England's "Mr Fix-it"
It’s probably doing a disservice to Mark ‘Robbie’ Roberts to call him a kit man. Even his official title of England Equipment Manager doesn’t do justice to the work he does behind the scenes. He’s a “Mr Fix-it” one of the many vital cogs in the England set up that will hopefully produce a World Cup winning team.
Robbie was in the Royal Navy for 34 years and on retiring from the service was asked to help look after the England Academy side. He then toured New Zealand with the England Women’s team and caught the eye of Steve McNamara.
“I think Steve liked what I did, the military-style organisational skills and attention to detail,” he said. “He asked me to come on board with the seniors and I’ve been with them since we started the World Cup programme three years ago.”
If you thought that the job just entailed getting the kit ready before a match, then think again. It involves everything from kit to training equipment, including balls, bibs and cones. Then there’s the medical equipment, the conditioning equipment and the supplements.
“I pull it all together, pack it and take it to wherever we go. There’s a team behind me like Jane Phillips who is PA to the Director of Performance and Coaching and England Team Manager Assistant and Pete Longbottom, the Kit and Logistics Officer for the RFL. They do a lot of the admin work and support the process.
“I come into the operation a week before we go, pull it all together, pack it up and off we go.”
Once the team and support staff arrive at their hotel, Robbie is somewhat at their beck and call, “A ‘Mr Fix-it’ is a good way of putting it I suppose,” he says.
Having been involved in the England set up for a while he’s pretty much got on a handle on everything, although the request for ‘Budgie Smugglers’ earlier this year was one of the more unusual. He ordered some from Australia!
Game day is obviously a key time for Robbie and he becomes a bit of an interior designer. “Getting the changing rooms themed and banded with posters to turn it into an England changing room is important. It’s the same with the team rooms at the hotel; I put branding boards up to make it not just any hotel but an England hotel.
“As far as the kit and equipment is concerned it’s about getting the sizes right for the players. Obviously they have to be sized to the individual; it’s not as if you can have 17 Larges. Sam Tomkins plays in a small shirt, Rob Burrow plays in an extra small shirt while the Burgess twins play in 2XL shirts.
“The players have two shirts for each Test, then I have a “blood set “in the dugout. If a player has blood on his shirt then that needs to be changed in double quick time. I have a set with me in so they can whip that off and put another one and continue playing.”
Each player will have two sets of shirts which are numbered and embroidered with the date, the venue, who they’re playing against and also the number of caps they’ve got, which goes on the shirt above the England crest on the left hand side. The main sponsor’s logo will go on the front and back with additional sponsors on the arms
“The shirts need to be heat pressed, so if a game’s on Saturday Steve will normally give me the team on Wednesday so I can start the process of getting them done.
“The World Cup shirt will have a different design but is still made of the same material and is far more robust than the replicas you can buy in the shops.”
The only thing Robbie doesn’t provide is boots but he’s often asked to do running repairs on. “They’ll go out for a warm up and find the grass is a bit slippery and the studs are too short so I get requests for long studs before they go out for the game,” he said.
And in case you’re wondering if he spends hours in a laundrette washing the kit – he doesn’t. The players get to keep their shirts and are issued new ones for every game.
This year the England squad will be returning to South Africa for a pre-World Cup training camp – which presents Robbie with specific logistical problems.
“The difference between doing this job for England rather than a club is that with a club you play at home every other week so everything’s there. When you play away, you’ve only got to load a limited amount of stuff on a van and drive to say Wigan or Leeds.
“With England we take everything with us. In the UK it’s just a matter of loading it on a van, getting to the hotel, taking off what’s needed at the hotel and then taking training equipment to the training ground and obviously taking stuff to the game.
“When you go abroad, everything’s got to be distributed evenly within the bags and the cartons because obviously there’s a weight issue and a size issue. There’s stuff you can’t take so you have to tone down what you would normally use in a training environment in the UK. But we’re self-sufficient and have to have everything we need for the duration of our stay.
“The amount of baggage and luggage we take is dictated by the airline. I’ve got to weigh the bags then forward the information to the airline so they know that all this is coming. If something’s too big they won’t accept it and it has to go as cargo. Then you’ve got to get it off the airline and go through customs.”
Robbie is keen to emphasise the importance of the support he gets from the Coaching and Performance team at Red Hall and clearly loves his job.
“I couldn’t have found a better job after leaving the Navy. The banter and team work is second to none, like the military. I am so fortunate and so lucky.”
England start their campaign at the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff on Saturday October 26th, to make sure you will BE THERE buy now at www.rlwc2013.com/tickets or call the 24-hour Ticket Hotline on 0844 847 2013