There are often people at different football clubs who play a pivotal role in the day-to-day running of the business who are often overlooked by the average football supporter. One example of this is the kit man, the person responsible for ordering, sorting and maintaining all of the kits and equipment for the playing staff. It’s a thankless job but someone has to do it.
One kit man in particular that deserves mention is Neil “Nello” Baldwin, a kit man who was at Stoke City in the 1990s while Lou Macari was manager of the club.
Nello recently was awarded an honorary degree from Keele University in recognition of his positive impact on university life over fifty plus years in residence. That Nello had never actually attended the university as a student or teacher says much about his impact on the community, which has taken him to their heart.
Similarly, Nello was accepted by the Stoke City community and was described by Macari as his “best ever signing.” Impressively, the Scot devoted an entire seven pages to Nello in his autobiography.
When Nello recently received the honorary degree, stories were shared of some of the antics he got up to while he was at Stoke. His appearance in a chicken suit on the substitutes bench away at Bournemouth, and making an appearance as a substitute in Gordon Cowan’s testimonial, were just a couple that were told.
Stoke’s local newspaper The Sentinel recently featured a story by Simon Lowe. He explained that at an away game against Tranmere Rovers as the players left the dressing room for the second half, Macari ordered Nello to undress and put on all the players underwear. Starting with a pair of silk boxer shorts belonging to Martin Carruthers, he adorned himself with 13 pairs of briefs in total. On returning to the dressing room Nello removed the under garments striptease style. The players were then waiting to see whose underwear were closest to his skin, much to Carruthers chagrin.
Macari explained that Nello was the dressing room spirit and that he knew he was the man for the job when he was told his last role was as a circus clown. Macari told the tale of Nello attending an away fixture at Hartlepool in top hat and tails, being introduced at the hotel they were staying at as Lord Baldwin of Keele. So successful was the ruse that by the end of the evening a hotel employee offered a selection of tobacco for Nello’s perusal, asking if “Lord Baldwin would care to choose a cigar.”
Here’s one of my favorite YouTube clips of Nello in action:
Rio Ferdinand could have done with Nello’s comic timing on his awful ‘Merk’d’ offering.
Nello is a memory from my youth, when the club were located in the center of the city and, without the Internet, you hung in and around the area to pick up on news emanating from it and became immersed in it. In this modern, clinical, PR and spin-based age, individuals like Nello are airbrushed out as they don’t suit the Premier League image.
This story and the recent discussion on World Soccer Talk regarding foreign ownership spurred me to write this piece as something of a retort to an assertion that community is no longer relevant to football in the Premier League age, which Kartik Krishnaiyer made in a post during the argument over foreign ownership.
Seeing first-hand the impact promotion to the Premier League has had on my community, I feel well placed to offer a retort. The local pub industry has profited from the increase in home crowds and has taken advantage of the ability to televise all away games. Local schools are used regularly by soccer schools operated by Stoke’s ‘football in the community’ scheme. A new generation of local fans have been born, adopting the red and white stripes rather than slavishly slipping into a shirt of one of the usual glory-hunted sides. You pass a playing field or see kids running around during the school holidays, and it’s Stoke shirts that make up the uniform.
Believe me this is something I never thought possible growing up. Following Stoke across the country, the club became the first in the country to offer free travel to all away games; this in addition to refusing to increase their ticket prices since we were promoted. I would argue that Stoke are a club in touch with the community. And along with all the heroes who made it onto the pitch, Nello is afforded a complimentary ticket whenever he fancies it.