“A young lad phoned me once and said - and these were his exact words - ‘There’s a rat in my kitchen; what am I going to do?’ I collapsed laughing,” Richards tells the September issue ofmagazine for a feature on modern football’s ‘Fixers’.
“It wasn’t even a rat; it was a tiny field mouse.
“He had a rural property, and we explained this would happen if he left his doors open.”
Such a story may seem like fiction, but in reality it is just another day in the life of a player liaison officer, the individuals players turn to when they are in need of a helping hand. Employed by clubs, their job has them on the clock 24/7.
And as Richards explains, his time working in the role for Wolves has shown him there’s no limit to what the request may be on the other end of the phone.
“I’ll also get things like: ‘The lights won’t come on.’ And, of course, the bulb has gone. Or the kettle isn’t plugged in,” he says.
Aside from fielding queries about boilers and dishwashers, there is a plethora of work that falls into the lap of a player liaison officer. Organising travel for away games, tours, guests and visiting officials is part and parcel of the job, while the passports and visas are also kept in their safe hands. And it doesn’t end there, they are the first point of contact for squad members with media, commercial terms, community projects, finance, the PFA and Premier League. It is enough to give anyone a headache.
“You need a thick skin, and you have to learn that you can’t please everyone at once,” West Ham’s player liaison officer Tim De’Ath tells.
“You’re dealing with 28 squad members. They’ll have a puncture, or a player will call who doesn’t understand the Congestion Charge. Even on my day off I get a thousand calls. It’s endless.”
Bournemouth’s player liaison officer Peter Barry echoed De’Ath’s stories of the 24/7 madness and, while he may not have to field questions about London’s Congestion Charge, life on the south coast isn’t any calmer.
“You have to be a juggler, a plate-spinner, and ready for anything,” he says. “I don’t advertise myself as being available 24/7, but I am. I even help out with weddings. We have had four this summer, so I’ve been dealing with suits, cars, organists, making sure the church is booked…”
Why would anyone want the job? The average salary rarely eclipses £50,000-a-year and with the 24/7 phone calls never ending, just what brings people to choose it as a career?
“It’s the buzz of being in football, of looking after people, and seeing those people that you have helped doing well,” says De’Ath.
“Take someone like Dimitri Payet, who has been such a pleasure to deal with. It’s excellent when someone comes to West Ham, maybe unable to speak English, but they learn the language slowly and in a few months’ time they thank you for everything you’ve done. It’s very rewarding.”
Barry shares in De’Ath’s belief that, while the job can be taxing, it is also incredibly satisfying. For him, such a realisation came when he helped Bournemouth’s Ireland midfielder Harry Arter and his fiancee, Rachel, after she had given birth to their stillborn daughter.
It is a time that still rocks Barry, but what is more powerful is the way he ensured the entire club pulled together behind one of their own the most difficult of times. “It was tragic and it needed to be handled very sensitively,” he says. “Family came first and football second in that situation..
“It still makes me emotional now, but we protected him, and the group stayed tight. I’m sure it helped them get through it. Some of the lads do say I’m like a dad, and that’s a real compliment.”