Karen Carney has been a part of the Bears family for more than 30 years and a familiar, friendly face to members in the Tom Dollery bar. 

Over the years it’s been a real family affair for Karen: at one point her mum, brother, sister and nieces have all worked as part of the hospitality team. 

In fact, some members even joked the Tom Dollery Bar could aptly be renamed the Carney Café! 

Karen first came to Edgbaston fresh from school in 1984 as part of the catering team, alongside mum Eileen, for a test match. 

She returned in 1989…and has been here ever since! 

Generations of Warwickshire players, coaches and supporters are very happy she returned. 

From 1989, Karen worked mainly in the old Tom Dollery Bar, the beating heart of the club where supporters gathered and were invariably joined by the players after play. She loved it there before, in 2008, moving to a role in the Players Dining Room. At first, she was part of a small team there until 2010 when she started running it herself – brilliantly.  

Tucked deep in the pavilion behind the dressing-rooms, the Players Dining Room is about so much more than food. For players and coaches amid the pressure and turbulence of a long season, it is a sanctuary. The food, prepared by chef Paul Hardwick and Karen, is excellent but just as importantly the welcome is always warm and the atmosphere perpetually calm. And that ambience is powered by Karen.  

“I like to think it is nice and relaxed in there with no hustle and bustle,” she said. “Professional cricket is high-pressure and when things aren’t going well, I’m sure there’s a lot of huffing and puffing in the dressing room, but when they come into the dining room, they’re completely different. Sometimes, someone will be a bit low and I’ll say, ‘are you okay luvvy?’  and they’ll say ‘yeah, yeah,’ They have always only ever been really nice to me.  

 “Some of the other teams say ‘them Warwickshire boys are so spoilt you know – we don’t get this at our ground’ but all the away teams get the same service! They are all really nice and it’s nice when someone from the away team takes the trouble to say thank you at the end of a game.   

“During the winter I do other conference and banqueting events which is fine, but I love the cricket season because then I go back down to ‘Players’.” 

Karen’s love for the Bears shines out as strongly as does the universal affection for her from all at the club.  

She initially came to Edgbaston back in 1984 as a young member of the catering team for the West Indies Test. She tagged along with mum Eileen, who worked for the Bears, to earn a few bob.  

“I’d just left school so came in with mum and her friends who all worked for the Bears,” she recalls. “I was waitressing in the old Indoor School which was set up for hospitality but all the cricket nets were hanging from the ceilings! 

“I went on to work in catering at other places around the city like the Centennial Centre and Botanical Gardens and was quite happy, then was asked to come back to do another Test in ’89.  

“This time we were in the ballroom of the Calthorpe Suite; it was much better. It so happened they were short-staffed one day in the Tom Dollery Bar so I was asked to go up there and went and worked with Hettie in the cafeteria. She said ‘would you mind coming back tomorrow?’ so I did…and stayed.   

“It was a bit of a family affair really. Mum worked there, my brother James did the till, my sister Cath ran the Moseley Suite and my nieces worked there. Abi Dollery used to say it should be called the Carney Café, not the Dollery Bar because there were more of my family there than hers.  

“I loved it in there. Everybody knew each other – catering staff, groundstaff, players – and it didn’t matter what age you were, everybody got on. We had so many laughs. I remember little Rita on the dishwasher one day wasn’t happy with how clean the plates were coming out, so she put a bit of normal washing up liquid in the machine. Next thing it was like Beadle’s About. The lid lifted on the machine and bubbles flooded out everywhere and all over the kitchen. We all just howled.”  

After almost 20 years in the Dollery, Karen moved to the Players Dining Room in 2008, first working with Liz French and then, after Liz left to have a family, taking sole charge two years later. It is a busy gig – preparing 120 poached eggs every matchdays morning, then up to 100 meals for first and second teams players and coaches (120 during international games) – but Karen and Paul deliver with efficiency, quality, courtesy and kindness.

“Paul and I work really well together,” she said. “We are well-organised. We know what needs to be done so that, if the players need something, it’s there and ready. It does have its challenging moments. All of a sudden, we’ll hear ‘they’re coming off for bad light’ and sometimes the umpires will call an early lunch so we have to move quickly, but I do enjoy it…I’ve grown old with the place!   

“The players and coaches are really nice and down to earth, It’s so lovely to see the young boys coming up through the ranks, all cocky and swaggering, bless them, and then you see them grow and mature. It’s really special.”  

That affection is 100 per cent mutual, encapsulated one day last summer when I passed through the dining room and there was Karen sitting there chewing the fat and taking a coffee with Bears and England legend Chris Woakes.   

“Chris is so polite,” she says. “No matter how high he goes, he has never changed one bit. He comes in and always asks how I am and how the family are. He is so lovely.”  

Chris Woakes and Karen Carney – two Bears legends – catching up!  

Four Teams. Two Matches. Blast Off is back!

Vitality Blast Off is back and the Bears will launch their home T20 campaign with a huge men’s double-header featuring two big Midlands rivalry games.

Taking place on Saturday 1 June, Derbyshire Falcons host Leicestershire Foxes (2.30pm) before the Bears take on Notts Outlaws (6.30pm). Buy tickets in advance and save.

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