THEY say an army marches on its stomach – and this is the man who keeps the Toon army on its feet.
For 13 years, Johnny Hall has been the baker at Newcastle United’s St. James’ Park Stadium.
And along with providing the rolls for hot dogs and hot beef sandwiches for the 50,000-strong crowds on matchdays, he is solely responsible for all on-site baking at the stadium, making everything from cakes and scones to traditional North East stottie cakes.
Johnny, 37, from Boldon Colliery, trained as a chef before deciding he preferred working with dough and switching to bakery.
Following stints at Asda and various hotels, pubs and cafés in the North East, he joined the catering team at St. James’ Park, originally as assistant baker.
Now head baker, from his kitchen – one of 16 at the stadium – he works flat out to make, from scratch, the 2000 bread rolls, 300 stottie cakes, and 54 lemon drizzle, carrot and coffee cakes that are needed on match days alone.
“I like making stotties,” he said, “which is just as well because when St. James’ Park was one of the chosen venues for the 2012 Olympics I ended up baking 35,000 of them.
“But there’s nothing to beat the buzz around match days,” he said, “and it never seems like work because I can set my own pace and I just get on with it.”
And, because the stadium is also one of the region’s leading conference and event venues, he has to bake absolutely anything that visitors or delegates may require, from gluten free breads and cakes to breakfast croissants and pastries.
“I just love bread, though,” he said. “In fact, I like anything sweet and I don’t get lonely because my kitchen’s next to the others so there are always people to talk to.
“People are always surprised when I tell them what I do – I think most people assume venues as big as this just buy everything in. It’s quite unusual for a stadium to have its own on-site baker, so I’m very lucky.
“There’s always something going on here as well, so each day brings a new challenge.”
For further information about conferencing and events at St. James’ Park, call the events team on 0191 201 8525 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.