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Interviews

14 years and counting after defying our former manager’s warning!

Kit man Robin Bedford on his long-serving role

23 January 2020

Robin Bedford was once told by our former manager Dave Anderson to leave and never come back! But fast-forward 14 years, and Robin is still here as our long-serving kit man.

In the programme for the Peterborough game, lifelong Wimbledon supporter Robin talked about a pivotal season for him after going full-time at the club.

For those supporters that missed it, the article is published in full below.

Robin Bedford finally quit his office job so that he could carry out all the daytime duties of his kit man role, at both the Cherry Red Records Stadium and the training ground. However, it could have been so different if he had taken Dave Anderson’s quip literally back in April 2006!

“I’d placed the winning bid in a Silent Auction to spend a day with Dave Anderson,” Robin recalls. “He’s a great guy, as many Wimbledon supporters will know. On the day, we lost 4–0 to Hampton & Richmond – and we were chasing promotion. It was a big game, and after losing that heavily Dave said to me, ‘Don’t ever come back!’ I think he thought I might have taken it the wrong way, and I was invited along for the last game of the season. We’d already clinched a place in the play-offs, and that day Dennis Lowndes, the previous kit man, wasn’t there, so I ended up helping out. I was then asked if I wanted to help out at training, and during pre-season Dennis decided to leave, so I was thrust into the kit man role. I haven’t looked back since!

“In my second season, Marcus Gayle was here as a player. Ten years earlier I’d been standing on the terraces watching him score goals in the Premier League. Suddenly, I had Marcus phoning me on a Saturday morning checking that I had his boots!

Before becoming full-time this season, it was often a challenge for Robin to find the time to get kit ready for weekend matches, particularly for away games, fitting everything around his office job. Trevor Williams, who also still helps out on a volunteer basis, would assist in getting kit ready for the weekend and on match days. In recent seasons, the demands of being kit man had been making his role much harder to fulfil on a volunteer basis.

“I was working in the civil service, managing a helpdesk. The people in charge were always good in allowing me time off, but in the last few years, particularly since we’ve been in League One, the demands of being kit man had become greater. The hours required to do all the necessary tasks for the club were making it harder to combine the two jobs, even though my previous boss was allowing me time off to do away games.

“We’ve been getting players in on loan from Premier League clubs, including Rambo, Max Sanders and Nathan Trott, and they’re used to kit men being around all the time. Loan players often don’t have the facilities to wash their own kit, as they may be staying in a hotel or in short-term accommodation. Up to this season, we were the only club in the EFL without a full-time kit man. A lot of people assumed that I was full-time. I remember when we won at Wembley in the play-off final there was tweet of a picture of me and Trev that mentioned we were volunteers. Supporters came up to us after that and said they weren’t aware that we were volunteers! To have worked for the club I support for so many years is a dream come true, and it means a lot to me now to be full time.”

Robin is a keen cyclist, and his past conquests have included taking part in events supported by the club for charity. The Velo & Blue Mont Ventoux event was a notable challenge, and so too was the London to Amsterdam ride for Prostate Cancer UK. Robin is still clocking up the miles on his bike, and his hobby is certainly proving to be useful in his full-time role this season. Indeed, Robin ca often be seen cycling up and down Kingston Road to fulfil his daily duties!

“I’m a keen cyclist, so rather than drive back and forth between the club and the training ground, I try to cycle as much as I can. Obviously, I can’t do that all the time as sometimes I have to transport the whole team’s kit, but if it’s just a shirt or two I cycle to the training ground as it beats the traffic!

“This is my 14th season at AFC Wimbledon. Previously, I was just basically doing it on match days, but now I’m at the club full time, including being down at the training ground, plus the matchday stuff as well. Previously, I’d come in on Thursday evenings with Trevor, who still helps me on match days, to get the kit ready, particularly for away games.

“When we prepare for an away day, we hang the kit out in our changing room, the same as we would for a home match. We do that so we can be certain we pack everything. We then pack it all up and either travel on the team coach or, if the players are going up on the train, we travel up early in the morning in the kit van. We’re usually at the away ground by 12 noon. If the players are on the coach, we drop them off at the hotel and then go to the away changing room and set up the kit so that it’s all ready for when the players arrive.”

Being kit man is something that Robin clearly takes great pride in – any supporter who has seen his matchday social media posts will certainly recognise that – but what are the big challenges that the job presents?

