Working as a steward at a football ground is a thankless task. It’s true that you could be stood within sight of the pitch and be paid to watch the game but equally, you could be guarding a locked exit below the stand and have to guess what’s happening out on the pitch, not seeing a soul until the final whistle goes. Worse still, you could find yourself waddling across the pitch in the wake of a meathead full of beer and bravado who has something urgent to explain to the away team’s centre forward. Even worse, you may end up caught between sets of rival supporters and getting roughed up by both sides. No wonder then that the job attracts a mixture of people; some take it seriously, some just do their time and take the money and some see it as an opportunity to make life as awkward as possible for anyone they come across. Here’s a quick guide to some of the variations on the theme that I’ve met over the last couple of seasons.

Dover Athletic.

Things might have been simpler if we’d played Dover before but as this was County’s first ever visit to the Crabble Stadium, I don’t think anyone on the Flyer knew quite what to expect. The ground is easy enough to find, despite a nasty hairpin bend that our driver did well to get the coach round, just head up Crabble Road and the entrance is on the left. Except, that is, if the game is segregated.

We were intercepted by a steward in an orange vest at the corner of Crabble Avenue and told to head up there to where another steward would direct us to the away end. So far, so organised. Off we went, past a pub called The Cricketers (to the dismay of some of those aboard) and on and on with no sign of the second steward or the away end until the road turned into a footpath and the coach could go no further. Another impressive bit of manoeuvring by our driver later, we were heading back up Crabble Avenue in search of the entrance. There was still no sign of a second steward but fortunately we ended up nose to nose with a car full of Kent’s finest, who directed us to the entrance. As you’ll see from the picture below, it’s no wonder we missed it! If you think this doesn’t look much like the entrance to a football ground, you’d be right; this is just base camp at the start of a very steep and uneven path that takes you up and round the end of a rugby pitch until you end up at the away turnstiles where Dover’s stewards wait to poke fun at the fact that you’re horribly out of breath. Going back down in the dark is even worse, most of it is unlit and very dodgy underfoot. It would be a nightmare if it was icy.

The moral of the story is: Don’t take anything a bloke in a high viz vest tells you as gospel.

Alfreton Town.

I hadn’t been to Alfreton before, so the instructions on County’s Own Web Site were very helpful; parking for coaches and cars would be available at the school just down the road. Allen and I got there early, working on the usual basis that punctuality is the politeness of princes, found the school and parked up. There was the Flyer, there was the team coach and parked next to us was a bloke Allen knows, so happy days we were ready for kick-off. Until, that is, the steward appeared.

I’ll be the first to admit that my hearing isn’t brilliant, and this was before the NHS fitted me up with battery-powered ear trumpets, but I hadn’t the first idea what he was burbling on about. I’ve worked all over the English-speaking world, from Norfolk in the UK to Norfolk Virginia and from Tuktoyaktuk down to Fremantle, so I can cope with accents, I can even understand Doric in Aberdeen if you give me a day or two to get attuned, but this bloke had me beat. “Umfgumphlumpclumph” was what it sounded like but that didn’t mean much to me, so I turned to Allen to see what he made of it. The look on his face made it obvious that he was nonplussed as well, so we were no further on. The bloke was still chunnering on and some recognisable words were starting to form, such as “Can’t,” “park” and “here” and we eventually gleaned that he was trying to turf us off. We argued that we’d been told to park there by the club itself but he wasn’t having any of it, he kept muttering “Nobody’s told me nuffink” and “I’ve got the key.”

I’d have given up at this stage but Allen is made of sterner stuff. He managed to raise Alfreton’s Company Secretary on the phone while the bloke was still maundering on and told her that we’d parked according to the instructions the club had issued but we were being told to move on by a mad old bloke who looked like Smiler out of Last Of The Summer Wine. She was very helpful, listened closely to the story and then said “Well, if he says you can’t park there, you can’t park there.” So that was that, we had to go and find somewhere to park on the street.

