In the latest entry in the Betway Insider At Home With series, West Ham United’s Head of Player Care Hugo Scheckter discusses how he is continuing to do his job effectively from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak...
How are you continuing to do your job despite working from home?
I’ve seen a lot in my time in football, but nothing like this. If you said to me six months ago that I’d be helping the club through a pandemic, I’d have laughed. But you know what? We’ve all got to come together, support each other and get through this. For me, home was always my switch-off space where I could relax – now I’ve got a workspace set up on my dining table. That’s a bit of a change of pace, but it’s a small change to make compared to what a lot of people are doing, so I’m OK with it.
What sort of work are you doing given we don’t know when the season will return?
Between myself and my two colleagues in the Player Care team, we divide the players up into thirds and check in on them regularly. But a lot of the time, we know as much as the general public. We’re going off what the government is saying every day and trying to simplify it for the players. Everything has been changing so rapidly. We were giving advice and by the time we’d sent it out, it was out of date. It’s not because we were getting it wrong, it’s because the government were having to change their advice so quickly. But these guys are adaptable. They’re used to coming through adversity, bad runs of form or difficult situations surrounding the external environment. On the other side, we’re trying to use the time positively and we’ve offered out some education programmes online.
How are you keeping in contact with the players and staff?
WhatsApp has always been the main way that we communicate. We have an information group, which is locked down so only senior members of staff can post on it. There’s no chat or banter on that group, it’s just for clear information from the club. We put together a little guide about nutrition, sleeping, communication and scheduling, just to try and get people in a rhythm. These are human beings at the end of the day, they do fend for themselves. Sometimes they get a reputation that they get everything done for them but our role is to support, guide and help as much as we can. So there’s that group and then the players have their own group, which isn’t monitored and is just for them to talk to and support each other.
How are you using this time to hone your skills?
What’s the thing you miss most about football?
The day-to-day of being with the team. That’s not only the players but the staff at the training ground as well. That feeling we all get: ‘OK, the next game’s coming on Saturday and we’ve got to try and win it'. Everyone’s preparation goes into that, then we hopefully win that game and move onto the next one and the next one. We were just getting to that point with nine games to go, where we were on the crest of a wave and thinking: ‘Right, we’re going to get some good performances'. But the gaffer did a really good job of getting the players together before the suspension and sending them away with a feeling that when we come back, we’ll be ready to hit the ground running.
How are you passing the time without any sport/football to watch?
I’m trying different things. I’m trying to improve my French on Duolingo. Je parle un petit peu de Francais. I did a GCSE in French. The French players would say that I don’t speak French, but their English is very good so they don’t need my help. I’m trying to have a laugh, too. Jack Wilshere challenged me to the toilet paper keep-up challenge on Instagram which, as a non-footballer, took me longer than I would like to even get two in a row.
Any TV shows/films/books you’d recommend?
I watched Tiger King on Netflix, which is one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever seen. It seems to be hugely popular now, but honestly, it’s mind blowing. It’s a true story as well.
Have you discovered any new interests or hobbies?
Cooking, mainly. Before my flatmate disappeared, he’d done a grocery shop so we had loads of ingredients. He’s normally the chef and I normally just eat it. I made some food myself and a food blogger stepped in because I posted a picture of some burned sausages that I’d made. He was like: ‘I can definitely help you'. I’d like to say I’m cooking the whole time but I’m not. I’ve done a fair amount of Deliveroo, which is how I eat most of the time anyway. I’m not really a gamer, normally. I have a PlayStation that I never switch on, but I’ve downloaded some new games now. I’m doing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey at the moment, which is good because it’s quite long. I don’t really play FIFA because I’m really bad at it, but I also played the F1 2019 game for a bit. It’s been a good way to connect with my friends as I’m currently home living alone.
In a break from regular programming, I hosted an hour long Instagram live show on how not to cook a mac & cheese. Remarkably over 400 people tuned in... on my Instagram for the next 24 hours or so! Great laugh, terrible food - thanks @Biffenskitchen! pic.twitter.com/k7nMbrVErO— Hugo Scheckter (@HugoScheckter) March 27, 2020
Have there been any positives that have come from this?
I get a lot of messages throughout the season from people outside the industry who want to find out how I got to where I am and wonder how I can help them. I thought that since I’ve got the time now, I may as well open it up. I’ve probably had about 75-80 people reach out, so it’s been really nice. It was a bit more than I thought it would be, but I’ve messaged everyone back at least once. Some people just want to talk and some people have specific CV questions or questions about player care. I know that when I was trying to get in the industry, I struggled to get anyone to speak to me. But to the one or two that did help me, I’ll be grateful forever. In the last few weeks I’ve helped a lot of different people, including a guy in Canada and a guy in Italy. I’m amazed to see that reach, but that’s the power of football.
Have you learned anything about yourself?
It’s made me realise that I do really miss seeing my friends and family in person, something I don’t want to take for granted again.
Sometimes, though, the grass isn’t always greener. I do work a lot, 42 weekends a year and Christmas Day, and sometimes you think it would be quite nice to have a Monday to Friday job with weekends and holidays off. But, actually, just losing that daily interaction with my colleagues and the team is tough and, in general, losing human contact with people. You forget how nice that is.
What has the break made you realise you love the most about football?
The day-to-day interaction. We’ve got quite a dynamic working environment. I'm not normally sat at my desk for 10 hours a day working on spreadsheets and emails. My work is mostly people-based, so I’m used to coming in, talking to people, understanding their needs, getting stuff done and going out to various appointments and meetings. I do miss the structure as well. But, obviously in this climate, football is not the main focus.