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The Highs And Lows Of... A Stretcher Bearer
Ant (Liverpool) 7 years ago
I thought it was high time I sat and wrote up a short blog about a big part of my life and something I'm quite proud of. On weekdays, I work in a university, but on weekends, my real passion begins. I'm a stretcher bearer for the Wellington Phoenix, an A-League side thats based here in New Zealand but competes against the best Australian sides that currently play the game.

What is a stretcher bearer, anyway? The free online dictionary defines it as: "one who helps carry a stretcher, esp. in wartime." Essentially, if a player gets injured, I'm one of the group that runs on to carry off the player so he can be treated and the game can continue. For a normal FIFA style match, there are two teams of four stretcher bearers, each of which take a half of the pitch. Depending on where the player falls, that decides which stretcher bearer team needs to jump into action.

Carrying off Sergio van Dijk of the Brisbane Roar (I'm at furthest right of photo).

How did I get into it? I started off stretcher bearing for the Phoenix about two years ago, covering for a sick friend as a last minute replacement. Since then, I've worked at every single home game. I was eventually asked to arrange a whole bench of stretcher bearers last season. For this season, I was given the role of being stretcher bearer manager for the Wellington Phoenix, meaning that I need to arrange all eight bearers, make sure they are on time, prepared and practiced.

So what is it like to be a stretcher bearer? Sometimes quiet, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exhausting, but always incredible to have live, high quality football happening right in front of you. I mean, literally ten foot in front of you. One of the hardest rules to maintain is our impartial nature. We are not supposed to support any team or celebrate a goal. If the ball rolls to our feet, we can't touch it in case it influences the match. For example, if we quickly caught the ball when it came near us and threw it to a player who then took a quick throw, it could lead to a goal that would have otherwise not have happened. The ballboys (and girls) are there to chuck the footballs around, not us.

At half time we get a massive plate of pies, sausage rolls, crab sticks, savouries of every kind and a big boiler full of boiling water for teas and coffees. We only get a very short break at half time so its all hands to the pump, shoving down pies and chugging boiling tea. It can get very, very cold out there on the pitch especially if you are not called into action.

Attendances for the Wellington Phoenix are not spectacular - yet. On average we see between 7,000 and 10,000 fans every home game. I expect that after the recent New Zealand successes, that will grow. They can make some serious noise though. One other major benefit of the job is that we get to meet and chat with some personal heroes. Here's a photo of me meeting Robbie Fowler for example, a player I've idolised since I first saw him play for Liverpool.

Who are ya? Who are ya?

Whats your favourite moment as a stretcher bearer? Now we get to the part that encouraged me to write this blog entry. When I first learned that the New Zealand "All Whites" were going to have their final World Cup playoff leg in Wellington, I contacted anyone I could think of to see if I could get a spot on the sidelines as a stretcher bearer. There was a tense month or so to wait, but I finally got the go-ahead from the events manager for the All Whites game, asking me if I would like to participate. I jumped at it without taking a breath. This is really as big as it gets for a stretcher bearer - working for the national team. I agreed immediately, and also cheekily suggested that if he needed a whole bench of people, I could probably arrange that too without much bother. Imagine my surprise when he agreed. I gave three of my friends the excellent news. The four of us, all Wellington Phoenix stretcher bearers, would be working at the biggest game in New Zealand football since about 1982, the last time the All Whites qualified for the World Cup.

Almost everyone I knew that was even remotely into football bought tickets for the game, which had a kickoff of 8pm Saturday 14th November, 2009. In fact, I made a point of getting the rough location of almost everyone I knew, so I could try to spot them. Some footytube members were in the crowd too. Neil Mason, aka VanPersie was somewhere over my shoulder, ten rows back between the stretcher bearer bench and the managers bench. Spencer Salt, aka Salt a fellow mod on footytube, was sitting directly across from me up in the crowd. All in all, there were over 35,000 fans packed into the "Biscuit Tin" stadium, a new record for New Zealand football, and you could really hear them especially at pitch level.

The atmosphere before the match was surprisingly light. More excitement than nerves to be honest. We could hear the fans above us stomping and chanting and we were desperate to get out there on the pitch. At one point the official FIFA match commissioner came into our changing rooms. He was an older, glasses-wearing American gentleman who explained how important the match was, what was expected of us, what we should expect. A run sheet was shown to us, dictating where we should be by what time. It was a huge match for the world cup playoffs so it was vital everything ran smoothly. It was quite formal, especially compared to the week-to-week almost casual routine we have established for the Wellington Phoenix. There was no room for any improvisation in this match!

Practising before the match - or having a sleep?

Game time. When the time came, the tension built. When we were in the players tunnel just before entering the pitch, we could see the 1982 New Zealand team doing a parade around the pitch and the fans shouting their appreciation. It was loud and powerful. When we walked out towards out seats on the other side of the pitch, I couldn't help scanning the crowd for familiar faces. Surprisingly, I actually made out a few people I knew either because they were standing, waving and yelling or just because I knew roughly where they would be. It's the same stadium the Wellington Phoenix play at every home game, only with a capacity crowd this time. Everyone seemed to be dressed in white. There were even a whole section dressed as sheep. I saw togas, dressing gown, painters overalls, surgical masks, anything white was good enough.

