Chris Williams continues his tour diary with the U's in Portugal.
You know it is pre-season when you are standing on a blind bend on a hilly winding road at 6.45am in Portugal praying that Josh Ruffels comes round the corner rather than a ten ton truck. I am filming the players on their early morning jog/being bitten alive in a swampy ditch and am mightily relieved when they trot past, followed shortly by Chris Short in a rental car. I jump in and pass the peleton with the camera out of the window like a (very) short haired terrier enjoying the breeze.
It’s not really work this is it? Last night I fell asleep to the sounds of Jamie Mackie and John Mousinho practising their golf swings on our shared lawn, this morning I threw back my curtain to see for certain what I thought I knew: Mr Short and Mr Fazackerley are up at 6.30 and organising not just the run but a game of head tennis on the courts next to our villa. What the other residents think of our behaviour at this hour is unrecorded.
Player have been running on the road, I am running on cappuccino throughout the morning but have become slightly Alan Partridge. We have our own dining room but the other guests at the hotel have a wider breakfast selection so I have been taking my Big Plate through for bacon and sausages. Shhhh. Don’t tell Jasmine, the team nutritionist back in England who has prepared a thoroughly balanced meal plan for the players rather than the Sid’s Cafe fry up that I create.
At 10am we are out again, this time to the training pitch for what Sam Long assures me is the toughest session of them all. He is not far wrong. It’s the hottest morning of the tour and I am knackered from watching it. Gavin Whyte is back with the group and trains for the first time and Mark Sykes is involved after a slight knee twinge earlier in the week. The only one sitting out is Shandon Baptiste and the plan was always for him to be eased back in to things rather than playing a full part- he is in some activities but not all.
I am amazed that they can work so hard in a marathon session but somehow keep their unbreakable sense of humour. There is a running track and Herr Short attempts a long jump into the sand, complete with clapping to encourage the non-existent crowd in the vacant stands. John Mousinho attempts the triple jump, video analyst Dan Bond tries to replicate the session that the goalkeepers have just done and fails miserably. “I want to push the keepers this season” coach Wayne Brown tells me during a breather. “I think they both have more to give than we saw last year so we are going to step it up all the time.”
Session over we head back for lunch: our people carrier is the Fun Bus with the microphone in full effect and everyone telling a joke. Luckily my parallel career as Brendan off Coach Trip makes me ideally suited.
Rest is needed and by the pool I can see three or four players lounging while one or two have a gentle swim to relax loose muscles. Most are asleep in their rooms. I interview Jamie Mackie about playing for Scotland and playing at Ibrox on Saturday and catch up on events back home while the squad leave for one last gym session for the day. One or two cast envious eyes as I order a cold drink and refuse to be budged.
The evening sees a monster six hour recruitment and analysis meeting. Myself and the medical team aren’t required so we go and find some football: the Lionesses against America in a nearby bar.
Tomorrow promises to be one final tough session; always mindful that we have a big game on Sunday and well over 1,000 Oxford fans will be heading for Glasgow to see this group in action for the first time.
Time to consider getting the game faces on….