THE DAY I FORGOT GAFFER`S BOOTS...
THE DAY I FORGOT GAFFER'S BOOTS...
Evening Post, 28 May 2004
He is not a familiar name to Mansfield fans, but Michael Merriman will play a key part in ensuring the Stags are prepared for their big day in Cardiff. Here, STEVIE RODEN gets a glimpse behind the scenes...
The arrival of Keith Curle at Field Mill changed everything for Michael Merriman.
He had got himself off the dole after spotting an advert for a place with Mansfield Town's football in the community project, and landed himself a full-time job at the club.
After getting his NVQ and coaching qualification, he was offered a post helping head groundsman Rob Sprigg. Then he started packing up the kit before games.
Curle's arrival saw a new level of professionalism sweep through the Stags - and a promotion for the man affectionately known as Mez.
He was put in sole charge, as the kit-man. His duty was to get it all ready, travel to every game and set it out on matchdays. Just like it is done at all the top clubs in the country.
The responsibility now lies with him.
But Curle's decision to bring Merriman on board led to an early embarrassing moment.
The boss made his second appearance as player/manager against Barnsley.
"The first I knew was when the gaffer said 'where are my shinpads?' I'd forgot them," said Merriman, who is from Shirebrook.
"I asked around and none of the lads had any spare ones but luckily I got to borrow some from Barnsley.
"Despite it being one of his first matches he kept me on as kit-man," joked the 29-year-old. "But it was at that point that he said you better get a checklist - and I have had one ever since."
However, that was not the last time he was to forget something belonging to the manager. Curle could have made an appearance this season at Southend.
Merriman always checks his list over and over again but on that occasion the item in question was something not on his pad - Curle's boots.
He said: "The gaffer had got himself down to play at Southend, although he had a bad knee.
"They were at the hotel having a pre-match meal and I was at the ground early, laying out the kit.
"I put out his kit and then realised I had forgotten his boots.
"To be honest I was bricking it. I phoned him up. He went quiet for a few seconds and then said 'that's that then'.
"Alex John-Baptiste was not meant to be involved but ended up on the bench and came on. I think he's on an appearance bonus but I can't remember him buying me a drink for helping."
Another awkward moment happened when Merriman used to pack the kit for the YTS players to take down, back in the days when he did not travel with the squad.
He forgot to pack Liam Lawrence's shorts and when the players arrived, there were frantic efforts to adapt another pair.
"They had to get a marker pen," revealed Merriman. "They got Andy White's shorts and tried to colour in his number 22 to make it a seven.
"We all do it, all kit men. We are always asking each other to borrow things. It happens all the time.
"It is like we have our own little union."
But Merriman is still held in high regard by everyone at the club for the professional way he does his duties.
During the week he also helps maintain the ground and helps with any other odd jobs, from plastering to laying carpets.
And that is not to mention helping prepare the players' meals during training and driving the mini-bus to pick up schoolchildren for visits to Field Mill at least twice a week.
But it is as kitman that Merriman takes responsibility for making sure the team is prepared for matches.
"When Keith Curle came he wanted me to be in charge of all the kit, including the training gear," said Merriman. "He wanted everything a lot more professional.
"Before, it was more like a pub team playing football and just going home but the gaffer came in and made it a professional football club. You can feel the difference.
"My job has changed dramatically but I enjoy every minute. I started off as a factory worker and did the likes of bricklaying, but this is brilliant."
On the day before an away game, Merriman will pack up all the kit into the big silver ship containers.
This includes two shirts for each player, shorts and socks and other bits and pieces. For some he has to pack boots and shin pads, but not all the time.
And he is responsible for all the training kit for pre-match warm-ups including dozens of footballs, cones and bibs.
Merriman is dedicated to his work and highly respected in the dressing room. Before each game, he goes through his checklist to make sure he has everything, including special requests.
And he loves his job and the people he works with.
He added: "It is fantastic to be part of it all. All the players treat me with respect and talk to me like a human being. They do not say 'get me this, get me that'.
"The players treat me well and I like to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
"It is a brilliant job, more like a hobby."
And Merriman is a big fan of Curle, who has been linked the manager's job at Blackpool. He said: "He's a different class. He has always been spot on with me, brilliant in fact.
"It is not difficult. Everybody knows what he wants and he usually gets it. He is that kind of man.
"Now we are in the play-off final, the whole place is buzzing.
"It needs just one last push to get into Division Two.
"My nerves are shocking. I play football myself on a Sunday morning and even then I'm nervous.
"But I will hide it on the day. You don't want it rubbing off on the lads.
"It is nerve-wracking at the best of times making sure you have all the kit, but this time, it is even worse. I have already gone through the checklist 15 times to make sure I have got everything. I'm a worrier.
"But as soon as we get on the bus and pull out of the car park, I am sure I will think there is something I have forgot. I always do it.
"But I cannot forget anything for this match because this is the big one. We cannot mess it up."
Many players in the Mansfield dressing room have their own superstitions, as Michael Merriman reveals...
"Iyseden Christie always puts his shirt on outside and likes to be the last one out," he said.
"Then he walks backwards onto the pitch before tieing up his shorts.
"He and Lee Williamson like a new pair of socks for every game. With a few games to go I had about run out of them and had to go to the club shop.
"But apart from that there is nothing too strange.
"I have noticed lately that Bobby Hassell likes to walk out at the back as well. He has started doing that.
"Kevin Pilkington always calls Liam Lawrence over before they go out. He likes to have Liam walking out behind him on matchdays."
DAY'S A HERO IN WALES
STEVIE RODEN, Evening Post, 28 May 2004
When Welsh Under-21 international Rhys Day heads to the Millennium Stadium on Monday, the village he grew up in will be virtually empty.
The Stags defender comes from Pontycymer, just a 20-minute drive from Cardiff, and almost the whole village, it appears, will be at the stadium cheering him - and Mansfield Town - to victory.
Buses have been laid on to take villagers and old school friends to the Millennium Stadium to watch Day perform in the Division Three play-off final against Huddersfield.
It will be a proud day for the Under-21 captain. But for his family and friends who still live in Pontycymer, it will be a memorable occasion too.
"The valley back home will be empty on Monday," said the 21-year-old. "A lot of my family came up for the semi-finals but there are loads making the trip to Cardiff.
"They are putting buses on in the local village to take everyone to the game so there will be loads there.
"It is only a 20-minute drive away and all my family and friends are still there. It is great that they are coming to support me.
"Ever since we got to the final I have been receiving loads of text messages from old school friends and people from the area, congratulating me and wishing me the best of luck.
"The amount of support I am getting from back home is amazing and it will be great to play in front of them."
Day was brought up and lived in Pontycymer until he was 15, when he joined Manchester City. But he still goes back once a month to see family and friends.
Although he has trained with the Welsh squad at the Millennium Stadium, Day has never played there.
He said: "It would be excellent for anybody, but with me being from there makes it that extra bit special.
"It will give it that added excitement."
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