The Ballboy on The Terrace

 

We don’t pretend to see football differently here at The Terrace. In fact, if you ever see us publish an article that starts to resemble a thesis or has as many stats as it does statements, please delete the app, unsubscribe, and unfollow us.

With that in mind, we do like the different experiences football can bring us and therefore, in what will hopefully become a regular feature in this here blog, we will be talking to different voices in football. From the coppers that police matchdays, to the kids and teenagers that ballboy for their heroes, we’ll be talking to them about how a matchday plays out for them. We might even try and find a hotdog seller.

In this episode, we talk to Jordan, a former ballboy for Southampton F.C.

The Terrace: Is the official title ‘ballboy’ or is there something more formal?

Jordan: If I remember correctly, the title was ball attendant, ‘ballboy’ is what was used though.

The Terrace: How did you get the role?

Jordan: I was very fortunate, really. I bought my first season ticket in 2009. We’d just been relegated to League One and I was 15. It was the first time football was affordable to me and the club were offering half-season tickets too. That year, my cousin was a ballboy and he got the role because the organiser was the PE teacher at his school.

When we played Swindon in the first round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in August 2010, the club were short a ballboy and as he knew I was at the game, my cousin rang me and asked if I fancied it. I obviously said yes, and I ended up doing it for four seasons, perfectly in sync with Guly’s time at the club! My first game was his home debut and his last game was his too.

The Terrace: Is it a paid position? Other than obviously getting to see the game close up, what are the perks?

Jordan: No, it wasn’t paid but that didn’t even cross my mind! I absolutely loved it. Those Saturdays were the some of the best of my life. I’d play for my Saturday morning side and then quickly nip home for lunch and a shower and then head off to St. Mary’s, and that was the case for three of us – me, my cousin, and my best mate – who all played for the same team and ballboyed at the club.

Just before I joined, the chairman at the time, Nicola Cortese, changed what we received as ‘lunch.’ It was a meal deal from the bar; so a cheeseburger or hot dog, a packet of crisps or chocolate, and a drink, but he changed it to a Lucozade and a Mars Bar. Probably wouldn’t have even been that if there wasn’t a requirement from the league to provide us with something! Like you say, though, the perk was being on the touchline.

The Terrace: Being there for four years, you saw quite a bit of change. Did that impact in any way on your role?

Jordan: Yeah, it did actually. In terms of what we did and how we did it, each year there was a vote among the clubs whether to use the multi-ball system or the one ball system. We’d genuinely get in-game instructions as to whether to be quick about getting the ball back to the players or to take our time. I can’t remember the exact game, but there was a time when one of the opposition players squared up to one of our ballboys who was about 6’3 and really cocky. He just stood there and stared blankly at the player. It was quite amusing because nothing intimidates him and this League One player was screaming in his face for taking his time.

There was another time, an evening game, where we were really trying hard to get ahead in the second half. We’d been slaughtering the other side but just couldn’t score. We were on the break and they managed to put it out of play. I’d anticipated it happening and was already hurdling the advertising board as it came out of play. I caught it mid-air and passed it to Dan Harding who took a quick throw-in and we caught their defence still trying to get into shape and scored. I know it sounds stupid but I genuinely felt involved in that goal, like I was part of the build up play, and Harding turned around and did a fist-pump towards me. It was a pleasant change because he was normally screaming at me. I don’t know why but our left-backs used to give us ballboys a lot of aggro. Both Harding and then Danny Fox used to shout abuse at me all the time. They’d always apologise after the game, though.

The Terrace: What were the biggest differences as you moved up the leagues?

Jordan: It sounds cliché, however, lower down the leagues the players and staff were on the whole much nicer. I remember on the final day of the 2010/11 campaign, we were playing at home against Walsall who were not yet safe and we were also not yet guaranteed automatic promotion. Fortunately both sides got what they wanted and when, with about 10-15 minutes left, it became clear that Walsall were staying up, one of their coaches started chatting to me. By this time, I’d ‘earned’ the position of ballboying the away team dugout, which had perks of its own. He was asking me how old I was, what my ambitions were for the future, and stuff like that. I didn’t have a clue who he was, then or now, but for a paid professional to stop and have a chat with me like that, made me feel ten foot tall.

It wasn’t always like that, though. When we played Oldham in the same season, we equalised right on the stroke of half-time. Their manager, Paul Dickov, turned around and kicked a water bottle. It went whistling past my ear, nearly hitting me, and one of our fans in the front row yelled at him. Dickov thought it was me and called me a ‘c*%t.’ During the half-time break a steward came over to tell me the situation was being ‘dealt with.’ I don’t know what happened but he didn’t apologise!

