Chris Williams reports back from the U's' tour of America
American Diary Day 5
Chris Williams reports...
Last night saw the second game of the tour, a 1-1 draw with the Seacoast United Phantoms. It may only have been a pre-season friendly but not winning the game brought everyone down a little bit and it was a subdued carload of footballers that I drove back to the hotel afterwards.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned this week it is that the world of football is ultra-competitive. Everything you do around this squad ends up with a competition or a new game being invented. We have had organised cricket, racquetball, countless games of pool and shuffleboard, and the card school has been going strong in what downtime there has been. You need to be mentally tough because the sledging and banter never stop, and so most of the players will have a mechanism to get over disappointments. They played OK last night and the result wasn’t really important so by breakfast most of them are smiling again.
The good thing about football is that there is always the next game, and so thoughts are already turning to our last match of the tour, against a Jim Dedeus XI. This will be an ‘All Star’ team of the best players from across this beautiful corner of America. Seacoast will be well represented and will include a few players who have come through their age-group sides. Thousands of ‘soccer’ players learn the game through Seacoast and their base is a buzzing hive of eager players of all ages, genders and abilities. Wonderful hosts, we have all bonded with Paul Willis and his coaches and staff, especially Kelly Kelly who has helped us with the logistics and organisation of such a large tour.
The morning session is my favourite training session so far. We drive to Wallis Sands for a light hour’s work-out. Allegedly twenty minutes away, we get a little bit lost before we find the beach where an early morning sea-fret shrouds the sands in a thick grey mist. It is so thick that I lose everyone and am guided only by the foghorn. Or Mickey Lewis’s voice as it’s often known.
Mickey, Chris Wilder and Andy Melville take the session, which turns into another brilliant training exercise. There is a jog, a stretch, some keepball, then three teams are chosen and they have a ‘skills race’ where they chip the ball to their partner, race up to them then have to complete three parts: throw the ball to your partner who has to chest it up and head it back. You chest that and head it back, he repeats it, then you catch the ball and run. It sounds simple but actually the throw is the most important part and the new lads are all caught out by the difficulty, which causes great hilarity and laughter.
The sun burns off the mist and in beautiful conditions the players laugh and joke and get their recovery session while also getting all thoughts of last night’s match out of their minds. No need for an ice bath either: everyone dives into the sea to cool off and our car is buzzing again as we drive back through some of the biggest, most impressive houses I have ever seen. The mostly wooden buildings are huge mansions, all immaculately presented behind their pristine lawns. “We’re a long way from Stockton” remarks Tommy Craddock.
We get lost on the way back, of course, which just leaves ten minutes for lunch before we split up. Because they have worked hard all week there is some relaxation time for everyone so people split up and head for the shops of Portsmouth, something to eat and drink, or in my case a game of golf.
Staff from both OUFC and Seacoast meet up for 18 holes of golf on a beautiful course called Granite Fields. Harry Worley, Ryan Clarke and Andy Whing come along and prove to be excellent golfers. Way better than my team of myself, Dave Pritchard and Alasdair Lane. We can all play, and we have a wonderful 18 holes of camaraderie and laughter, and playing betterball (You hit from where the best ball landed out of your three each time) we think we have a competitive score at 86 and are quietly confident. Turns out we are rubbish and are the only side over par! The players' team with -4 don’t even win, despite Worley’s chip in for an Eagle on one hole.
After a delicious barbecue we head home and that, dear readers, is where the diary ends for the night. The squad have worked very hard all week and are allowed out for one night. They have earned the right to a drink if they want one, but have also shown that they can be trusted. It would be unfair to name him, but one of the three trialists really impressed me today when he confided that he will be drinking only water this evening because he is starting on Monday. Who knows, perhaps that great attitude will pay dividends.
I have taken a decision not to go out tonight. The players can enjoy their night off without fear of me naming and shaming anyone on this blog so here I sit, 10pm Saturday night, typing up these notes. It has been another good day, enjoyable but all with a purpose.
Good night y’all.