“The hardest part is remembering to bring something that a player might have forgotten. We carry miscellaneous items to away games and we try to be self-sufficient. We take a kettle, toilet rolls, spare studs – all sorts of stuff. Planning ahead and being organised are key requirements of being a kit man.

“Each player has the basic set of shirts, shorts and socks, but some wear special socks to maximise the grip they get within their footwear. Players have their own personal requirements, and you have to get to know what each player wants for match days.”

A typical day for Robin now starts early in the morning, when he checks that all the training kit is ready for when the players come in.

“I’m usually in early in the morning, depending on how much I’ve previously managed to prepare for training. I’ll often be in by 7.30 am, sometimes earlier, depending on what’s going on. The usual routine is that I start by getting the training kit ready for the players. I do that at the ground, and then I have to take it all down to the training ground in the van. I set out the training kits ready for when the players arrive, usually from 9.00 am onwards. I then have other jobs to do, including checking the training balls and bibs. Then I head back to the ground and do some more washing of kit, and maybe get training kit ready for the next day. I go back to the training ground when training has finished, collect the kit and start washing that. And then the process starts all over again.

“During the week I’ll also start getting the kit ready for match days. I’ll often be on my feet for most of the day, so it’s a bit different from sitting at my desk all day, like I was before! It’s been a big change to the routine this season, but I’m enjoying it.”

Robin revealed that over the years his list of duties has sometimes deviated a little from what you might think is in his job description.

“Every day is different. Every day someone will forget something that you haven’t anticipated. You’re kind of an odd-job man, a link between staff at the training ground and the office. You end up doing a lot of extras. For example, for away games up north I can remember driving Neil Sullivan’s Range Rover! He would go up on the coach, and his family lived up in Yorkshire. Rather than him coming all the way back to get his car, I’d take it up there for him, and he’d stay up for the weekend. He’d be here for training on the Friday and I’d drive his car up there on the Saturday to help him out. I obviously knew all about Neil as I’d watched him back in the day at Selhurst Park.”

Robin’s support for Wimbledon started back in the late 1980s, thanks to his teacher at Knaphill School.

“We got taken along to a game in March 1988, I think we played Luton, and we won – it wasn’t long before the FA Cup final at Wembley. Our teacher’s boys both played in Wimbledon FC youth teams. One of them was Tim Alexander, who had a year as a pro but didn’t make it into the first team. Our teacher took our class to a game, and it all started from then. I was just getting into football at that point and I didn’t have a team to support. When we won the FA Cup, I thought I was supporting a team that won trophies all the time! I went to games at Plough Lane and I can remember Wimbledon beating Tottenham 5–1, and that was when they had Gazza and Lineker in their team. My dad took me to games with my brother and sister fairly regularly, and then I got a season ticket when we were at Selhurst Park.”

Being involved behind the scenes with four promotions has been an obvious highlight of Robin’s time at AFC Wimbledon so far. But printing numbers on the shirts for new players is an aspect of the job that gives him a special satisfaction. There’s that element of excitement when a new signing comes through the club doors, and Robin most recently had the responsibility of getting the number 26 shirt ready for Mads Bech Sørensen.

“I’ve been printing the shirts for a number of years, probably since we started having squad numbers. I must have printed a lot of shirts because every player has two of each kit. This is just in case there is a blood injury during a game or a change of kit is required for any other reason. As a Wimbledon supporter, it’s always exciting when you sign a new player as you find out who they are and then have to get their kit ready. It also has to be worked out what shirt number they’re going to have. The play-off wins have been special – those achievements make all the hard work worthwhile.”

Robin said that doing his job is something that first appealed to him a long time ago, starting when he met Wimbledon’s former kit man, Syd Neal.

“I think it’s something that I subconsciously always wanted to do. I remember that Syd Neal, who was the kit man at Plough Lane, helped me to get autographs after matches. As he got older, I remember thinking it would be cool to help him out! I was too young then, but I thought it may be something I could do in the future. I was never good enough to be a player, so I thought it would be the next best thing as a Wimbledon supporter. It just grew from there – hopefully I’m good at it!

“I’m looking forward to hanging out the kit at Plough Lane - that will be special. I’m really enjoying the job now, so fingers crossed that continues!”

 


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