Photo taken by a ball girl ten minutes before kick off.

The match was awesome. I don't need to write much about it apart from saying that New Zealand needed a win to qualify, Bahrain needed either a win or a draw. It made for a very tense match. When New Zealand went ahead I could barely contain myself - but as mentioned before we can't really celebrate. Bahrain won a penalty at one point. A goal there would have spelled disaster for New Zealand, but somehow the keeper saved it. New Zealand eventually scored one due to a beautiful headed goal by Rory Fallon - the son of a player involved in the 1982 qualification. This win means New Zealand have qualified for the World cup for only the second time ever. We even got to run about with the players during their victory laps.

The players do a victory lap.

Soaking up the atmosphere.

The crowd were amazing. Every single person there was very priviliged to be present at a match like that. I can honestly say that I don't think I will ever be involved in a game of that level ever again, as a player, fan or stretcher bearer. It had everything.

After the match, the city - no - the whole country went wild. We went straight out into town to congregate and it was a complete carnival. I won't reveal too much detail about what went on but it was full of drink and I didn't get home until 7.30am. Pubs, clubs and shops seemed to stay open all night. An incredible atmosphere and one of the best nights of my life.

So thats my story so far when it comes to being a stretcher bearer. There are whispers of South Africa, but I'll not even think about it until all the hype has calmed down.
Incuteration (Everton) 7 years ago
Aw, that's so cool. The New Zealand fans are rocking the stadium out, I actually felt Bahrain was a more stronger team than New Zealand, but the NZ home crowd changed everything. I got to watch abit of highlights of the video and those fans were crazy unlike the home game in Bahrain where it is so plain and nothing else.

Great to see that you actually got a chance to get involved in such a big game, I could see myself going to that career too! If I can't be a football player.

Just like the team - All Whites. I can see the crowd is All Whites too, hope the Kiwis do well in the World Cup!
Adamaus (Manchester United) 7 years ago
You can only juggle (keep ups) 10 or something but you want to be a footballer?    No offence but are you mad?
Gerrard4ever (Liverpool) 7 years ago
Seriously adamaus? I hope you are joking here. You don't need to know how juggle in an actual game. What does juggling have to do with how a players plays?
Incuteration (Everton) 7 years ago
Yeah, it's just a dream. But I'll see myself in a goalkeeper position which doesn't need any juggling at all. But that's just a dream, 99% it won't come true lol
Adamaus (Manchester United) 7 years ago
Well Goalkeeper is alright then.

It actually has a bit to do with your playing level. Being able to juggle shows coordination, help produce a good touch and is great practice for having control over the ball, especially when its off the ground.

Why do you think pro's spend time juggling? Because its a useful exercise that helps you know matter what standard you play, even if it just for 5 mins before training or a game helps you get a feel for the ball
Puskas (Manchester United) 6 years ago
Nice thing to do juggle for a moment before a game but I play centre back if you juggle a ball in front of me the chances of doing it more than once is slim i've seen all sorts of tricks of the pitch but your chances of getting away with that in a real game are slim unless your george best etc as regards playing the game play where your comfortable and play for as long as you can never let any one put you down we play the greatest game on the planet because we love it peace and love
PointmanUk3s (Arsenal) 7 years ago
I'm jealous. Although, I don;'t think I personally could handle that impartiality bit. Too hard to control my impulse for my team
Mattdog87 (Manchester United) 7 years ago
Wow, that article was surprisingly inspirational
Derby22 (Derby County) 7 years ago
Wow that's great. I wish I could have been there. I'm jealous too now!
Drukdude (Chelsea) 7 years ago
Great article. I'm jealous
Lytsdb (Barcelona) 7 years ago
Hi there!  Nice write up mate!  Somethings we always take for granted.... Thanks!
Omar (Arsenal) 7 years ago
Dang Ant, Now I wish I could be a Stretcher Bearer!
You have such an exciting life, live games with the Phoenix, and a game with the New Zealend national team?! I mean, they aren't the biggest team around, but seeing a game that determines weather they go into the WC or not must be exciting!
Andy (Rangers) 7 years ago
Thanks for sharing Ant, great read!
Alen (Liverpool) 7 years ago
Great read Ant! I wish my city even had a team.... Or a stadium Las Vegas.... All we have is Casinos haha
Midssi10 (Barcelona) 7 years ago
Who could ever think of a job as exciting as a stretcher bearer, I want to become one myself...
Minadeo (Juventus) 7 years ago
Excellent article.
Exciting enough that I viewed the highlight of the match.
The game actually was shown (probably live) here in the US.
Congratulations and Good Luck in Africa (until you face the Azzuri)
Tony (footytube staff) 7 years ago
Whens the book coming out ant, I want a signed copy
Adamaus (Manchester United) 7 years ago
Loved the article.
Would be an awesome job as a football lover! The next best thing to being able to play?
Don't suppose you get to travel over there as a bearer
ManUK (Manchester United) 7 years ago
Nice haha, thanks for sharing! Your almost as good a blogger as andy! No jk I'll have to make a thread on that sometime

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