WHEN she reached retirement age nine years ago, Mary Kitson had no intention of making a clean break from her job with Sheffield Wednesday.
She carried on leading the cleaning team at the stadium and the Middlewood Road training ground - work that ranges from keeping the 39,000 seats at Hillsborough looking spick and span to responding to spilt drinks and blocked toilets on match days and organising volunteer litter picks on the streets after the game.
Whatever the challenge, Mary responds. On the day of the Hillsborough Disaster, she played her part in helping distraught fans. When the floods came, she was seen shovelling mud for hours.
Now, after 34 years with the club, Mary’s loyalty and commitment to the job has resulted in her being nominated for a Football Association Unsung Hero award.
Wednesday chief operating officer Carol Axe said: “Mary is typical of those people who do a valuable and often unrecognised job behind the scenes without which the public would not be able to enjoy matches at the stadium. She is an unsung hero.”
She was always willing to find more efficient and effective ways of working, added Carol. “Recently the community development association had a new set of offices and had grown 300%. Mary revisited the cleaning schedule and provided an effective service while not adding further staff to her team.”
It’s all in a day’s work for the woman who lives in Vere Road, next to the ground, and whose family have blue and white running through their veins. Her daughter, Tracy, works in the same department at the club, and the nine-strong team has clocked up a combined service of 89 years, illustrating its dedication under her leadership.
Mary was working on the day of the Hillsborough Disaster in April 1989, immediately volunteering her home to supporters who were in shock and with minor injuries, providing drinks and emotional support. She is still in touch with many of the fans and their families.
During the floods in the summer of 2007, she balanced the cleaning up of her own home in the evening with clearing up around the stadium during the day.
As the stadium had no electricity, she opened up her home to staff, providing them with hot drinks. At the age of 66, she picked up a shovel to help bring the stadium back to normal.
She said she couldn’t believe it when she was told she was in the running for the award. “I thought they were joking. But I’m thrilled. I just hope I pull it off, for the club really.”
Mary will be taking Tracy for a weekend in London for the awards ceremony.
Meanwhile, there are no thoughts of retirement. “While they are satisfied with my work and while I’m fit, I’ll stay. I lost my husband, John, last year and I don’t want to be sitting at home.”
Mary is on the shortlist for a Bluefin ‘Unsung Hero’ award in a ceremony at The Brewery in London on Sunday, March 20. Sheffield Wednesday have been nominated for the Tokio Best Marketing Campaign.