Popular kitman Darryl Strong has packed up for one last time at Shrewsbury Town
Players and managers come and go – but kitmen are part of the furniture.
They are a vital cog in the machine that is a football club and can play a significant role to the success any side enjoys.
They are a permanent fixture for players, there to make sure everything is ship-shape – a sort of safety net – and they build close bonds.
None more so than Darryl Strong, who left a lasting impression on every single player he worked with at Shrewsbury Town since 2015.
But Strong is no longer a permanent fixture at Sundorne Castle and Montgomery Waters Meadow, he retired from kitman duty after the goalless draw with Fleetwood on New Year’s Day.
Strong, who turned 70 recently, has taken a well-earned retirement and, alongside wife Lin, left their Telford home for Dawlish on the south coast, fulfilling their dream of a house by the seaside (pictured right).
“You can always tell if you’re getting on with people, especially footballers, the banter is there,” said Strong, who was born in Malta but moved to Wiltshire at an early age.
“They accept the banter you give them, you know you’re on the same side and that’s always a positive.
“People are people, players are players and they all tick differently.
“The majority, 85 or 90 per cent are all singing off a hymn sheet but there are some private individuals.
“You respect that. Let them be private individuals. If they want anything they’ll ask you. It’s not the same sort of banter but that’s their way, you have to respect that.”
Strong’s most enjoyable and unquestionably successful period while with Shrewsbury was under Paul Hurst last season, which included two trips to Wembley Stadium in a memorable campaign.
To the uninformed, a kitman merely lays out shirts, shorts and socks – but Strong’s influence reached much further. So much so that – particularly towards the end of last season’s thrilling ride – Hurst would regularly attribute Strong as part of the success, and say that the achievements are for people such as the popular former Nuneaton Town kitman.
“If you tell my wife it’s just putting kit out she’ll tell you it’s not!” Strong added.
“It’s nice. You try to be remembered for what you do and I hope what I’ve done reflects of me as a person. It’s great, and I’ll have plenty of happy memories to take while relaxing having a cider or two.
“It’s difficult to talk about individuals. The one, because he’s been here longer than I have, is Sads (Mat Sadler) really. I’ve got very close to his family. There are others, a lot of players you get close to.
“I’m still in touch with them (other players), still very rude and a lot of banter down the phone. They obviously remember something about me, whatever that might be!
“You see some things that are not repeatable and some not so pretty things walking up and down with players not in the right attire!
“That’s part of the club and industry to be perfectly honest.”
On his final Salop away trip, to Sunderland just after Christmas, Strong was persuaded by the Town players to sing a song to mark his farewell.
A rousing rendition of ‘Combine Harvester’ by The Wurzels, in thick west country twang, was well received.
Strong’s daily schedule was among the most demanding at the club. Early starts and late finishes to prepare and clear up after the players. Then there are the miles he clocks up on every single away trip.
There is one particular reason Strong was sad to be departing the club, because he sees bright skies ahead – not in Devon – but in Shrewsbury under Sam Ricketts.
“Probably the biggest disappointment I’ve got is that I’m leaving now. The fact is, I can see very, very positive things with Sam,” he added.
“With the gaffer’s background and outlook and with all the staff, it’s a great place to be at the moment, without a doubt.
“The biggest disappointment is that I’m going at a time when things are really very much on the up.
“It’s great, the whole set-up is gearing itself right, hopefully at some point they’re successful in reaching the Championship. I don’t see why they couldn’t maintain a good position within the Championship.”