Day One of United's pre-season tour to Portugal
When I started covering the mighty U’s, back in 1873, pre-season was dominated by trips to places such as Solihull Moors, Ardley and Banbury. Then five years ago someone invented abroad and our horizons were extended. Austria, Scotland, Spain, Boston (the good one) and now the Algarve as we gather at Birmingham airport ready for the flight to Faro.
There is always a buzz around these trips and today is no different. I dropped my son off on Thursday night so he could fly out with his mates as an advance party, and as we wait to board the flight I spot one or two more fans who have got lucky and are on our plane. We attract attention- everyone is in their new Clifford Thames sponsored training kit. We are famous. “Are you a basketball team?” a fellow passenger asks me as we board…
I usually can’t sleep on planes but today I have the pleasure of kitman Mark Jarrett’s company and am soon snoozing merrily. It is a smooth flight and three hours later we are piling the kit bags on to two trollies and heading for the coach. There are nine enormous bags of equipment and it’s a competition to see who is most relieved when we finally arrive at our destination. Kitman Mark drove to Spain last year (“Last year three days, this time three hours” he says) and is happy to see the kitbags stored away in an underground vault. Meanwhile Crawford Chalmers, who scouted this trip back in February and has been key in organising it, breathes a sigh of relief that the whole party is now installed safe and sound.
The only two absentees are my reporting colleagues Mr Pritchard of the Mail and Mr Sale of the BBC who have hired a car and arrive to find that I have ‘unpacked’ and made myself at home in our apartment. Rarely can one man have caused such a mess in such a short space of time. They stumble over wires, tripods, cases and beer bottles while I try and get the wifi working. Our dinner is one bag of crisps and three bottles of beer between the three of us.
Breakfast is more substantial and served at seven to allow the squad to train early and avoid the sun as much as possible. The training pitch is at the end of a dirt track and offers excellent views as far as the sea. Scott Daly takes the warm up and gets everyone loose after the journey and then Pep Clotet steps up to take a hugely impressive training session. There is a true intensity to the play as everyone tries to impress the new boss. The heat is on, in every sense.
The backroom team work just as hard with Dan Bond gamely filming from on top of the clubhouse; filming training is a new thing that Pep has introduced and he reviews it every evening.
Readers, after an hour I have to confess that I bottled it and had to retreat to the safety of the air conditioned reception where I edit a video or two before the players return. They are surprisingly bouncy- within half an hour of training there’s a table tennis tournament going on and one or two players are out practicing their chipping on the mini golf. Three or four gather to watch Andy Murray at Wimbledon. Foolishly I let Rob Hall take the video camera away to film some behind the scenes footage. That is not going to end well.
The afternoon sees a trip to the supermarket to stock up on snacks to refuel the players. They have a carefully prepared diet out here: lunch included brussell sprouts and fruit salad so I don’t recommend being in a lift with any of the travelling party later.
In mid afternoon we have a mini press conference (see video in iFollow above ) and then at half five there’s a second training session before dinner and a tired sleep. The first day has been excellent; impressive training, everyone looking settled, bonds being built.
Tomorrow we get to do it all again, only with mini golf included. Can’t wait.