With the Premier League increasingly becoming a cold, sprawling, commercial giant in which loyalty and passion are emblems of a superannuated, fusty past, it is easy to forget that men continue to live their dream every day. One of those is Aidan 'Jacko' Smith, the man from Santry currently serving as West Brom's kit man.
Jacko spoke to the Balls.ie Football Show this week about his job, and you can listen to the conversation below, or by subscribing to the show on iTunes or your Android podcast app.
Following an unremarkable playing career as a goalkeeper in the First Division with Home Farm, Finn Harps, Longford Town, Kilkenny, Dundalk and Mullingar Town, Smith ended up working with Umbro, and it was via that company he earned the opportunity to be the kit manager with the Irish under-19s. Having worked there, three years ago he was tempted to apply for the vacant kit manager position with West Brom, and the rest is his history.
He ran Balls.ie through a typical day on the training ground...
If we play on a Saturday, we're off Sunday. We're in at about half eight on Monday, and you have everything ready to go for the lads. All the kit is laid out, get the balls done, and have the bibs ready for training. After training, everybody comes in, and some lads will need more kit for the gym, and some lads will go to the pool.
This is not just the first team, but the 21s and the 18s as well. So there are roughly 75 players and 35 staff to serve. We normally leave everything out the evening before. The gaffer likes to come in at half 6 in the morning, and if you know me, there's not a chance that I'm coming in at half six in the morning!
So we put the badges on the jerseys, put the numbers on them, and put the names on them. We make sure that every player has two jerseys for each game, and we have a bag of blood jerseys as well: so we carry 22 jerseys out with us to the bench. We head to the ground about 10am on match day, and it takes us about an hour and a half to get the gear up.
So then we are pottering about getting the balls pumped, charging the substitutions board, making sure there are towels in the referee's room, that sort of thing.
In addition to serving the players, Jacko also sets out the kit for the manager. Prepare yourself for the Biggest Premier League Sartorial Exposé in years:
[Laughing] Tony Pulis' baseball hat, and Tony Pulis' white trainers are my sole, sole responsibility! In fairness to the gaffer, we have about four or five baseball hats. He thinks he gets the same one every week, and he usually does, but if we can't find that one, we give him a substitute one. As long as he thinks it's the same one he's okay! They are the same trainers, by the way. They are washed every two weeks, and they are spotless!
Pulis is evidently free from the trappings embraced by John Terry, who wears a new pair of boots to every single training session. While this is absurd, Jacko reveals that all of the West Brom players are serious about getting their kit right:
Every one of them [are precious about their kit]. Especially on match day, as they are in their zone. Everything has to be 100%. Everything must be numbered: to their bicycle shorts, to their underpants. They have their own specific shinguards, some will have their own little routines, and some will want their boots stretched before the game. Some will want to sit in a specific part of the dressing room, so everything is the same. It's not a case of throwing down a kit wherever you feel like it, everything is done for a purpose. So when they come in on matchdays, everything is the same.
Bar the home dressing room, Jacko has access to all areas on match days, which he says is the best part of the job:
Going to the fantastic stadiums, like Anfield - me being a Liverpool fan - and Old Trafford, all the big clubs. We were at Stamford Bridge on a Monday night and you'd be out on the pitch for the warm up, and Costa would be beside you. The ball would roll past him and you'd kick it back to him, and you're laughing to yourself thinking "Is this really happening!?".
It's great, especially meeting the Irish players. I worked with the Irish under-19s for a couple of years, and the likes of Harry Arter who I met a few weeks ago, James McCarthy last week, so you're meeting players you haven't seen in a couple of years. I remember Harry Arter playing with the under-19s, and ten years later he is in the Premier League and a senior international.
So it's fantastic to see lads like that, and have a chat. Even Sam Allardyce a couple of weeks ago. I played against Sam in 1991, I think it was, for Home farm. I reminded him of it after the match, and he was talking of Father Joe Young ans how he loved his time in Limerick. We were just having a laugh and then you walk away and you're thinking, 'Jesus, did that really happen?'
The Irish community in English football is something Jacko is very much part of: he lists off the Irish players at the Hawthorns: James McClean and Marc Wilson, along with Northern Ireland internationals Gareth McCauley, Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt here, along with Darren Fletcher, who Jacko says is half Irish:
He was over at the All-Ireland last year with his dad Robert, but he missed the replay. He's a big Mayo fan, his mother is from Achill. He does absolutely [share the despair of Mayo fans over here]. Even James McClean, we'd have a laugh. I played with Finn Harps in the 90s, and obviously James is a big Derry City fan.
Joleon Lescott earned the scorn of football fans last season, when he tweeted a photo of his expensive car as Aston Villa sank toward relegation. Jacko tells a tale which paints him in a very different light:
Joleon Lescott used to be here - and is an absolutely lovely fellow - but he played with Everton, so we always had a bit of banter. But he told me once that he would get me Steven Gerrard's jersey. But that day, he couldn't get it, Gerrard had given it away. But Joleon promised that he would get it for me when Liverpool came to the Hawthorns. That day arrived and he said 'Oh, I haven't forgotten you, I'll get you Gerrard's jersey'. But that game was Gerrard's 500th for Liverpool, so I'm thinking 'yeah, yeah,', expecting not to get it.
But he came in after the match, and he threw it at me. It was wet, and smelly, and soggy, and I'm saying 'no, not number 8, it couldn't be'. But I turned it inside out, and I'm not messing, I nearly cried! 50 years of age! I thanked him, with a couple of f-words and kisses thrown in. So I went up to the Liverpool dressing room, sent it in, and it came back out signed, 'To Jacko, Best Wishes, Steven Gerrard. So now it's framed, and it has pride of place in my television room along with a Shay Given jersey, and a Damien Duff one from when he was at Fulham. I have an Ian Harte one from Bournemouth, and Richard Dunne from QPR.
You can listen to the full interview on the podcast.