In the first of our new 'A day in the life of...' series, Andrew Lawn talks to his Snakepit steward Dad about what matchdays are like for those day-glow orange glad humans. Mark Lawn has been a matchday steward at Carrow Road since Andrew was born and begun the ongoing process of eating him out of house and home.
Sit down (it's the rules) and enjoy...
“I’ve been a matchday steward at Carrow Road for 30 years and it feels like another world compared to when I started back in 1985-86; a year which saw the first two tragedies in Heysel and the Bradford fire, which, followed three years later by Hillsborough, highlighted just how wrong things could go and led to major investment by the club to make Carrow Road a safe place to watch football.
When I started there was no uniform and my role was essentially a gateman, checking tickets and letting people through the turnstile. Back then 10 minutes after the game kicked off we were free to go and watch the game. This was how I introduced Andy to the game, by taking him with me and while I worked he would do some colouring in, a wordsearch or draw moustaches on the programme, before we headed in to watch the game together.
Thirty years on the role is much more professional with uniforms, safety training and a matchday briefing all part of the job.
Over the years I have been based around the ground, but have been in the “snake pit” for the last 9 seasons or so. I enjoy the Pit and despite its vociferous reputation is 99 times out of 100 a pleasure to steward. Every area has its perks and drawbacks of course but I don’t miss the days of long ago dodging chiselled edged coins from away fans, or being kicked and spat at as a “Chase Monkey”.
These days we arrive at the ground, in our white shirt, black trousers, smart shoes uniform at 12:45pm (for a 3pm KO), where we receive a safety briefing, which covers the security category of the game and how many away fans are expected, among other things.
Most of us are friends and fans as well as stewards so we’ll have a catch-up as we take our positions after the briefing, discussing footballing prospects of the afternoon ahead. Frequently this chat morphs into moaning about how cold it is. If there is an earlier game on the concourse television we’ll sometimes be able to catch bits of that while we wait for people to come through. A few years back when we played Fulham, Martin Jol came into the concourse from the media room next door to watch the game and stood chatting to us as we let people in. He’s as nice as he looks.
At this early point the ground itself is still empty, but some people are beginning to arrive outside, particularly away fans.
Once everyone is in place (2 stewards per entrance, 1 on the exit gate, plus our Section Head and customer services rep), we open the ground at 1:30pm. Everyone who enters the ground must have a ticket, or ID, no matter how many times I have let you in previously. Just ask Paul Lambert who I had to stop and insist he dig out his ID to show me before I’d let him into the ground during our Championship promotion campaign. He was gracious. A local journalist once gave me the “don’t you know who I am mate?” routine. I told him I didn’t. On my gate, the first one in is always Jack. Now 15, Jack has arrived first at nearly every game he’s attended over the last 6 seasons.
The first hour is a fairly slow but steady smattering of people arriving. It’s during this point my oldest regular arrives; a 90 year old lady who has been attending games at Carrow Road since the 1950s.
2:30pm signals the start of the rush. The Snake Pit holds around 1,300 fans and it is now, in this 30 minutes that roughly 1,000 of them will arrive. The 2 entrance doors become a constant stream of people and with small queues beginning to develop out onto the pavement outside, it can be a bit full-on.
For the last home game (vs Leeds) we had the Remembrance Silence. To help try and ensure it is observed, we will close the doors for the duration. While this happens, I will head outside to explain why the ground appears shut and people will take to observing the silence outside. It still strikes me how surreal it is to witness 26,000 people being silent and still.
Once the game kicks off the rush subsides to nothing within a few minutes. One of us will now move to the tunnel entrance where we are required to watch the crowd and have our backs to the game. At this point our biggest issue is fans wanting to smoke. Smoking in the ground is now prohibited, so if you want a fag, you have to go outside BUT if you go outside, we can’t let you back in. Often people are OK with this. Sometimes they’re not, but it’s their choice at the end of the day.
The other issue we are of course synonymous with, particularly in the Pit, is asking people to sit down. Whatever our personal views on this, people have to comply with our Ground Regulations, so we are duty bound to ask you to sit. Of course, the second we get everyone sitting some wag will start “Stand up if you hate the scum” and we head back to the front of the stand to start again. We’re only doing our job. From a personal point of view, I would love to see some safe standing introduced, but until that happens, the ground regulations are you must sit and so I must ask you to sit.
Occasionally during the course of the season you will be required to help with a fan who feels ill. We receive First Aid training, plus there are numerous medical professionals throughout the ground. A common medical issue is a heart attack and most of those who feel under the weather or whisked off to hospital are fine, but unfortunately, due to the size of the crowd that attend games throughout the season (roughly 624,000 per season), and the exciting (sometimes) nature of the event, we experience a fatality now and then.
The full-time whistle will go around 16:50 most games and twenty minutes later the ground is almost completely empty. As this takes place some of us will position ourselves by the exit gates and direct foot traffic, trying to encourage people not to just stop dead and turn around to wait for their friends the moment they are out of the ground and move out of the main thoroughfare. The rest will conduct a sweep of the stands checking for broken seats and anything that has been left behind, deliberately or otherwise.
Once the ground is empty we all head back inside, where by now most of the subs will be out on the pitch going through some fitness work and avoiding the troupe of ground staff repairing the pitch, reporting to a sectional meeting point to await being stood down by ground control.
Now our job is done, so we will return to the stewards’ room, located under the N+P stand, returning our orange jackets before heading home, another week negotiated safely.”
If this has whetted your appetite for stewarding, the club are currently recruiting for matchday stewards.