Details of stadium tours outlined

Money raised from tours of the SMH Group Stadium goes to the Community Trust. Nick Johnson caught up with Phil Tooley after he had shown a group of people around the stadium to find out what the tour involves…

Please give us a flavour of what’s been happening on the tour today…

We had a group from the Freedom Centre – an organisation that works with adults with learning difficulties – and it was a lovely tour. We started off as we always do in the Memorial Garden and then we moved inside. Very often we go into the executive box but because the football ground Monday to Friday is a working environment, there were meetings going on in there, so we went into one of the other meeting rooms that everybody calls the Dojo. It’s a fantastic space really and just absolutely shows the work that the Community Trust do here. Then we went down into the ground, did a little lap of the inside of the ground and stopped off at the dugouts, with lots of photo opportunities there. The guys and girls were really loving it sitting there and imagining they were Paul Cook. Then the ‘eyes light up’ moment as we move into the dressing room. We’d got old shirts hung up in each of the places and I’ve been asked several times through the the tour whether we’ll see the cup and I kept on sort of saying, ‘Well, it depends you know on the quality of questions that you ask and how good you behave’ and everything along those lines. But the eyes light up when we put it in the corner of the dressing room and it was a wonderful moment when everybody saw that and it was very much the highlight of the tour. While we were in the dugout, both John Croot and Ashley Kirk were around and they just came and had a few words as well. It was a wonderful, wonderful opportunity to allow these guys and girls sort of see the inner workings of the stadium and then have that opportunity of a photograph with a cup.

You’ve done a number of stadium tours over the last few months. How do you find the reaction is, generally? 

Generally fantastic. We aim for groups of up to 20. And we started doing them in the way that we’re doing them now last year. We offered them free and the tickets were taken up instantly. But we had a lot of no-shows when it came to the actual tour date, which is a real disappointment because there were people who wanted to get on them. So it was quite a long conversation we had about charging and we were thinking about that and we thought, ‘Well, if we charge £5, we’ll see how we go’. The first tours that we charged £5 for, I think we did four in one day and they were snapped up ridiculously quickly. And then the last time we did six in a day and they all were sold-out by one or two places. So it looks as though we’ve got the basis of that right. And we’ve done them all in school holidays because it’s encouragement for the children to come. They’re really invested as we all know. You only have to look at the on the pitch at the end of the Boreham Wood game and also the Town Hall, the number of children that are invested in this. So they come along sometimes in groups from a junior football team, sometimes in groups from parental groups that bring the kids with them and sometimes you get groups of just adults that come along and enjoy it. And of course in those we delve down into the history of the club a little bit more, taking questions on just about anything. The tour guides tend to be myself, Pete Whiteley, Howard Borrell, and then as support we’ve got Stuart Basson, the club historian, who’s been with me today. John Taylor also comes, he’s the biggest expert we have on kits and badges and logos and everything like that. Paul Kellett will come along and he is an expert on the youth set-up so there are always people who have got expertise in various areas as well as general knowledge across the club and the history of the club. People love finding out about the history. I know a fair bit about it and Stuart knows a fair bit about it and all the people I’ve just mentioned know a fair bit about it. Most people don’t and they’re intrigued with things like the Union Jack shirts from 1893. That’s always a talking point. We always have old shirts on display and, especially with kids, we let them try them on and have photographs with them and you wouldn’t believe how popular that is. It’s not quite mayhem but whatever the degree below mayhem is, it’s that. And their eyes light up when they see these kits. They might be ten sizes too big, but they still want them on, they want the photographs with them. And we talk about various shirts of note. We’ve got a Luke Beckett shirt from the Darren Brown era when there were all sorts of shenanigans going on. We tell the story about that. We have international shirts. We’ve got a Thomas Hitzlsperger shirt, who went on to play 50 plus internationals for Germany including in the World Cup. Then various tales of other players, other matches that were worn. We’ve got shirts from Manchester and the ten-nil loss at Gillingham. That really I think is most people’s highlights, the shirts. And of course this season, since the Boreham Wood game, on the tours that we’ve done, we’ve had the bonus of the National League Trophy, which we’ve managed to secure for each of the tours that we’ve done. Despite the hundreds, probably thousands of people that have touched that and seen that at close quarters since it was first held aloft by Jamie Grimes, you can’t beat a bit of current silverware. People love to see the Anglo-Scottish Cup, people love to see the replicas of 2011 and 2014 League Two titles that are in the cabinet, but this is something that’s been won now, it’s real now. It’s in everybody’s immediate past memory and you can’t underestimate how important it is for the club to allow that sort of thing to happen. 

What are the plans for future tours? 

We’ll definitely have some in the summer holidays and in the Spring Bank Holiday, I’m sure we’ll have some as well. We might vary a day and we might put some on in the evening. Generally, in the school holidays, we do them on a Wednesday because that’s the general day off for the players so you know you’ve got access to the dressing room, which is always an important part. So I think we’ll start talking about May dates because at that point it is possible because the players will still be off that you might be able to do evening tours as well, which I know a lot of people have asked for in the past so it’s an ideal opportunity to do those. Also, a little bit like the Freedom Centre today, we do tailor-made tours for organisations as well and they’re charged at £5 a person, the same as everything else. We do specific tours for specific organisations, should they be interested in doing that, so it’s always worth an ask.