Day 3 - Saturday 5th July 2014
I was well ready for bed when I turned in last night at around 11.30 and only managed a few pages before the heavy eyelids finished the day. I had my usual early morning alert but stuck it out until about 7am. When I put my foot on the floor to get out of bed I had a sharp reminder that my calf was objecting to getting up, and while it had eased up a little, it was still quite sore. On the way to breakfast I called in at the treatment room to see what was going on. George was with Thorpey and Sean was with Gaz - Ash, Jack, Raff and BBM were waiting patiently outside. I wasn't sure what Jack was doing although I did have a thought but he corrected me when I asked him what he was doing and his hands down his shorts were in fact holding ice in place on the inside of his groin to help ease a slight tinge. Our Jack was also lurking and wanted to tell me about Raff knocking on his door last night because someone had "nicked" his kit but it was found in the dining room. Callum, Joel and Josh joined the ever growing queue for treatment having already had their breakfast. When I got to the dining room there was only a few red shirts about, all the blue ones had either been or weren't bothering.
At 8.40 I made my way up to the training ground. I have felt guilty driving past the players and staff who are walking up to the training ground but my inner discipline has helped me come to terms with this. The ground staff at the complex had done a good job overnight and the ground looked immaculate as though we hadn't had two heavy sessions on it the day before. I sneaked a peek at the Gaffer’s flip chart to see what he had planned for the lads and it looked quite complicated, how I explain that to you I'm not really sure, I could use Doney's interpretation as he was having a sneak preview at the same time, he just said hard, hard, hard.
I'm going to split this up in to three sections, as smaller chunks are more digestable. There are three areas marked out that will be rotated on a continuous circuit basis. Don't let me forget about passive and active recovery but I'll explain that later. The players are split in to five teams of four players and are numbered as chosen by the Gaffer. The first area is pretty straight forward as this has 12 poles, 4 in the middle and then 4 at 25 meters to the north and 4 to the south again at 25 meters. The four players start in the middle, two going south and two going north in their own lane, the middle lane is just neutral to keep them apart. In this section they are sprinting the 25 meters to the poles, checking, and then sprinting back, they repeat this twice but have to do it in under 22 seconds and then they have a "passive" recovery period of just 20 seconds before they have to do it again, this is then repeated to cover 2 x 4 minute stations and 1x 3 minute station. Kevin and Fradders are running this section, which sounds quite simple and straight forward, but and it's a BIG BUT, you then need to add in the next part of the circuit.
Section two is where the Gaffer is and he is coaching on a part of the pitch that has a 20 x 20 meter area coned off. In the four corners of this area are little triangles just a couple of meters long on its three sides. North, South, East and West central and four meters outside of the 20 meter square area are the mini goals. Three teams are operating on this marked area, the first team are in the triangle areas and this is where the "active" recovery comes in as they are at the lowest intensity of the whole exercise but they are still active as there is a 4 v 4 game going on in the middle and active recovery players can assist either of the teams in the middle so long as they are in possession of the ball. A goal can be scored in any of the mini goals by either of the teams in the middle providing they have made at least 6 passes between themselves or a combination of their team or the team on active recovery. The Gaffer is the referee and as you can imagine what he says goes and that's where football becomes like rugby because there's no dissent. It's starting to sound a little more difficult now even though there is the passive and active recovery but we've still got Beechy's little section to cover.
Area three overseen by Beechy is a 2 v 2 game against players in your own team with two goalkeepers trying to protect a full size goal on a pitch that is only the width of the penalty area and if my sums are correct that makes it 44 yards wide and also the length of the penalty area, 18 yards long, not a very big pitch for two full size goals. Also there is a universal player here and again this player can two touch assist either team providing they are in possession of the ball. Quite interesting here on the first round of games because Josh and Steve were in goal while Jonny was the universal player so this will help the keepers improve their control, touch and passing ability. The object here is to just score as many as you can as quick as you can and however you can but always remembering to try and pass the ball, or when not in possession to close down to try and regain. This section of 2 v 2 was quite frantic.
