and a lot on next year’s, I had none on last year’s, that was all done through the club shop. I don’t like the blue warm up gear, it doesn’t go with the kit and for me that’s stupid, next year we‘re going with white warm up gear.

HCK: Was there a set way of doing things when you got here, for example, the way the player names are arched on shirts, and could you change that on a whim?

JE: That’s something the club shop decided before I got here, it‘s all done there. I don’t know how Barry Lowe went about things before me, but Gill in the club shop likes to keep control of things like that and she’s very good at her job and she has the club at heart when she does things. She trusts my judgement a little more now on some things, we get on well and there is  a good relationship.

HCK: Do the League communicate with clubs, give any directives about how things should be done?

JE: Yeah, all sorts of stuff, we got something through yesterday from the Football League about colour clashing.

Many clubs don’t have any interaction about it, whereas we have Bronwyn, the club secretary send out information to whatever club we’re playing about what we’re going to wear, so for away games the club we’re playing know what we’re turning up in.

If the kitman does his homework there shouldn’t be any clashes, it shouldn‘t happen. Maybe for friendlies at non league clubs when you don’t know what they wear and it‘s hard to get hold of someone, at Winterton in the summer, it was my first day back and we turned up with a blue keeper kit and they wear blue and the ref wasn’t happy.

HCK: Is a lot of it dependent on the ref and his view?

JE: Yeah, some refs are quite lenient, others not. At Burnley the ref wouldn’t allow us to use the home keeper kit because it’s blue and Burnley’s shirt has blue arms.

In the Premier League they seem less bothered about shorts being the same colour, Fulham and Arsenal both had white shorts the other day and sometime ago I watched a game, Everton and Manchester City I think, where both teams wore blue shirts and white shorts and I was scratching my head.

We’re not allowed to do that [in the Football League] and we can’t have the same colour socks. I find with a lot of referees it’s about what they can wear, they‘re so concerned about which shirt they can wear.

HCK: You would be too if one of your choices was salmon pink!

JE: Haha, yeah, I think they’ve got three options other than black, the salmon pink, a green and a blue and they seem more concerned with what colour they can use than our keeper kit.

HCK: So refs wouldn’t let us get away with black undershirts so we didn’t have to wear the yellow ones?

JE: That’s an issue we had earlier in the season as we wanted to wear black because we can’t get proper amber undershirts, it‘s been a nightmare. I’ve spoken to three or four refs about it, and because the shirt sleeves are predominantly amber, they won’t let use black which looks much better, yet they’ve no problem with the undershirts being yellow. We use black undershirts for the reserves, but the first team, no, they won’t allow it

When it’s [the shirt sleeves] stripes you can wear either, but because the stripes don’t extend to the arms, we’ve got to go with as close as we can to amber. Next season we’ll have the proper coloured gear from adidas to go with the shirts.

HCK: Do you ever query any of the players kit or equipment habits? Mclean’s undershirt thumbholes, Fryatt’s guard stays, Harper’s rolled down socks, that kind of thing?

JE: Nah, I just let them get on with it. When I was a player you got one extra large shirt, one extra large shorts and that was your lot. Hole in your sock? So what? Players like to be comfortable and if them being so makes them perform that tiny bit better, I’ll go to extremes for them and won’t query it. That’s my job.  It’s not my job to say you can eff off, you’re not having that, what kind of kitman is that?

We’ve got a good set of lads that are low maintenance really. There’s the odd one, like Robbie Koren *chuckles*, he’s the king of Slovenia so he wants everything done *whistles*, he wants different size socks to everyone else, wants special studs in his boots, he doesn’t want creases in his shorts and that’s just Robbie and I love him for it. Aaron [Mclean] has a few quirks but he’s not difficult with it, if we can’t get him something he just shrugs and gets on with it. Some players are so easy, Paul McKenna only has one pair of boots, he just puts his kit on and goes out to play. As for Harper, he’s just scruffy, haha, that’s the way he likes to do things, he likes everything baggy.

HCK: Are squad numbers assigned by the manager or do you have anything to do with it?

JE: I picked this season’s squad numbers, last season I didn’t, it was a big issue with Nige coming in and he wanted players out and others in and there was a lot of transition. This season, it’s been settled and easy, Phil Hough [Football secretary] and I will discuss what numbers we’ll go with when new players come in. Then I can match it up with the training kit, virtually everything has the players number on it, from warm up gear to towels.

Vito [Mannone] has just come in and he wanted number 49 and we tried to get him it, two days after asking the Football League said no, so he’s 28 now. I think 49 has to do with his dad’s year of birth or, I don’t know, I’ve got his gloves here, I’d better get them to him.

HCK: Black armbands, do you source them or do you get sent League approved ones?

JE: I was lucky with that, I found a load of captains armbands, I think Barry Lowe had left them and I stumbled across them in a room at the KC, and when turned inside out they’re black armbands. I say lucky, but you don’t want to have to wear them, like we did for Gary Ablett. You discuss it with the other team to see if they want to wear them and let the ref know we‘re wearing them.

HCK: Blood shirts. How many of those do you have on hand on matchday?