The moral of the story is: The opinion of a mad old bloke trumps the official advice from the club at all times.

Bromley FC.

All those teams arrayed around the M25 tend to merge into one as far as I’m concerned, so I had to check where this happened but Bromley it was.

The Flyer got us there pretty early, a wise precaution on a journey involving the dear old London Orbital Motorway. While the usual suspects headed off to find a pub, the less thirsty of us waited for the away end turnstiles to open. Before we were admitted though, a bevy of stewards appeared and set up stall on the tables in front of us. It looked at first as thought they were going to run a bar but in fact the tables were there for the most invasive search I’ve ever undergone that didn’t involve the ominous “Snap!” of rubber gloves going on. Not only did we have to empty our pockets out but the stewards insisted on going through our wallets as well. I still don’t know what they were looking for, despite writing to the club to ask what they expected to gain from such high-handed tactics. They must have grown tired of poking their noses in at some stage as fans who turned up nearer kick-off didn’t even get the cursory frisking you get everywhere that wouldn’t find a bazooka on a two-year-old. I thought the video cameras at Harrogate were the nadir of paranoid stewarding but this was a new low.

The moral of the story is: Rooting through fans’ wallets is vital to stadium security until the game’s about to kick off.

Edgeley Park.

The strangest bit of stewarding I’ve ever seen at EP came one afternoon when I was walking up the steps to my seat in the Cheadle End and found a large flagpole lying in the way. I managed to get over it with the help of my walking stick but the lady on crutches who sits near us had a great deal of trouble and had to be helped over it by her partner. The odd thing was that there was a steward, hi-viz tabard, cap and everything, sat next to the flagpole as though keeping watch over it. Several people asked the lad if he could do something about it as it was obviously posing a danger to life and limb where it was, but all we got from his was “It’s nothing to do with me!”

When the owner of the flag appeared, he moved it off the steps to everyone’s relief but then he went out of his way to provoke those sat behind him by watching the first half with it stuck up in the air so they has to constantly peer round it to see what was happening on the pitch. Things were getting more and more heated but the steward, still sitting resolutely in his seat, refused to take any action at all.

It turned out eventually that we were all unwitting pawns in some sort of dispute between the flag bloke and the club. It must have resolved itself somehow, as he moved back to his usual spot in UT3 for the rest of the season, where presumably people like to have their view of the game obscured by a large flag. I later heard from the club that the steward who had refused to get involved was an agency drone and the agency had been told in no uncertain terms that he shouldn’t darken Edgeley Park’s door again in future.

The moral of the story is: fellow supporters are fair game if you’ve got a beef with the club.

Boston United.

Boston is a bit like Barrow, in that it’s at the end of a 150 mile-long cul-de-sac and a weary drive especially for a night game. That made the Flyer the ideal way to get there for those of us with a hard day’s retirement scheduled for the following day. The coach dropped us off at the back of the home end, so Allen and I sauntered down the ginnel towards the away end. Now I don’t know what it is; some sort of pheromones or animal magnetism perhaps but we seem to attract balloons, especially balloons in Hi-Viz jackets. This latest example reminded me of Michael Klenfner’s character in The Blues Brothers, except this chap wasn’t offering us a recording contract.

“Are you off the coach?” he demanded, pointing at the lights just visible in the distance. We admitted we were, there didn’t seem any point in denying it.

“He can’t park it there” he continued, with the air of a man who thought we should be interested. It started to dawn on us that he thought we were going to stride purposefully all the way back to the coach and tell the driver he had to park somewhere else. When we didn’t set off on the mission he’d given us, he just repeated the message that the coach couldn’t be left where it was and would have to go in the coach park, some ten minutes’ walk away. When we suggested he go and tell the driver himself, he changed his tune and said, “It’s nothing to do with me!” and walked off, looking for somebody else to mither.

The moral of the story is: Where coaches park is desperately important providing you can get somebody else to tell the driver.


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