From checking emergency exits to dealing with player injuries. Meet the man who has spent 44 years keeping Salop fans safe on matchdays.
There can be few, if any, employees at the Montgomery Waters Meadow who have been involved in more Shrewsbury Town matches than chief steward Keith Davies.
His estimate, give or take a few one way or the other, is that he has been a steward at approximately 1,200 matches, during which time he has seen 26 managers, including part-timers, take the reins at the old Gay Meadow ground and now the plus Montgomery Waters Meadow stadium.
Keith, who spent 35 years working as an architectural technologist for Shropshire Council, lived at Wem and was a season ticket holder at Shrewsbury Town, who he has supported since the age of 12.
He was employed by North Shropshire District Council and when the football club were on the lookout for new stewards, he jumped at the chance in 1978.
His first game, he recalled, was against Birmingham City, and he was on duty on the riverside of the ground. Since that day he says he has only missed being on duty at around 40 games, many of which, in his younger days, were brought about by the fact he played in goal for Shropshire and a number of local teams.
He became chief steward in 2005 and now, depending on the size of the crowd, he is in charge of between 30 and 130 stewards on matchdays, all of whom have been trained and have a minimum qualification of MVQ2.
He holds an MVQ3 qualification and his routine on the day of a match is to arrive at the ground shortly after mid-day and, on their arrival, the stewards search the ground to ensure there is nothing suspicious and to make sure the turnstiles can be opened at 1:30pm.
His duties, he explained, start 72 hours before a game, and entail sorting out the medical teams, including the crowd and players’ doctors, paramedics and first responders who had to be on duty.
On matchdays he meets with stadium manager, Lawrence Ellerby, to discuss any latest intelligence information from the police which, in turn, is passed on to the stand managers.
He then turns his attention to checking every fire extinguisher in the stadium, ensuring they are full, in working order and in the correct position. He also checks all the emergency exits to see they are all clear and operational, as well as inspects lifts in the ground to make sure they are compliant.
Next, it is his job to check the designated refuge areas where disabled fans should congregate should there be the need to evacuate the ground.
“Basically, that is what I have to do and until I’ve done all my tasks the ground doesn’t open,” he said.
Then, about 90 minutes before kick-off, Keith sits down with the match officials to discuss with them any changes which might have occurred to the regulations - including Covid precautions - which vary at grounds around the country and sent to them before the game.
Keith said that he was also the tunnel and access manager, which meant he never left the tunnel area during a game and made him responsible for reporting to control any incidents, including injuries to the players.
“If a player is injured, I am responsible, in coordination with the referee, as to what happens, such as a player being severely hurt and having to be taken to hospital,” said Keith.
“At the end of a match I see the referee to discuss any problems with him and if there is a reportable incident, such as an incursion onto the pitch, we agree on a report which goes to the FA. We then get a report from the FA and, depending on the severity of the incident, we learn whether we are to get a rap over the knuckles or, if it is a recurring incident, how much we will be fined.”
During his 44 years as a steward, Keith said there had been a few unsavoury incidents, such as a couple of stabbings and fans being slashed with Stanley knives.
Fans from a club in the northeast, he added, smashed up the Station end of the Gay Meadow ground but, by and large, the trouble was caused by a minority.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “there will always be hooliganism in football, but the situation has improved considerably since Hillsborough, the Taylor Report which followed and the segregation of fans.
“When you get the big clubs down here you are always apprehensive about the possibility of trouble, but I remember one occasion when a visiting club brought only 125 fans and they ran us ragged,” he recalled.
“They just wouldn’t do anything we told them, and they were running all over the terracing. We thought with 125 visitors it would be easy-peasy – but it wasn’t.”