Behind the scenes for the first two days in Austria
Sunday 12th July
Midday, and there’s a buzz around the Kassam Stadium as we board he team bus. Steve Francis, the club’s new kit man, is cramming the suitcases into the hold while players and staff busy themselves with last-minute preparations. Jonty Castle is the only man not wearing a club polo shirt so he is automatically in charge. He counts heads – 24 players and nine staff members are on the trip – and then we are off for Heathrow where the stragglers, new Lead Sports Scientist Scott Daly, Video Analyst Dan Bond, plus media duo Dave Pritchard and Jerome Sale, join us for check-in.
This is always an anxious time for a travelling football team. Three years ago it took all my haggling powers when Deane Smalley ran into problems due to a misunderstanding as we tried to fly to Boston; despite my arguing they finally let him on.
There are around a dozen bags of kit, equipment and medical supplies and it takes a while but finally we are all aboard and airborne and heading for Vienna. The flight is less than two hours and I have the pleasure of Wayne Brown’s company. He is on stand-by for the game itself due to Max Crocombe’s New Zealand appearances; the coach can’t hide his disappointment at the way that tournament ended for Max, with NZ disqualified due to an ineligible player and his Olympic dreams crushed.
From Vienna it is a 40-minute coach transfer to the training camp at VIVA, just outside Neufeld. There is an industrial look to the complex but I go on a voyage of discovery and find badminton courts, squash, tennis, a sauna and steam room (both swiftly made off limits to the players). There is also a splendid wooden-floored football pitch with a polished parquet floor like an old-school old school gym. There is bowling, beach volleyball and table tennis, although 24 hours later nobody has found the tables themselves, just the bats. Callum O’Dowda and Aidan Hawtin wander hopefully with bats in hand like two lost air traffic controllers in search of a 747, but so far we remain unable to ping or even pong.
It has been a long day, so dinner is a quiet affair full of pasta and carb loading. For the players as well. Then everyone heads for their rooms in an adjacent block where our luxury apartment swiftly becomes Media Control Room.
There is just time for a management meeting in Physio Andrew Proctor’s room, where we cast envious eyes at his fridge. Just because he has medical supplies. I am sure I could put that fridge to better use...
Everything on this trip has been planned with military precision and so the briefing doesn’t take long and everyone heads for their rooms and gets an early night before a long day tomorrow.
I’m early for breakfast but Derek Fazackerley is already there, up and ready to go, sipping coffee and jotting out training plans for the morning session. In the lobby, Jerome Sale has set up a mini broadcast studio and we wheel assorted interviewees in front of him. Everyone from Jonty to the complex-manager Karin is interviewed.
It is an overcast morning which I am delighted to say fails to live up to the expected scorching forecast. I still apply plenty of sun block as we head for the training pitches. There are three available, one of them 3G, and to my amusement SC Wiener Neustadt, our opponents on Tuesday, are on the pitch next to us this morning. Spying on the opposition takes on a new meaning as coaches take turns to peer through the fence.
Neustadt were relegated last season from the top flight and have lost a number of players this summer but they look young and lively and are a couple of weeks ahead in terms of preparation. They kick off the season on Friday with a cup game, so Tuesday night will be a final run out for them.
The Oxford players look sharp in their new black training kit and work very hard as the sun breaks through. One drill towards the end has 11 of them in constant motion, ferrying the ball around until a cross and hopefully a finish. Jake Wright, still awaiting his first goal for the club, gleefully smashes a couple in and checks to see if I got it on camera. I didn’t. Each session out here is 90 minutes and there are some heavy legs by the end of this one.
Danny Rose, Kemar Roofe and Callum O’Dowda stay behind to try free kicks. ‘Rosy’ is filming a Player Diary for me this week and has the camera on throughout as the trio whizz balls over the wall and into the top corner.
Next it’s lunch, then a 20-minute walk to a lake for a little relaxation. It’s beautiful if a little windy. Chey Dunkley is the only one brave enough to wade out into the lake (“Must need a wee,” says Rosy) but everyone relaxes for a short time under the welcome shade of some trees. This will be the location of a barbecue with fans on Wednesday and is an idyllic spot, although the players soon head back for a siesta, leaving only the staff lying on the shore. Bondy and I bravely head out on to a jetty to film part of a video for Yellow Player, then it’s back to VIVA and out for a second training session.
This one is more football based rather than fitness and Michael Appleton comes to the fore as Chris Allen and ‘Faz’ work closely with the players. Chris has settled quickly into the first-team set up and is loving every minute. He has a natural enthusiasm out on the training pitch and young pros Freddie Grant, Robbie Cundy and AJ George have that extra bond with their former coach, which makes their transition into the first-team environment that bit easier.
As the session ends I am whisked off to the stadium to have a look around Stadion Wiener Neustadt and check the facilities. We explore the blue-and-white striped changing rooms and stroll on to the lush playing surface. Once home to speedway, the now-covered track means the pitch is a fair distance from the stands but there is a great view from the away seats and now all we need is the Yellow Army in force. We wander into the town centre, a 20-minute walk away, and all is quiet among the bars this evening but tomorrow will be very different.
After a quiet pizza, the media team retire for the evening. The wi-fi is patchy at times at the training complex so I find myself uploading video at 4am, the one time the players are not hogging the bandwidth. I’m awake so I start typing an unplanned Austria Diary, because writing is what I do.
Two hours later I am rudely awakened by the man from the BBC accidentally dropping a camera battery on my foot. Now wide awake, again, it’s matchday. Game face on…
See a behind-the-scenes video from Austria right now in Yellow Player HD.