Big Issue vendors star at Southampton FC Premier League opener

Our vendors got the chance to swap the high street for the bright lights of the English Premier League as they sold the special edition match day programme at Saints' first game of the season against Swansea City on Saturday.

Big Issue vendors kicked off our new partnership with Southampton FC in style as they stole the show at St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday.

As Saints began their Premier League campaign with a goalless draw at home to Swansea City, 14 vendors were on-hand to sell the special edition of The Big Issue that was the official matchday programme for the day. The historic first-of-its-kind link-up saw the one-off edition on sale at the match on the day as well as across the Hampshire region in the week running up to the game.

Saints footballers Nathan Redmond, Oriol Romeu, Manolo Gabbiadini and Florin Gardos also swapped the football pitch for a pitch of another kind when they joined the vendors on the streets of Winchester to distribute the edition.

And the partnership does not end there with The Big Issue Foundation, the organisation’s charitable arm, offering the opportunity for vendors to enrol in an eight-week employability programme run by Saints Foundation, the club’s official charity. The course equips vendors with job-ready skills and offers work placements across the club and will then see them afforded the opportunity of long-term employment appointments with Southampton FC.

This partnership is something that should be done more often, definitely

Gary Jackson, one of the first Big Issue vendors with the opportunity to enrol on the course, insists that he is excited about the opportunity after his big day at St Mary’s.

“This has opened up so many possibilities today,” he said. “I had the chance to meet some of the players while I was selling down near where the players arrive, which was great.

“I thought that selling the magazine with all these people here was going to be nerve-wracking but it went really well once it got going and a lot of the fans said that it was a really good idea once they got their head around it.

The Big Issue vendors take in St Mary's Stadium ahead of the game

“There can be a lot of misunderstanding about The Big Issue and about homeless people but I think that this partnership has shown what we are about and that we are good people.

“This is going to continue with me going on to a do a hospitality course in October. Hopefully that will lead to me having a chance to work at the club. It has given me a chance to build and work out a structured life for myself. This partnership is something that should be done more often, definitely.”

Istvan Kakas, who has been selling the magazine for seven years, called his appearance at St Mary’s ‘one of his best days’.

The vendor, who shared a booth with fellow seller Richard Cotterill on Saturday, said: “Today has been absolutely brilliant. We sold lots of magazines, over 250 and I think a lot fans were pleased with the magazine.

“Working with Southampton is a really fantastic idea and although it is a shame that they couldn’t get the win on the day, it has given me one of my best days in my time as a vendor.”

Big Issue vendors Richard Cotterill (left) and Istvan Kakas

Richard added: “I think that it is a brilliant idea for The Big Issue to work with Southampton and I really enjoyed seeing the match – football is a lot different to when I last went to a match.

“The reaction from fans was positive on the whole and after 2pm I almost didn’t have to do any selling because the queues were always big.”

The Big Issue special Southampton FC match-day edition
This special edition of The Big Issue was sold across Southampton and Hampshire, and at St Mary's Stadium on match-day

Greg Baker, Head of Saints Foundation, said: “The matchday activation of our partnership with the Big Issue at our first home fixture of the season against Swansea City was an incredible experience and really demonstrated how our shared values are at the heart of our partnership.

“It was great to see our fans really embrace the partnership and the vendors and we look forward to welcoming them back to the club and into the employability programme that we will be running in the near future.

Paul McNamee, editor of the Big Issue, said: “Today has been an incredible success. It has been a joy to work with both Southampton FC and the Saints Foundation throughout the process and wonderful for the vendors to have been involved throughout the week and today. The results really show the shared values we have as two organisations, working with the most vulnerable in society, giving them a hand up, not a hand out.

“It’s great to see a football club working towards a positive outcome in this way. We are delighted with how it has gone and are looking forward to working with Southampton FC and the Saints Foundation in the future.”

Our special Saints edition is still available from the The Big Issue Shop