Here I go with the same old lines, just when you think you get an interview that tops the lot, along comes another one that blows you away. Today boys and girls I give you 49 years young Tony Hawkins (Pictured below – cough) in what is another epic read. For those of you that possibly don’t know Tony, is that possible, you will know he once worked behind the counter at SMK, was the kitman for Karl Robinson, is, or should I say was the other voice in the “Sit Down or We’ll Steal Your Club” podcast alongside Dons royalty JT, and is also a presenter on MKFM for the matchday radio show.
Now………Stop right here, make yourself a brew first, then put your feet up and have a read.
Thanks to Tony, we think you will enjoy this.
How did your Dons journey start, and can you recall the first Dons game you ever watched / attended?
I’ve tried to work out what my first game was. I do know that I went as a result of my daughter getting a couple of tickets from her school, and in my head, I thought it was Southend at home and was an evening game. I believe we lost the game and Izale McLeod missed a penalty but looking through the records, I can’t pinpoint it, but I think it was the 2005/6 season. I then got season tickets for the last season at the NHS under Martin Allen in 2006/7 for me and my daughters and haven’t missed a home game since then, other than those we haven’t been able to attend due to COVID.
Many people will probably know you from your ticket office days, and then when you became the kit man, how did you get that job and was it everything you expected working alongside Robbo?
When the possibility of becoming Kit Man was first suggested to me I really didn’t want the job. I knew the previous Kit Man and he was always telling me how hard the job was and how long the hours were. One of the Club Directors suggested that I should at least meet with Karl to discuss it and it turns out that he basically wanted me to do it and that was that. I heard around 120 people had applied for the job (none of them me!) but he had made his mind up that he wanted me as Kit Man. I was already quite chummy with Karl by that point and we would often chat about football at length and obviously MK Dons in general. I met with Karl, Damo, Kirstine (Club Secretary) and (I think) Andy Cullen and a couple of others and it was noticeably clear Karl wanted me for the job. That meeting took place in December 2013 a few days before Port Vale at home which was my first official game and I remember absolutely nothing about it! Then we had Crawley away on Boxing Day and then Brentford away four days later. It was then I realised the enormity of the job I’d taken on and having had no ‘training’ whatsoever, I was going to have to learn very quickly so for those first two away games I took every single piece of kit we had. The kit van was so full (and probably overloaded) that on the way to Brentford it nearly tipped over going round a bend!
I’ve never had a job like it. Professional football is like living in a bubble, even at the level we’re at. I had no idea what to expect when I went into it and working with/for Karl is an experience in itself.
Can you give us a brief description of what your duties were on matchday?
Matchdays were actually the easiest part of the job for me, even with away games. For home games I would try and get everything set up the day before and for away games, I’d pack everything I needed the day before as well. I would usually have the squad and starting XI before any of the players knew so had to be quite sneaky about what I was doing as they would often try and find out if they were in the squad or starting XI. If asked, I would just reply “speak to the gaffer” and that usually got rid of them. Other than that, once set up, it was relatively easy compared to most days. I could usually sit back and watch the game as all my work is done before and after the game. Aside from replacement shirts for blood or rips and the occasional boot change, matchdays were pretty easy and were mainly spent standing around waiting for someone to ask for something. I always worked on the basis that if nobody talks to me, they’ve got everything they need, and I’ve done a good job.
During your time as kit man did you ever make any serious blunders?
Podcast listeners will be familiar with the time I forgot Antony Kay’s studded boots when we played Carlisle away on a Tuesday night.
I had a system for packing kit for away games to ensure nothing was forgotten. Due to the distance being travelled, this was one of the rare occasions where I would travel with the team on the coach as I usually drove to away games on the day in my van. We were training in Carlisle, a last-minute decision due to Karl being let down by a Premier League club on a promise that we’d be able to use their training ground en route. We got to Carlisle and went to the school who had said we could use their 3G pitch after some frantic ringing around had been done to find somewhere to train. It was already getting dark and the lights were not very good at all. The pitch was so bald it was like playing on concrete and Healdy wouldn’t let the goalkeepers train on it so everyone was in a bad mood as we couldn’t have a proper session.
Next day I travelled over to Carlisle’s ground to get set up. It was then I realised I had not packed Kaysy’s studs. As I had packed the matchday kit separately from the training kit, I thought I may have put them in the wrong place, but they weren’t there. I then spent the next two hours dreading the arrival of the staff and players. I told Kaysy I’d forgotten them and offered him a pair of Izale’s boots as they were the same size and Izale tended to take five pairs to games, so I knew there’d be a spare pair available. Kaysy of course was the only player who wore his brand of boot and asking a footballer to wear another player’s boots is a bad idea anyway. They get used to them and wearing someone else’s isn’t an option. Kaysy chose to wear his moulded boots instead. He spent the entire game like Bambi on ice, we comprehensively lost the game and I rightly got the blame. That was an horrendous mistake to make and the five-hour coach journey home was spent in silence. I eventually got home at around 5am in the morning after the game. Other than once forgetting the FA Cup captain’s armband I can honestly say my system for packing kit was more or less fool proof and that one mistake was simply because Kaysy was number 24 at the time and the last number in the matchday squad and I had ticked him off as having his studs packed away. From there on, I always packed the boots in a certain way so that nobody could ever be forgotten again.
