With 145 days to Headingley staging the Investec Test Match later between England and Sri Lanka commencing on Friday June 20, this week we are looking at what it takes to stage a major match at our famous old venue.
There’s only four days remaining to take advantage of the Early Bird Discount and with tickets selling well for the first two days, particularly for day two (Saturday January 21) which is heading for a sell-out, cricket fans are being encouraged to buy now and save before the prices increase on Saturday February 1. Book online now.
In the second of our series of interviews, we collared Hospitality & Events Manager Sarah Thorpe and Head of Sales Simon Pixsley – whose match day roles involve collaborating with hospitality guests and sponsors and acting as hosts for Headingley’s dignitaries.
The hospitality preparation starts as soon as the previous year’s Test Match ends, with the planning and preparation required taking up the majority of the time before sales open around the end of the previous season.
The closer the major match looms, the bigger the preparations become. Anything from flower picking, to menu tasting, to picking the colour of the wristbands all take place before the morning of the big day.
But what about the day of the match? What happens behind the scenes of Headingley’s World Famous Hospitality? Here, Simon and Sarah talk us through a day in their lives when England come to town.
Pre- Gates Opening
ST: Generally we arrive around 7am and have a coffee to wake up first! We always get last minute requests, from additional places to dietary requirements so we always check to see if we can accommodate them first before we do anything else.
SP: Then we check on the boxes and make sure everything is still in place from the day before – or anything that requires work in the morning is prepared. We’ll also run through all the guests on the day one more time, to double check the lists we are giving to the meet and greet staff are definitely correct.
ST: After that we’ll head up to the rooms and put out scorecards and corporate gifts and menus and programmes and things. If it’s day one we’d generally have done that the day before apart from scorecards, but obviously on the mornings of the second and third or fourth day’s play, we can’t really do those things the night before so we have to make sure it’s all set in the morning.
SP: Turning the TV’s on, making sure the bars are stocked by Headingley Experience (Headingley’s Official Catering Providers), newspapers out… those important things too! We have had televisions break before now, especially if people play around with the channels the day before, which does happen if it rains or there’s other matches on, so at least once a day we have to stand and retune a television which, because it’s all on a signal, will probably knock one of the others out and we end up chasing television signals around. It’s very glamourous.
Ahead of Play
ST: The hospitality guests are allowed into their facility an hour and a half before play starts so our focus is on meeting the corporate guests at the gates and ensuring they know where they’re going. At least three times since I’ve worked here we’ve been standing at the gate with umbrellas to hand out for people whilst I try my best to shelter from the rain – I’m sure it’s happened to everyone in cricket at some point!
SP: That part of the day is really important though because we want to make sure all guests feel really welcome at Headingley right from the start. Sometimes we also have people at the car parks and always on the corridors to make sure people are finding their way– it all helps make sure guests feel safe and welcome at Headingley which we really want to portray.
ST: So we don’t really mind standing in the rain.
SP: Although obviously it would be better for everyone all round if it didn’t rain
ST: I definitely would prefer it if it didn’t rain! Breakfast is served before play starts too so one of us will be making sure all the boxes get the right food they’ve requested and that they’re happy with it and enjoying themselves and everything is on time.
SP: This is when we’re constantly roaming the boxes, chatting to the clients and their guests and making sure everything is what they’re wanting. We try not to interrupt their watching of play too much – they’re there for the cricket after all.
ST: We also start taking our guest speakers around the boxes just around lunch time. They’re always really entertaining and actually, stopping them from talking in time to make it around all the boxes before play starts again is a really difficult part of the job!
SP: Up to this point we’re always checking that everything is running on time. Especially if there’s bad light or it rains and lunch is brought forwards. If that’s the case, we have to make sure we’re flexible enough to make arrangements to suit our guests. All throughout the day we’re in touch with Headingley’s Official Catering Providers – Headingley Experience – to make sure they’re on track with everything service wise.
ST: Unlike the spectators, the hospitality guests get longer to spend in their suites at the end of play but we generally find they wind down about an hour after play ends. We like to try our best to thank and say goodbye to every single person and ask them if they enjoyed their day too.
SP: After everyone leaves we tidy up and make sure it’s clean and ready for the next day. We can start to put things like scorecards and menus in ahead of the next day but we can’t fully reset the room straight away as the tables will need to be moved and reset depending on the guest numbers for the next day. Generally we can head home for around 9pm and catch up on eating and sleeping – although most of the time I’m awake all night thinking about the next day! That’s the problem with the long days, you can’t switch off easily.
ST: It’s extremely tiring though, after one Test Match I actually slightly crashed my car driving home because I was just so exhausted. I accidently slightly reversed into a wall that was almost impossible to reverse into and I still have no idea how I did it. People still tease me about that and I’m not allowed to drive during Test Matches anymore!
What’s the silliest fancy dress costume you’ve ever seen?
ST: I do have two favourites actually, once I saw a line of Smurfs doing the conga through the concourse being led by Snow White and followed by Superman. Which you don’t see every day. I also saw Wallace and Gromit once and they were really life like!
SP: I don’t think I could pick a favourite! The 118 guys are popular and somehow they always manage to keep their afro wigs and moustaches on for the whole day even in the heat! I think one year we had some people dressed as Dickie Bird who copied every move the umpire made – that was quite clever.
What’s your fondest Test Match memory?
SP: I’ve now got joint favourite memories, one was Michael Vaughan’s hundred when he returned to play and Joe Root’s maiden Test hundred last year against New Zealand. That was amazing to be part of.
ST: I would also say Joe Root’s maiden hundred against New Zealand last season but I also remember Kevin Pietersen’s hundred at Headingley the year before against South Africa. The atmosphere was electric, the kind that you don’t forget easily!
Who’s your biggest claim to fame? Have you met any famous people?
ST: I’d have to say Geoffrey Boycott!
SP: For me, aside from Geoffrey Boycott, it would have to Sir Gary Sobers. That was quite a humbling moment.
Finally, your favourite thing about a Test Match at Headingley?
ST: I think the atmosphere on a Test Match at Headingley is just incredible, people don’t realise how much different it is. Headingley really comes alive at an international match. It’s amazing to be a part of.
SP: I agree. The cricket and the atmosphere of a Test Match is fantastic and do make it worth every late night and early morning! You don’t want to miss a part of a Test Match, it’s always captivating and the atmosphere just makes it extra special.
Don’t miss a moment of cricket at Headingley this summer. Tickets are available at the Early Bird Discounted rate until 31st January 2014. Click here to book
Hospitality packages are available from £149 for England v Sri Lanka Investec Test Match and for England v India in the Royal London One-Day International . To book – call Sarah Thorpe on 0113 2033 621.