American Diary Day 4
A funny thing happened to me this morning at breakfast. A healthy looking and tanned Chris Wilder, fresh from an early night, eating his muesli while sipping a large cranberry juice said “My wife has been reading your blog and says it’s very good. Be careful what you write though won’t you.” This was food for thought as he set off for a brisk five mile jog…
Most of the squad have now adjusted to the time difference and since everyone actually did have an early night there is a healthy vibe around the breakfast area. The coaches sit on one table, with the players spread around the room and helping themselves to a vast buffet of healthy food, from yoghurt and cereal to scrambled egg and toast. With fruit juice on tap breakfast is excellent and we all assemble at 7am every day for food and a brief outline of the day ahead.
Today’s schedule is a double training session at Portsmouth High School, a ten minute drive away. My car school has lost the services of Jon-Paul Pittman, banished to the injured car, so Tom Craddock is my navigator and entertainment officer. Today he gives us ‘Love songs from the 80’s’. Which is nice.
The love bug starts to disappear pretty fast as soon as the players hit the field of the High School. It is a fast paced ninety minute session and in the humidity it looks extremely tough. There is hardly any let-up and, from my seat under a tree, I share the player’s pain.
Dubes takes the video camera (see Yellow Player for his latest diary) and I go exploring. Across the running track is a baseball diamond where Portsmouth under 14s are training. It’s a bit more leisurely than the exertions on our side of the fence, but those boys can certainly throw a baseball. They zip it among fielder with extraordinary accuracy and pace. I am impressed and will never call it Rounders again.
The United players look shattered as we return to the hotel, but Alasdair Lane is beaming as he reports back the heart rate results from the morning. Our new fitness guru is seeing improvements day after day and couldn’t be happier with where the players are right now.
Everyone has a rest for a couple of hours then it’s back to the High School for a second session, this time on the 3G pitch that they will use for the game tomorrow. They work on shape and when to press the ball. Most of the pre-season so far has been fitness based but over the next couple of weeks the tactics and drills will take priority.
It’s a tired carload of footballers that I take back to the hotel, but less than an hour later spirits are much, much higher as the team bonding session we have all been looking forward to takes shape. Shuffleboard, a mixture between curling and shove ha’penny, is the sensation of the tour and tonight sees the All-England Championship (Peter Leven as a wild card). Teams have been draw and the competition is beyond fierce as some serious sledging takes place.
Granted a bye to the quarter finals, my partner Ryan Clarke and I storm into an early lead but are well beaten by Alfie Potter and our kit man Spike. I’m not quite sure how Alfie psyched me out, but somehow his grin gets to me and my game goes to pieces under pressure. Alfie and Spike march through to the final where they lose to Wayne Brown and Jake Wright with the whole room looking on.
The new boys produce another highlight for us all by performing a song for us. Lee Cox is a natural comedian and has everyone creased up while Courtney Harris steals the limelight by having props ready to help him through. I have videoed their performance and Dubes next video diary will contain highlights.
However the biggest cheer for the night comes at the pool final. Ryan and I ease past JFC and Dave Pritchard of the Mail but somehow lose to Courtney and Andy Lord. The final sees Peter Leven and Sean Rigg against Chris Wilder and Andy Melville. The entire room is entranced as the game goes down to the black ball, placed perfectly over the pocket. Mels celebrates a bit too early as the Manager pot the black and then watches the white roll ever so gently across the table and into the pocket. There is uproar and laughs and cheers fill the room. I haven’t seen this look on Chris’s face since Mehdi Kerrouche at Shrewsbury.
Eventually he joins the laughter and it puts the seal on a fantastic evening. And I would like to explain something if you may, with no spin or journalistic license; the fan we met at the game was invited along tonight and will back this last paragraph up.
Tonight was fantastic fun but started at 6.30 and by 9pm the players had all headed off for bed. It was in a bar but I can honestly say I didn’t see one player have more than one beer. The banter and the laughter were not forced or fake, this was a team enjoying each other’s company and becoming mates. The new boys have slotted straight in and are part of the group, the staff share the jokes and join in. Little competitions like tonight bring out the best in sportsmen and today has been a perfect example of the way this tour has worked so well.
Players have worked extremely hard all day but then they know there is a game tomorrow night so they are trusted not to drink, or eat the wrong foods. And they respect that trust and enjoy a great evening that brings them together.
It has been another busy but successful day and tomorrow is a matchday again. Expect this diary slightly earlier than usual and then a full report and twitter coverage as we build up to game two against Seacoast United Phantoms.