Former Kirkby Stephen Grammar School student Steven Holmes is one of the lucky few people still able to watch live Premier League football, but he says it is “quite a surreal environment”.
Steven, 37, who grew up in the Upper Eden town, is a football data analyst for Opta Sports.
Initially, he was based at the company’s office in Leeds, where he inputted information being relayed to him by someone at a football ground, but he now gets to be the person on the other end of the phone at the stadium collecting the all-important statistics.
“I love football, so still being able to watch it live in a ground is quite a lucky thing to do,” said Steven.
Opta Sports provides statistical information and player performance data from major sport leagues all over the world to media clients and clubs themselves.
Having first covered Mansfield Town FC home games, Steven now works at all Sheffield United’s home fixtures and has been on the journey with them from League One, through two seasons in the Championship and now in the Premier League.
“I collect all the information, like goals, corners, subs, yellow cards, red cards.
“After the match I have to collect the referee’s card and get a photo image of that to send through to our office to make sure the information we have collected marries up with the referee’s,” he said.
To get that image, Steven has to go into the players’ entrance and often finds himself rubbing shoulders with Premier League stars and the likes of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola— well, he did before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
With social distancing restrictions in place, the match day manager now sends the image of the referee’s card straight to Steven’s phone.
Prior to lockdown, Steven said there was a good atmosphere in the Sheffield United ground but it “certainly feels a lot different now”.
At Bramall Lane, there is no crowd noise played in the ground and, Steven said, “it just feels like you are at a behind closed doors match or pre-season friendly”.
“It’s interesting in one way, because you can hear what the manager is shouting at times and you kind of see every little bit that is going on a bit more, whereas when there’s a crowd it drowns it out,” he said.
Last Wednesday, Sheffield United scored in the 93rd minute to record a 1-0 home victory over Wolves. With a packed ground of 30,000 fans, the place would have erupted, and yet what happened was that a few players, who were in the stand, cheered and that was it, said Steven.
“The place would have been absolutely bouncing, all the pubs would have been full, but it’s so different. It’s nothing without fans.”
Steven, who has been furloughed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, is hoping to return to work next month in his day job as a schools’ outreach officer, tournaments co-ordinator and tennis coach at Graves Health and Sports Centre, in Sheffield, where he has been based since June, 2017.
Steven had been due to marry his partner, Laura, in April, this year, but the wedding had to be postponed due to coronavirus. They have a two-year-old daughter, Amelie.