In the second of our series looking at the unsung heroes Behind the Badge at Edgbaston we spoke to Claire Hopkins, one of the stadium’s most familiar faces.
As Head of Reception & Security, Claire is often the first person visitors see when entering the ground, a vital role as Club ambassador and source of information. She recently marked 25 years with the Club.
It says something about Edgbaston and the Bears that so many people in so many areas of the Club have worked there such a long time.
Most of these are low profile. The stars come and go, players, coaches and chief executives pass through, but underpinning all is a bedrock of long-serving personnel who power the Club. Low profile but high value. The lifeblood of the Bears.
Claire Hopkins is one of these.
Since arriving at the club in 1997, Claire has become one of its most familiar figures. She is known to most visitors as leader of the team which greets people to the stadium in reception – manager of that team is her current role – but from her experience over the years there is no area of the great ground that she has not visited.
Claire is an integral part of the Bears and the Bears have become an integral part of her life. So it comes as a surprise that she first clocked on in ’97 with minimal interest in cricket.
“I was fresh out of college and needed to find a job,” she said. “So I wrote to a few places around Birmingham and received a reply from Don Sunderland, the head steward at Edgbaston. I came to the ground for a chat and started doing a bit of matchday work. I thought it would just be okay for a while and keep me busy for a bit and give me some cash – and 20-odd years later I’m still here.
“Don was a great guy and I owe him so much. I started off doing the gate at the old Ladbrokes and the gate on the Constance Road car park. Then I moved into the Wyatt Stand reception and was there in my little lair under the stairs for ten years until we moved round to the new pavilion.
“I knew a little bit about cricket when I joined because my dad and grandad were into it, but I was much more into football and still am really. Cricket has grown on me – I’ve been to every final the Bears have reached since I started. But this place, and working here, is about so much more than cricket. There is a great feeling about the club.
“Working here allows you to meet so many great people and it’s always nice at this time of year when the spring comes and you start seeing the members again. They come in to collect tickets or for Cricket Society meetings and it’s always nice to see them and catch up with them back after the winter and ready for another season.”
While the members’ attention will then fix firmly on the field from April, the focus of Claire and her colleagues in the reception area facing Edgbaston Road will be elsewhere. In many cases, they are the first people that visitors encounter at Edgbaston, so they have a vital role as ambassadors and information-givers.
It can be a gruelling job – the reception area is staffed 24 hours a day – but there are perks; notably taking custody of, and caring for, the biggest prize in English cricket whenever the team secures it.
“It is brilliant when we win the championship,” she said. “Moments like that are lovely because everybody is buzzing and the trophy is out on display in reception, so we are looking after it 24/7. We take it in and out of the cabinet and polish it up for all to see. Looking after the trophy is a nice part of the job.
“I’ve got a great team on reception, all proud Bears, and we like to offer people a warm welcome. We meet and greet them and make sure they know where to go for events during the day.
“The team is also here during the night. The lads do most of the nights but I do one occasionally though it’s not my favourite duty. It is so surreal when the stadium, usually so full of people and noise, is all dark and empty and mostly quiet – with just a few weird noises with the wind blowing. It’s very odd. We walk around the ground during the night to make sure everything is secure and locked and it is really strange when it is deserted and you are used to the place being so busy and bustling.”
Busy and bustling is, thankfully, the Edgbaston norm, and all that activity comes from the community that populates the place. It is a community which has brought Claire some very special – and unexpected moments.
“I had never been in an aeroplane but some of the guys here did a skydive to raise funds for one of our charity partners, Fisher House, so I went for it,” she said. “The morning leading up to it wasn’t great and leaning out of the plane, 13,000 feet up, wasn’t the best, but it was an amazing thing to do and I am so glad I did it. I’ve been on a plane since then (and got out of it with everybody else when it landed!) so it eliminated that fear.
“My mates at Edgbaston also got me into running. I’d never done any running but really got into and ended up doing the Birmingham half-marathon. Another highlight was being taught how to swim by a CEO. I’d never been able to swim and hated putting my head underwater but, chatting in a pub one time, people were talking about doing a triathlon. I said running and cycling is not a problem but swimming is.
“Colin Povey said, ‘I’ll teach you’ and we started going up to the Priory once a week. It’s probably fairer to say he taught me not to drown, rather than to swim, but I learned enough to manage to do the necessary for the triathlon.“
Claire rose to that challenge – and is now set for the long haul at Edgbaston. This year sees the 50th anniversary of cricket operations manager Keith Cook joining the club. Bears legend ‘Cookie’ has only ever had one employee, Claire likes the sound of that.
“I’d like to emulate Cookie,” she said. “I can’t see myself leaving – unless I’m asked to and I hope that won’t happen! It is a great place to work and I would recommend to anyone, if you want a long-term career in all sorts of directions, to get in touch.
“There are a lot of long servers around and that says something about the place. If you do your job well there is ample opportunity to build a career here and it can be a lifelong career if that’s what you choose – deep knowledge of cricket not necessary.”
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