It's the 21st of December, 2013, and I've rocked up to Millwall's stadium, The New Den, down in South East London for their Championship match against Middlesbrough. I've been here a number of times before to watch games but this time, I'm pitch-side working at my first shift as a steward.
A few weeks before, I did my induction in Bexleyheath with the security company. 18-year-old me, having left school at 16, is bouncing between jobs trying to earn a bit of cash as and when I can. Thinking back to it, I don't think I ever did get paid for the work I did for them — the going rate being around £6 an hour — I don't think I ever hit the 'cash-in' threshold of £100.
It's extremely cold and rainy, a typical December match under the lights and with a 5:30pm kick off time, televised. As I walk down from New Cross Gate station, the rain is pounding down and part of me wants the match to get called off; I'm not wearing anywhere near enough layers to cope with standing around in the rain for the next four hours.
Eventually, I get to the stadium, sign-in and get assigned to my part of the ground. Looking back on it, I was stuck out in the cold as it was my first shift, with the veterans getting the cushty jobs such as guiding people to their seats. Whichever way you cut it, Millwall has a tasty atmosphere and their fans a reputation for trouble.
It was a relatively tame 2-0 defeat for the home side, and being honest, I was more interested in being about five feet away from Shay Given — my childhood idol — who turned out for 'Boro between the sticks. There wasn't an awful lot to actually do. Watching a crowd whilst getting absolutely soaked isn't something I'd recommend, yet we still expect people to do it.
After the scenes at the back end of this season, as well as the Champions League final in Paris, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the organising bodies don't actually know or give a damn about how events are actually stewarded. Try to get away with the maximum amount they can, whilst costing them as little as possible.
Would I have stopped more than one person getting on the pitch? I highly doubt it, and if they were to get past me, there is no chance in hell I'm becoming an internet meme. Especially not for £6 an hour. Those are mild incidents, however, compared to a full-scale pitch invasion. They can and have been extremely dangerous. Players get absolutely mobbed, or even punched in the case of Billy Sharp, and the only thing that is stopping them is someone similar to an 18-year-old me.
Stewards are a deterrent, they aren't really supposed to get involved, and for the money they are paid, who can blame them? In my case, I was essentially a child, and in the photo above you can see there's not a soul near me. In instances where authorities know the chances of pitch invasions are high, there needs to be a higher presence of stewards and over the course of the past month, this lack of support for them has shown how far down the pecking order they really are.
The treatment of Liverpool fans — and now, according to UEFA, the culprits of all the trouble in Paris — was shameful. Families with young kids getting penned in, three hours before kick-off, in what should have been one of the most memorable football matches of their lives. The day had been tarred by the mismanagement and organisational inadequacy in a city that is hosting the next Olympics.
It's astounding that more people weren't hurt, and scenes that we have seen in Britain pale in comparison to what happened at Saint-Etienne on the 29th of May when they were relegated from Ligue 1. This is not just a British or English fan issue, which UEFA seem to love spouting. This spreads across the game and they need to take a long, hard look at their policies and procedures when a country that has been ordered to play behind closed doors due to racism (Hungary, in case you were wondering), can still get 15,000 fans into a ground as children under 14 can't be unaccompanied.
You'd think with all the money swirling around, they just might put the safety of players, fans and those working at grounds to enable matches to happen as a priority...