The Terrace: Can you give us some standout moments from the club’s time in the Football League?

Jordan: Okay, well the first two seasons require no thought. Both times we won promotion on the final day, so there were pitch invasions, celebrations, the lot, and as a ballboy you were in prime position for it. We were told not to invade until fans were already on the pitch, however. So while we weren’t the first on, we were a close second, and I certainly made the most of it. On promotion from League One, I managed to take home the match ball. On the walk into town after the game, multiple fans offered me three figures for it but I didn’t want to sell. Instead I used it for my Saturday morning side as our match ball and promptly lost it into an allotment. I was gutted. Stupid decision, really.

Given the promotions are obvious choices, I’ll pick out some individual moments. Back in League One, we had a really lovely coach called Dean Wilkins. In the pre-match warm-up for one game, he asked me if I could help him with a one-on-one routine with Adam Lallana. Obviously I said yes. It was a simple drill in which they exchanged a few passes and then Lallana would take on Wilkins and whip in a cross aiming for me. In the two seasons we did that for, I resisted the temptation to ever finish one of his crosses into an empty net. Missing in front of a full stand would’ve been mortifying. I’m so grateful to Wilkins for that though, because I’ll never forget it.

That year, we were drawn against Manchester United in the FA Cup. I spent all week really looking forward to that because I rarely went to a Premier League game when we were last in it. Our changing room was directly opposite the away team’s and when United arrived, theirs hadn’t been unlocked, which meant we swamped them for autographs. That day I got one from Rooney, Anderson, Giggs, Owen, and Sir Alex Ferguson. That day had some hilarious moments and really didn’t paint Fergie in a good light. Firstly, he kicked off about the changing room situation and us asking for signatures – how dare we?! Then, when my cousin said ‘can I have your autograph please, Alex?’ he replied saying, ‘did you go to school with me?’ My cousin said, ‘no,’ and so Fergie told him, ‘well it’s Sir Alex then, isn’t it?’ What a prized bell-ringer. We managed to take the lead that day and the game was televised. I was in my usual position of away dugout and my cousin was always positioned in the home dugout. When we scored, the camera panned to Fergie and you can see me leap from my chair and run straight across the dugout and into my cousin’s arms. It was an absolutely electric moment. At half-time we both got told off because Fergie had complained about us.

The Terrace: And what were your highlights from the two seasons you did in the Premier League?

Jordan: By the time we were in the Premier League I was actually 18. I finished college the same month that we got promoted from the Championship and I fully expected to stop then. I even wrote Nigel Adkins a thank you note. Given I had the opportunity to give it to him personally and he had genuinely provided me with the two best football seasons of my life, I wasn’t going to pass it up.

The organiser said I was welcome to keep coming and so I did, putting any concerns of ‘am I too old for this?’ completely out of mind. At the end of the day, not only was I pitch side for my club and in the Premier League, but it was saving me £400 a year on a season ticket.

Halfway through our first season in the Premier League, Adkins was sacked and Wilkins left too, so gone were the days of warming up with Adam Lallana, but the pre-match part of my day was still fun. Kelvin Davis used to joke around with us in the warm-up and Jack Cork used to stop and chat with me. One time, I was in a club on a Saturday night – 90 Degrees – and Davis recognised me and asked me if I was old enough to be in a club or too old to be ballboying! Another time, I was sat in Costa with a friend from school and Jack Cork came up to me and said hi. Jack Cork came up to me and said hi; not the other way around. I’ll never forget that. Typically my friend wasn’t into football so didn’t know who he was and wasn’t impressed!

When we played Arsenal one year, Per Mertesacker passed the ball in my direction and I just presumed it was a loose ball so I passed it back to him and then he passed it back to me and suddenly I was playing one and two touch with a future World Cup winner. That was pretty cool.

By this time, as I was 18/19 years old. I had a lot more confidence and didn’t shy away from opportunities. When we played Chelsea I met Jose Mourinho, who was and still is one of my favourite managers of all-time. I took along a biography of his and asked him to sign it. He was more than willing to, didn’t say anything stupid like ‘call me Mr. Mourinho,’ and had a little bit of a chat. I wished him good luck and he chuckled and asked if I thought Chelsea would need it. I said no and he said, ‘in which case, good luck to you!” Two minutes into the game Fernando Torres missed an absolute sitter. Mourinho turned around and smiled at me.

Do you have a different matchday experience from just sitting in the stands or standing in the terrace? If so, get in touch. We’d love to hear your story.

Words by @TheFalseLibero