Last weekend wasn’t just a return to work for Premier League footballers after Covid-19 forced a break in the season – it was also the first day back for other workers at clubs too, including match steward and Big Issue vendor Julie Cherry.
The Winton seller has been working as a steward at Premier League matches since 2018. Thanks to the Big Issue’s partnership with Saints Foundation, Southampton FC’s official charity, Julie was able to complete an employment programme that led to her taking up a job in the club’s stewarding department.
That led to more work in home matches at the Saints’ south coast rivals Bournemouth AFC and Julie, 51, returned to the Vitality Stadium on Saturday for the Cherries’ evening clash with Crystal Palace.
It was the first time that Julie had been to the ground since Bournemouth drew 2-2 with Chelsea on February 29. At that match she was tasked with giving fans information, showing them to their seats and keeping an eye on any safety risks as well as preventing disorder among supporters.
But on Saturday’s behind-closed-doors event there was none of that. And a Premier League match with no fans was not just an unusual experience for players and managers, it took some adapting for Julie too.
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At least she got to see more of the football as visitors Palace ran out 2-0 winners. Here’s what Julie had to say about her Premier League return:
“It was weird and exceptionally boring. I was watching the game instead so it was a lot easier job! We had to stand around for four hours before the match and we were all very bored and hot.
“We have to wear face masks, obviously, because the club gets find heavily for every person not wearing one. Until the press came in one hour before the game we had nothing to do but stand there. We usually get there two hours beforehand, and at Southampton it is two and a half. We were very bored!
“We usually start by having a briefing and opening the turnstiles and doing a sweep but there was no point in doing that. There was netting and banners over the chairs anyway saying ‘thank you to key workers’ and ‘March on the Reds’. There was no need to do any of this because you can’t get in without a passport and your name on the list. They take our temperature when we arrive and if we have a high temperature then we are tested for Covid-19.
“I was inside the ground and I couldn’t leave once I was in but I did hear that some fans did try and get into the ground but most were either drunk or local kids.
“It was a long day because I had to get there so early and because you are not allowed to take public transport to get there I had to walk to the stadium and I live three miles away. It was an evening kick-off so there were no buses when I left so I walked back and got home around 11.
“I won’t be back at Southampton for a while and Bournemouth don’t need me every game because there are no fans so they are spreading it around so everyone gets to do as many games as possible.
“But I was really looking forward to going back. It is back to normality of sorts and you’re seeing people that you haven’t seen in a long time. It was really nice to see people that you work with and putting the uniform on. I hadn’t been to the ground since March.”
Julie does not have long to wait to return to her other job – Big Issue vendors will be back on their pitches on July 6.
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