When you've got all the above three areas in operation and working together on a continuous and coordinated basis there really are no hiding places, my view was that you needed the passive recovery on the sprints to recover before the next sprints, arguably the active recovery element was the easiest bit as it was supposed to be low intensity but under the watchful eye of the Gaffer I'm not so sure that was the case. Joel pulled out of this session early on as he had a knee irritation and needed one of Thorpey’s little machine to help him recover. This was a TENS (Trans Electrical Neuro Stimulation) and is designed to confuse the pain and send it in the right direction to make things better, far too technical for me.
Bear in mind that the session kicked off at 9am with Kevin doing his warm up exercises for 15 minutes before the main session kicked in and that continued on a rotational basis for around 90 minutes, then there was 20 minutes proper recovery when you do nothing but all that does is give Kevin and Fradders the time to set up their core training circuit on the 3G pitch. So after the recovery period it was down to the core circuit where the players work in pairs on a series of 12 exercises set out by Kevin and Fradders. While the circuit was ongoing I had a chat with the some of the non-active players about the earlier session. George described as being absolutely drained of every ounce of fluid in your body. Lundy felt the 2 v 2 games were the hardest as they were so frantic and intense. Joe thought the sprints were the hardest but they had finished up on that circuit and the poles seem to get further away and you had no energy left. Sean said it was the hardest pre-season that he had ever had but he was enjoying it.
As this session ended all the boys were weighed again to see what fluid they had lost but also as part of the ongoing monitoring of performance and response throughout the whole of pre-season. I noticed a couple of the lads had blood on their socks, Ash and Ollie looked the worse and they had blood blisters that had burst. Peter has to constantly look a getter his feet with bandages and blister protection and his toe nails are black. I caught BBM manicuring his toe nails outside the treatment room this morning and after helping Fradders wash out the water bottles out after training I noticed, Rosey, Rhys, BBM and Doney dipping their feet in the pool back at the hotel. As part of the monitoring the players are asked to mark the sessions which Fradders and Kevin assure me they all do quite honestly and these marks along with other information are fed in to Fradders spreadsheet which is storing all the pre-season results. Lunch was at 1 pm and our dining area was very quiet with some very tired players who like me were looking forward to a nice quiet afternoon of the 3R's before the second session of the day at 5pm.
A little bit of idle chatter from yesterday that I forgot about and just emphasised that it's not just an adventure but it's also an education. Hobbo in a moment of wisdom, rare wisdom I might add, informed that history tells us that Admiral Horatio Nelson, famous for only having one eye amongst winning the odd battle here and there also had only one arm, which Hobbo assures us was lost at Tenerife. Sad man that I am, I googled this and Hobbo is quite correct, Wikipedia confirms that Admiral Nelson was wounded on a number of occasions including losing his arm in an unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife. To save you looking he lost the sight in one eye at Corsica and his most successful battle was the one he won at Trafalgar but given he was shot and killed on that day in 1805, my view is that it wasn't that successful.
My afternoon was filled with typing up the diary followed by a little r and r. At 4.30 I made my way up to the training ground with AK and we didn't pass one red or blue shirt on the way. When we arrived everyone was getting ready with their blister plasters and putting their polar belts on or getting weighed. The Gaffer set out how the session was to progress, which thankfully was a whole lot simpler than this morning. After the warm ups with Kevin there would be 20 minutes warm up ball work in pairs followed by an eleven a side game in four 15 minute segments with the goals brought in to three quarter length and half pitch length for the second and third segments. The Gaffer picked the teams but I'm forbidden for releasing these details as I don't want to get on the wrong side of the Gaffer. That area is a little over populated at the moment, only joking, bless (jokie bless). What I can tell you is fairly obvious, each team had a goalkeeper, which was Josh and Jonny and each team had a left back like Doney and Tanz but beyond that I'm not going in to any more detail. I missed the opportunity to do my Howard Webb with hair impersonation due to my calf injury and so I was reduced to the role of fifth official while Beechy took charge assisted by Fradders and Kevin.
