Shropshire-based kitman Pat Frost drives thousands of miles to help keep England running smoothly. He invited Steve Madeley to muck in on this week’s epic road-trip to Poland.
Sunday, 2.15pm: Pat Frost arrives in Brierley Hill to collect his newest passenger as we begin our marathon drive to Eastern Europe. We have more than 1,000 miles between us and England’s World Cup qualifier in Warsaw.
The Albion kitman whose company, J&F Transport, helps keep England moving across the globe, has had a busy day already.
Having been on hand for England’s win against San Marino the previous evening, he has offloaded the used kit from the Wembley game at FA kit headquarters in Staffordshire and loaded up new kit for both training and the match in Poland.
Mark Simkin, England’s lead kitman – a Wolves fan from Staffordshire – has made Pat’s life easier by preparing the kit weeks in advance.
“Mark is unbelievable,” Pat tells me as our journey begins. “All I had to do was drop off the kit from San Marino and the new stuff was all folded, packed and ready for me to load up. He has to cater for 23 players and up to 40 staff for training and matches in England and abroad and it’s all done with military precision. He never forgets a thing.”
4.10pm: We arrive at England’s team hotel near Watford.
The team’s area of the hotel is almost deserted but head physio Gary Lewin has left instructions for several boxes of equipment and a consignment of mobile treatment tables to be transported to Poland.
With all of the kit on board, we head for the Channel Tunnel and Pat, who hails from Telford, reveals how he got involved with England.
Having been hired to transport equipment for the women’s team he was asked by then-manager Mo Marley to ‘muck in’ with the kitmen. From there, his company’s involvement grew and it now transports equipment for all of England’s teams, from seniors to schoolboys.
The England experience would also lead eventually to Pat being chosen to replace long-serving Baggies kitman Dave Matthews following his retirement. Working for Albion – the team he has followed man and boy – is now Pat’s full-time job, but he continues to run his business and help out England.
6.30pm: With darkness now descending we arrive at Folkestone and the Eurotunnel terminal.
So why, I ask as we travel under the English Channel, do the FA not fly the kit along with the team?
“There are a couple of reasons,” Pat explains. “One is that some of the airports the team land at won’t take the bigger planes that would carry all of the kit. But the main reason is that they want everything there, waiting for them at their hotel, when they arrive.”
8.30pm local time: We arrive on French soil and complete the first couple of hours before finding a hotel near the Belgian city of Antwerp. The time is 11pm.
Monday, 8am: We leave Antwerp and make for the Dutch border. We enter the Netherlands after around an hour and are soon into Germany.
11.45am: The journey is going well, but minor roadworks have closed the autobahn towards Hanover, meaning a short detour towards Dortmund. Then an accident means another brief delay.
The setbacks cost us around 30 minutes. The scale of the journey is beginning to become clear, but a chat with Pat puts things into context. He has driven to Moldova and Belarus with kit for England teams.
“The furthest I have driven is Turkey,” he recalls.
3.30pm: We finally reach the outskirts of the Frankfurt Oder and cross the border into Poland. Thankfully, a newly-completed toll motorway across the country makes the final leg of the journey easier than it once was. Warsaw is still 300 miles away.
8.15pm: Finally, after 1,100 miles, six countries and more than 15 hours on the road, we arrive in Warsaw and make our way into the city centre, locating the England hotel.
Five huge trolley-loads of kit are pushed from the van, into the building and, via lifts, into luxury hotel rooms. Aside from shirts, shorts and socks, our cargo includes two skips of football boots, boxes and bags of medical equipment, folding massage tables, crates of energy drinks and even the printing machines with which Mark will add names and numbers to match shirts once Roy Hodgson picks his team.
Monday, 1pm: The team are not due in Warsaw by plane until lunchtime. But the work resumes as we are summoned to the team hotel to collect the kit needed for the evening’s training session. We turn up just as the FA convoy arrives from the airport under police escort, with the team coach followed by a staff minibus, cars for dignitaries – and another huge van of kit.
3.30pm: We arrive at Warsaw’s national stadium where, after a brief heated debate between our Polish guide and gate security, we are led to the players’ entrance.
Pat, Mark and other FA staff unload the van and lay out shirts, shorts, socks, boots, towels and other kit, ready for the players.
I, meanwhile, check the pressure of the 29 training balls to be used in the session. Having ticked off each one at 12psi, I hold my breath hope there have been no mistakes!
7.30pm: Training has been completed and, once the players have boarded the team coach, Mark, Pat and the team set about clearing up. Boots and some of the medical kit are left locked up in the dressing room but there is plenty that might be needed back at the hotel in Warsaw, so the van is loaded again.
9.30pm: The kit is unloaded back at the hotel.
Matchday arrived today and, once more, we were expecting another late start and an even later finish. We were due to collect match kit from the hotel at lunchtime and deliver it to the stadium, where Mark will lay it out well in advance of the players’ arrival at 7.30pm.
Once they have departed for the airport when the match concludes at around 11pm, Pat’s work will begin again.