Doing it for the kits

Andrew Warshaw meets Enfield Town’s long-serving kit man

The well-prepared Enfield Town dressing room on a matchday, with every player's kit neatly laid out
The well-prepared Enfield Town dressing room on a matchday, with every player’s kit neatly laid out

He’s one of Enfield Town’s unsung heroes; the guy in the background who stays out of the limelight but who plays a critical role in the smooth running of the club.

Neil Butterfield will this year celebrate a decade as Town’s kit man, making sure that every piece of player clothing is meticulously prepared on a day-to-day basis.

Players come and players go, but Neil has been a constant at the club ever since September 2012, having watched the old Enfield FC with his dad. And guess what? Incredible though it may seem, he hasn’t missed a game or a training session in all his ten years – despite getting up at 4am for his day job as refuse collector for Enfield Council.

Neil told the Dispatch: “I wash all the kit, clean their boots, provide match towels etc. All they bring to the ground is a toilet bag. I try to make the role as professional as possible.”

Every player knows on a match day exactly where his kit is laid out – not dissimilar to a full-time set-up. And Neil knows exactly where each of them likes to sit in the dressing room and all their little superstitions.

“We may be at the Step 3 level of the non-league pyramid, but like I say, I want it to look professional. When they walk into that dressing room, they know where everything is – shorts, shirts, towels. Everything they need.”

Neil thinks the entire kit man ethos is underplayed. “We are totally out of the limelight but we’re the first one in and the last one to leave. The kit man’s job never ends. If we are playing away on a Saturday, for instance, I prepare Thursday and Friday, wash all the kit on Sunday, have Sunday evening off, then back in on Monday ready for a Tuesday game if we have one.”

And that’s with a full-time job too!

“My employers are very understanding. If we’re playing away on a Tuesday night and I don’t get home until, say, midnight, I’ll invariably take the Wednesday off. But they know I’m good at my job. I never go sick.”

Nevertheless, it must at times be an extremely tiring combination, with Tuesday and Saturday games and training on Thursday – all three requiring fresh kit. “I’m not blowing my trumpet but you kind of get into a routine,” Neil explains. “And if I take a holiday, I make sure it doesn’t clash with the football.”

Before he became Town’s kit man, he was a volunteer steward at the club. And before that, he was a qualified chef. But he wanted his weekends back, and the rest is history.

So what does Neil like most about the role? “First and foremost you’ve got to have a decent relationship with the players and staff, know when to have a laugh and when to be serious. If you don’t have that, the role becomes really hard. I also love the feedback. If one piece of kit has the tiniest stain on it, it has to come out.”

And the least enjoyable part? “I sometimes wonder if the authorities at our level think enough about people in terms of the way they schedule games. We had ten games in January, whereas at the start of the season we had one midweek game in about six weeks at a time when both the weather and pitches were better.”

But the pros massively outweigh the cons for Neil, who relishes the job. Well, most of the time. “When it gets muddy and filthy, trust me I don’t! But I always have three spare sets of everything.

“I try and be as meticulous as I can. I have checklist after checklist. After our new forward, Jake Cass, had played just a couple of times for us, he said he couldn’t believe how efficient the setup was. That was music to my ears.”