The Gaffer was now looking for all the instructions and coaching from all the pre-season sessions to be implemented in this full size games. After each set of 15 minutes the lads had a chance for a water break and the Gaffer was giving out further instructions. Earlier he had used a phrase that he acknowledged was patented by Beechy and this is "intelligent energy" you can start to apply your own logic to the words within the context of a game of football and indeed if you are going to use up energy in a game it needs to be done intelligently or it can become wasted and unproductive energy. The Gaffer, Beechy and the other coaches will go on to other footballing terms drive and slide and these are used to direct the players. In terms of the game it finished with George and Lundy scoring goals but whether that was 0-2 or 2-0 or 1-1 will remain under wraps. I did feel the need to assess Beechy's refereeing performance and tried to do this in a constructive way. Simple coaching techniques for refereeing about getting a balance between being close to incidents to be able to make decisions correctly while also operating a diagonal to keep as much of play in view between you and your assistants. Beechy was honest to acknowledge that he was confused at first as he was in the mindset of a player and was looking to show for a pass rather than be in a good position to make a decision, I' m sure he'll get better the more he does it. The session finished with Kevin doing the warm down.
After the session Hendo got out his new high tech GoPro camera that takes really high resolution pictures and there's an app that you can download to your phone to operate it remotely so we had a squad photo. Also after the session group of the lads went up to the T3 25 metre pool to cool down. Hendo, Ash, Rosey, Doney, Jack, Sean and Ollie were all up there cooling down and Hendo was orchestrating some Esther Williams like synchronised diving routine, which he could video on his GoPro camera. Doney was also doing some star fish/ somersault entries from the starting board.
I made my way back to the hotel and decided to have a little swim before having a shower and going to dinner. While I was in the pool I thought I saw Joe taking a selfie on his balcony but he said he was face timing the family. What I did witness was Bastien on his balcony doing a dance, I later asked his roommate, Andrew, what was Bastien doing and apparently he dances all the time, bless (rhythmetic bless). I was down for dinner at 7.30pm and was surprised to find I was first down, AK was not far behind me and then others started to drip in. Doney and Ollie were amongst the last to arrive and I enquires from Doney if they had only just got back from T3 but he said they'd been back a while but made the mistake of sitting down and then struggled to get up again. The last ones to arrive were Kevin and Fradders and they were just after 8.30.These two lads along with Thorpey and Gaz are usually the first on duty and the last on duty and are essential back up staff to the Gaffer, coaches and other staff in preparing the players to be the best that they can. I did have a little insight at the end of this morning’s session when I helped Fradders clean and rinse out the water bottles but bear in mind that they were on site early mixing the concentrate and the shakes and filling up the individual water bottles before the session starts. In addition they are monitoring and analysing all the information to feed back to the Gaffer, the staff and of course the players. They help set out the field for the warm ups as well as assist in all the sessions and they are usually the last to leave the sight after tidying everything up and cleaning down the site. Likewise Thorpey and Gaz are in the treatment room long before the sessions start and they are putting protective bandaging and strapping in as well as giving rubs. They are on hand throughout the session if needed or are taking injured players for their separate treatment requirements, they are also treating players after the session has finished. Also bear in mind for Thorpey, Gaz, Fradders and Kevin we are doing two sessions a day out here so their work is starting around an hour and a half before the session starts and it they can only finish once the lads have finished their session. Bless all four (appreciative and admiration bless).
After dinner and messing with the WhatsApp app to get the photos to Leighanne decided to retire to my room to type the rest of today's diary, ring Mrs G and watch some football. As I passed through the lounge the Gaffer, Tony and quite a few of the players were watching the Netherlands v Costa Rica game. Today was a really tough day for the players, I'm sure they'll sleep well tonight.