JE: There’s two. The lads all have a spare shirt and I take two others [with no numbers], a medium and a large. If there’s a cut it gets assessed and mend the cut, after it’s stopped bleeding we use a spare shirt. Last season Nick Barmby got a cut and Rushy [Sean Rush] was that eager to get a new shirt on him before they’d fixed the cut and it was ruined, haha.

HCK: What’s the deal with boots? Is there a deal for them to be supplied, or do the players get money to spend?

JE: The lads don’t get money from the club for boots, though they get £350 from the PFA to spend with through Kitbag. They get a really good discount on Nike boots, almost half price which is why there’s been a fair few Nike boots on Ebay.

adidas don’t push anything our way for players, but they do supply the staff with Copa Mundials and flip flops but they don’t send boots for the players.

Most of them have their own boot deals anyway, they have their own sponsors.

HCK: Lastly, what was your favourite City kit when you played?

JE: The 1999/2000 stripes.

21 replies
  1. Andy
    Andy says:

    Great interview. Particularly interesting to read about the practicalities – like washing! – when choosing what kit to wear, and who chooses the squad numbers.

  2. Waywardeffort
    Waywardeffort says:

    A really good read. I was wondering about this bit:

    “I’m made to use the away kit a certain amount of times a season, I think it’s seven”

    Anyone know why there is a rule making teams wear their away kits a certain number of times?

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      The players need to use away and third kits a certain amount of times stipulated by the club and in line with sponsorship. Fans don’t want to buy a kit and never see the first team wear it, sponsors don’t want to put their name on a jersey for it never to be used.

  3. EricGeneric
    EricGeneric says:

    A fantastic article!

    It’s nice to see John Eyre seems to put a lot of thought into what kit is worn for each match, as judging by some clashes I’ve seen in the past few seasons, it seems a lot of kitmen don’t seem to care that much anymore.

    I’m not sure about the “seven times” thing. I mean, there are a lot of examples of teams having an away, or third kit, and it not being used even once.

    Or, maybe it’s something to with Adidas and Hull. Hull’s home kit this season probably only clashes with two teams – Watford and Blackpool – and maybe Adidas want the kit used more than twice to try and increase sales?

    “Having a blue home goalkeeper kit this season has been a nightmare, kitmen don’t ring me up and ask what our keeper is wearing, they just turn up in blue, I know Ipswich will turn up in blue so I’ve put our keeper in green.”

    That seems a bit harsh on Ipswich. The outfield kits always takes precedence over the goalkeeper kits. It’s common practice for the home goalkeeper to change, if he’s wearing the same colour as the away team’s outfield kit.

  4. Denis Hurley
    Denis Hurley says:

    I don’t think there’s any rule – in fact I think there’s a rule limiting the number of times a change kit can be worn – but I’d imagine that the manufacturers would want the away kit showcased

  5. EricGeneric
    EricGeneric says:

    @Denis Hurley

    “– in fact I think there’s a rule limiting the number of times a change kit can be worn –”

    I also don’t think that is true, either. It’s something I’ve heard before aswell, but, and I may be wrong, I seem to remember Manchester City wearing a change kit in almost every away game during 05-06.

    I think Portsmouth did the same thing, the season before also…

  6. Andy
    Andy says:

    I bet Johnny Eyre was scratching his head watching the Swansea-Arsenal game yesterday: Swansea in all white, Arsenal with white sleeves and white shorts. Almost indistinguishable from the side.

  7. EricGeneric
    EricGeneric says:

    I was surprised to hear Alan Smith mention that “it is strange seeing both teams in the same colour shorts” – as we’ve seen that a million teams in the last few years.

    I think Arsenal should have just wore their blue away kit. It’s not like Arsenal haven’t regularly switched to a change kit at the drop of a hat in the past.

    It’s funny how many problems Arsenal have caused with their kit choices over the years, yet they strangely have this reputation as being a team with a great kit tradition.

    The worse one I can think of is when they wore their home kit against Aston Villa at Villa Park in 96-97. http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/ian-wright-of-arsenal-gets-to-the-ball-ahead-of-ugo-ehiogu-news-photo/1252230

    Why on earth didn’t they just wear their yellow and navy blue away kit?

  8. Denis Hurley
    Denis Hurley says:

    Eric, the oddest thing is that Arsenal wore their home at Villa Park in the league in 1995-96, but later that season used a little-worn yellow third kit in the Coca-Cola Cup semi-final.

    Home kit was worn away to West Ham too around that period, but Manchester United did the same in 1995-96

  9. kelvin luxton
    kelvin luxton says:

    what a good article , have gone through more then once, I was kitman for Southend Utd FC up until sept last year ,looking to get back there really soon . so many thing I can relate too on the way the players are and habits but my biggest bug bear was when the players cut brand new socks , and now the sock tape has got to be the same colour as the sock . keep up the good work .

  10. eddie amies
    eddie amies says:

    I was the courier driver for hull when in Dresden pre season training.then just after Xmas had a phone call asking to drive kit to Portugal as training ground frozen .spent a week in sunny Algarve while team trained hard in sun lol.couldn’t have asked for a friendly gang Staff and players.had to stop long distance as had a accident in Germany two years ago .broken back 3 weeks in Germany’s army hospital in Koblenz.two,operations a titanium vertebra and back working full-time in months of returning to uk .


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