As England gears up for the second test (well done the West Indies for winning the first, harrumph), Emma Levine is pining for her spiritual home. What’s it like to work at Lord’s cricket ground?
As a huge cricket fan, working at Lord’s as a steward has more than its fair share of thrills. You’re at a world-famous ground, can watch the thrilling action and spot the sporting stars. But it takes its toll on your feet and stamina.
As a Yorkshire lass born into a cricket-loving family, that final over last July was just a few precious moments of nerve-shredding ecstasy, in the lengthening shadows at Lord’s. In that breath-taking World Cup final, England beat New Zealand in the very last delivery. After 48 matches played over six weeks around the country.
It was the most memorable ‘I was there’ moment – and I’ve witnessed my fair share of emotional sporting scenes. The difference was, on that historic day, 14 July 2019, I was actually paid to be there.
Since returning to England in 1999 after living in Asia for eight years, each summer I’d absorb the drama. Albeit in relative comfort. But this time I was peering at the action through a narrow gap in the railings, between yelling fans up on their feet and behind a concrete staircase…
I was part of the action!
Instead of jeans and T-shirt, I was dressed in white collared shirt, bottle-green blazer, clip-on tie and sturdy black shoes. This was my second summer at Lord’s working as a steward for major matches – internationals and cup finals. At that moment, around 7pm, I embraced the occasion as much as the thousands of disbelieving fans when, in a moment of delight and ultimately confusion, English won their first-ever World Cup.
After Joffra Archer bowled the very final delivery and Martin Guptill was run out, England were declared winners
It wasn’t only the first time that England lifted the trophy. But also the first time that a team won after requiring a Super Over – a kind of tie-breaker or penalty shoot-out when the scores had been tied at the end of 50 overs. After Joffra Archer bowled the very final delivery and Martin Guptill was run out, England were declared winners. After a few moments of hideous uncertainty, by merit of scoring more boundaries.
Fluke? Maybe. An epic? Definitely. It was moments like this that made it worth the dawn alarm and long hours on my feet.
It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it
For any life-long cricket fan, you could say that a job at the sport’s global spiritual home is a dream come true. However it has its drawbacks, the obvious one being the pay: a stewarding shift pays just about minimum wage.
And it’s an early start – I was leaving home at a tough 5.40am to make my way by packed public transport (yes, even at that hour) to northwest London’s St John’s Wood, clocking-in for my shift at 7am. A 13-hour shift takes its toll on your feet and, on exceptionally hot days, you’re cursing that polyester blazer – unless your supervisor is understanding and allows you to ditch it.
The Upper Mound stand, one of seven stands stringing the circumference, is undoubtedly where I’d spend any large lottery winnings that might come my way (if I ever bought a ticket).
Sitting above the 24 corporate boxes are debenture seats. The priciest, best seats in the house overlooking the pristine pitch, bookended by the futuristic media centre and the Victorian pavilion. Home to Middlesex CCC since 1877 and hosting test matches since 1884, it’s seen plenty of sporting history and stars. From WG Grace and Don Bradman, via Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar to today’s heroes Ben Stokes and Joe Root.
Every matchday at Lord’s, whether the world cup, test matches or domestic cup finals, there’s always an impressive roll-call of famous faces: players-turned-commentators, cricketers who had retired decades earlier, prominent TV stars.
There’s always a smattering of MPs and their families; David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage are Lord’s regulars. Sometimes it means smiling and saying ‘good morning’ through gritted teeth – part of the job, after all, is to be friendly and courteous to all, regardless of political allegiance – yours and theirs.
We’re very strict about dress code
A major part of the job in our section was to politely reprimand those who didn’t hit the strict dress code. This is different in each stand. Ours had some of the strictest rules – T-shirts and shorts, for example, were forbidden. Sometimes the job resembled being a nightclub bouncer and my slender five-foot frame wielded immense power.
But what about the perks? Thankfully there were regular breaks during hours of play. For me there was no better way to spend it than to race down the steps to find a spare seat in the lower stand to watch the action. The thwack of leather on willow will always epitomise summer for me, and it’s one of the best sounds ever.
Eclectic workforce and high-spirited camaraderie
You’d rarely find another workplace drawing in such a broad spectrum of backgrounds among the hundreds of stewards. I might be guarding the entrance with a single mum juggling several part-time jobs, checking tickets with a bank clerk or reprimanding an unruly section of spectators along with a retired police officer.
There’s a strong spirit of togetherness on the job, crucial to keep up morale on the most tiring of days. Fatigue takes its toll in the early afternoon, often when some spectators, buoyed up by booze, try to blag entry to the corporate boxes. They’ll try namedropping and insist that the host invited them.
Persuading guests to go home – even at 8pm, one hour after play has ended – would test the patience of a saint. Most guests have been drinking since 10am but they will insist that there is still booze to be finished.
By then, when we’ve been working for 13 hours, it’s the camaraderie of our colleagues that keeps us going until clocking out time. It’s not just the two teams playing each other on the pitch – the staff working there is the team with the strongest bond of all.
You want to be a steward?
When I applied for the steward’s job, after a friend forwarded me the link back in the winter of 2017, I had zero experience of the hospitality or entertainment industry. I was hoping that my love of cricket would compensate for that. My telephone interview was surprisingly straightforward: How would I handle a group of unruly spectators? What would I say to those trying to bring extra guests into the corporate box?
A training day in early March, along with around 80 other new stewards, taught us the basics. We learned how to use a fire extinguisher and how to spot someone trying to smuggle in illegal items. Which included flags and musical instruments. (Fans from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were always entertaining with constant singing and dancing – sadly tabla drums were prohibited.)
We were taken through the emergency security alerts, highlighting that safety is paramount. We always have to be on high alert – while ensuring all fans have the best possible experience.
Crucial to the job is endless patience and stamina. And a constant smile on your face.
What will happen post-Covid19?
The stewards Head Office recently told us, “In terms of possible cricket at Lord’s, whilst the ECB announced on Friday that there would be no domestic and recreational cricket played until August 1st at the earliest. MCC is working closely with the ECB and the 18 first-class counties on a couple of plans to play a number of matches across a condensed period of time from August through until, possibly, October.”
The first test match – England v West Indies – was played on 8 July behind closed doors. Sports fans across the world are reluctantly accepting this new reality and perhaps prepare to watch action on TV.
We’re all looking ahead, hoping for better times and for life to return to ‘normal’. Next year’s fixtures, scheduled to begin in May 2021, provide a beacon of hope. I’m keeping my white shirts, sensible black shoes, and clip-on tie ready for that. Let’s hope that the drama will match last summer’s epic final.
More information about fixtures from the Lords website