While in your role were there any grounds you really loved to visit, and any you hated?
Brighton is by far the best. The only ground I’ve ever visited that is better than ours in terms of the changing rooms. It’s amazing! Plenty of room for everyone, a separate medical room, place for storage, etc, etc. An absolute dream for any Kit Man. Doncaster was the biggest changing room but was actually too big. So much so that I only used half of it. Honourable mention for Crewe as well. Fulham was ‘nice’. You don’t tend to get a feel for the local area as a Kit Man or get to see the local sights and scenery, but Craven Cottage is a beautiful place.
The worst, in no particular order are Leeds, Crawley, Stevenage, Pish, Sheffield Wednesday, Walsall, Bradford, Brentford, QPR, Reading and Oldham.
We are sure you have many stories you can tell us about your time in the dressing room, are there any suitable for publication that you can let us in on?
Nothing specific as such really. All I can tell you is:
Don’t go drinking with Darren Potter and Carl Baker, they are an absolute liability.
Never let anybody know when your birthday is.
Don’t play poker with Will Grigg.
Don’t let Danny Green use your toilet.
Lewie will rip your favourite, newly purchased shirt off you because he thinks it’s hilarious.
If Dele Alli sends you a message containing a photo, DO NOT OPEN IT.
Never, ever lose sight of your mobile phone.
What would you say was your most memorable occasion as kit man, the Man Utd game, Heel of God, Promotion, or something else?
Difficult to choose between the Man Utd game and promotion to the Championship. Manchester Utd because it was just so surreal. I didn’t go home afterwards; we were celebrating in Karl’s office until around 4am the following morning. I ended up sleeping in either the referee’s room or Karl’s office, can’t remember which.
The promotion was just crazy. After the game was just a blur. We ended up in a pub and everyone was there. All the players and First Team staff but also all the other staff from the Club were there as well. It was a perfect example of how everyone involved with the Club was so close at the time. From the Box Office, to Accounts, to the SET, even the hotel staff. Again, I didn’t make it home and slept on a mate’s sofa who happened to live two minutes from the pub. We got back there about 3am and next thing I know, Lewie is ringing me to tell me to get down to another pub for midday where all the players were having their own celebration. I got there at 3pm and they were all there, fresh as daisies. Most of them had gone to Pink Punters after leaving the pub. They have boundless energy! It was unusual for a staff member to socialise with the players, but I was always invited to nights out with them and I can honestly say that the promotion day was one of the highlights of my entire life and will never be repeated.
Who was the biggest moaner in the dressing room?
This might sound weird, but there weren’t any. There’s a hierarchy in the changing room and its usually only senior players that speak up and even then, only when the manager isn’t there. Once the manager comes into the room, it’s generally silence from the players.
What made you give the role up?
I’m getting old! Plus, the arrival of grandchildren added to the reasons to give it up. And I wasn’t too keen on Robbie Neilsen’s regime of working eight days a week.
Many people will know you from the Podcast and the Radio Show, how did you get involved in those two ventures?
The original idea came to me in around 2008 or 2009. I was thinking about starting a podcast, but nobody knew me at that point, so I knew I needed a prominent Dons fan with me to hopefully get people listening so approached Franco Volpe. He was keen on the idea and we actually ended up doing a radio show at first. The chemistry between Franco and me was perfect from the word go and I really enjoyed working with him. I don’t remember the order in which everything happened after that, but I believe I then teamed up with JT (John Taylor) and Ross Gallagher and we did a radio show and podcast on and off for ages. When I became Kit Man, I had to give it up but then JT got back in touch once I’d left the job and that’s how the latest version of the podcast started. He sent me a message asking if I fancied getting it going again and I didn’t hesitate to say yes. JT does all the work and is a brilliant editor and producer. If it weren’t for him, I would definitely have not started up another podcast. The latest radio show on MKFM came about after Lee Scriven pitched the idea to me. Again, it really wasn’t a difficult decision to make at all and I’m hoping that will continue again once all this COVID stuff dies down a bit.
We understand you are stepping back from some of your duties to head in another direction, can you tell us about that?
I’m starting a BSc in Mathematics at the end of January and I underestimated how much of my time it’s actually going to take to study effectively. Unfortunately, the podcast had to be sacrificed for this reason. It was a difficult choice to make but the right one for me.
Can you tell us your favourite Dons player of all time?
Shaun Williams. Pretty much had everything I like to see in a player.
Where do you think the Dons will finish up this season?
Your tips for promotion and relegation?
I couldn’t care less to be honest but most likely Hull for automatic promotion. Pish are also capable of automatic promotion. Other than that, I can’t be bothered to think about it.