Tour Diary Day Two
Day two of our Portuguese excursion starts with breakfast at 7am. Or 7.15 local time- they’re not quite ready. Derek Fazackerley is usually first to arrive for any meeting but today is beaten to it by sports therapist Spike, fresh from a bracing 6am swim. The fool. That’s the problem with being on tour with sportspeople, they insist on doing things like that. There’s always someone on a treadmill or powering up and down the pool when you are tucking into a bacon sandwich and hoping that those around you eating granola and a banana don’t notice.
Jerome Sale off the BBC insists on phoning in his breakfast news but can only get 4 bars of signal from a two yard spot behind the beach bar. He lurks in the hedge in a most suspicious fashion while the coaching staff go through their plans for the day and pretend he's not there.
At 8.45 I hitch a ride on a golf buggy to the training pitch where the welcome breeze from yesterday has drifted away to leave a still and sticky mess. The only shade is in the area behind the clubhouse with a helpful arrow saying ‘WC’ which it turns out is not Portuguese for shade after all.
The 90 minute training session is unbelievably fast. Carrying on the theme of yesterday, everyone is out to impress and the intensity and pace is remarkable in this heat. I watch one passing drill where players have to work to find space in an enclosed area and it becomes a blur of movement and crisp passing. Pep Clotet encourages and approves and it is all massively impressive.
I am turning purple in the heat - to be fair most people are because I’ve accidentally put the camera on the wrong setting- so retreat to the coolness of hotel reception where Cheryl Cooper, Darryl Eales’ PA is hard at work. Life goes on back in the UK and I spend some time trying to organise things back home. New artwork in the tunnel area, photoshoot, events, live streaming, that sort of thing. THIS IS NOT A HOLIDAY*
The players come back shortly before midday. One minute they look shattered, the next there are howls and shouts as a table tennis game gets underway. I take a break to give Canice Carroll a lesson in ping pong which descends into farce when he serves the first point down the line rather than box to box in the official manner. I am outraged and James Roberts, the only one who seems to know the rules, acts as adjudicator/peace maker. I leave him and Malachi Napa arguing about the ‘serve must be second bounce off the table’ rule.
Everywhere you look there is sport. The coaching staff and Chairman are just venturing out for a spot of pitch and putt as we leave for a tour of the Ferreiras Stadium, 45 minutes away and our home for the next two games. Gary, our host, shows us around behind the scenes and points out local bars and cafes for fans, including ‘the best fish restaurant in the Algarve’; within the stadium itself. I can’t help thinking of Buddy the Elf and the best cup of coffee in the world. I think I need more sleep.
There is then a hot, airless car journey to Vilamoura to meet fans who are playing a Mini Golf tournament. Around 30 have gathered and it’s great to see so many familiar faces. Simon Hathaway, the organiser is an old friend, Richard Jackson is here after flying in from Sunderland this morning, my playing partner Leanne off the RAF was there when all this started in Austria three summers ago. Twitter supremo Kath Faulkner is here to nag me, giving husband Liam a bit of time off. Joe Rothwell’s mum and dad are here while another family tell me that they had already booked to come out here before we announced the tour.
The putting competition is fierce and I represent the club manfully, giving it 110 percent and only restricted by a basic lack of talent. My downfall is spending more time looking for shade than finding the right line but a good time is had by all and our winners walk away with two tickets to tomorrow night’s game. We spend an hour sipping soft drinks and recovering, then the media leave them to their evening and we retreat for a meal down by the Marina.
Couples promenade, families stroll, and for an hour we down tools and stop working. We are back at the hotel by 9pm and there are a few meetings going on still. A calm air of contentment has descended after another tough evening training session. The sun finally sets on a long, positive day as we begin to plot and plan. Tomorrow is match day. Game faces on…
*this line written purely for the benefit of Mrs Williams. Everyone else ignore it.