#OnFire – Backroom boys

Unedited version of the article that appeared in February’s #OnFire magazine

***

Getting a team to an away game with everything they need is tricky. That task falls to Steve ‘Smallsey’ Small, Team Manager, and his latest assistant Micky ‘Kempy’ Kemp. Getting the team to Belfast has its own logistical challenges, as Smallsey explained.

“The guys all have to check their own bags in, the biggest problem in weight. We only get to check on bag in per person, to avoid paying more. We have a reciprocal arrangement with Belfast where they provide us with tape and towels – and we do the same – and that’s less weight. If there’s something that’s a bit heavy we share it out, typically the guys kit weighs 17 kilos. The problem with the goalies is their pads have to have a separate bag, so that’s someone’s allowance and we have to try and fit everything in.

We just take the basic toolkit, and then it’s sticks that are a problem. We have to take the glove driers and all the physio stuff. Luckily, we can use the Giants skate sharpener if we need it and we let them use ours. It’s a little bit of juggling and once you’ve done it a couple of times it gets easier. We’ve got our own scale as well, to check the weight before we go, as the airline can get a bit fussy.”
After the game has its own challenges – there’s a team worth of wet kit to dry off ready for the next game. Smallsey continues, “We’ll take heater fans if we can – again, they provide us with a couple of fans. The dressing room in Belfast is big, the best we visit so we can leave kit out to dry for 12 hours. Sometimes it gets locked and we have to leave after the game, so we can’t get back in early in the morning. That means the hotel will give us a drying room, but that gets a bit smelly. For the double header we wear the same jerseys – they dry, they are more sweaty than dirty so it’s not really a problem.”

Of course, travelling by air to games comes with its own challenges. As we all know, airlines are very good at losing baggage. “We had a stick bag not put on the plane in Belfast not so long ago. We’d split the left hand sticks and the right hand sticks and it was the right hand sticks that didn’t turn up until the following day. Fortunately, we have spare ones here so we could still play on the Sunday evening. We’ve had bags rip and get lost. There’s never anyone around at baggage reclaim in Birmingham to help you either – I waited an hour and a half for those sticks to turn up before they said they weren’t coming!”

Micky Kemp is new on the bench this season. He explained, “Smallsey asked me if I’d be interested in doing it. I have to watch him and learn as quickly as possible. I’ve never played hockey, so there are some bits that I have had to learn, the extra bits that the fans don’t really think about. I do the odd training session, but I’m at all the home and most away games now. There’s only a few bits I’m not sure of still. I do towels and water bottles – but not making tea. Smallsey can make his own, I don’t drink it!”

Smallsey added, “It sounds very romantic, but it does take a special person to do this job. You are, to put it bluntly, the guys’ servant. There’s always banter, and if you’re not the right person you can take things the wrong way. I don’t know what it was, but I just connected with Micky and thought that he was ideal for the job. There have been a number of people helping over the years, but it’s not for everyone, it’s quite anti-social at times.”

Mickey agreed. “It’s not as glamourous as people think. You go to Scotland and don’t get back until 4am, trying to sleep on the coach is really hard. You have to be ready to fix things at a moment’s notice. Sindel broke the Achilles protector off the back of his skate this week – so we had to go and buy a shoe horn and gaffa tape it to the back of his skate. They all want something doing. In the period break at the last game we had to fix two pairs of skates and repair Sindels again and get all the gloves dry in fifteen minutes. It’s mayhem and you’re just running round after the players.”

“He’s fitted in really well,” said Smallsey. “It depends how good his tea is when he gets around to making it if I keep him on or not.”

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