Chris Williams has one foot in the Algarve....
I do love a good pre-season tour. I am a veteran of Clumsy’s and over the years have been to Boston, Scotland, Portugal and Spain and every single time forgotten to take a hat. This time I have excelled and forgotten to bring EVERYBODY’s hats: trusted with two jobs I manage to bring the boarding passes for an entire playing squad but forget to pick up hats for the more folically challenged of us.
This includes Mr Jonny Edmunds, Kit Man and friend for 20 years, who set off three days ago in the kit van to make the long trip to the Algarve (missing his wedding anniversay in the process). His early departure means that we all packed small suitcases to put in his van on Wednesday except for Mark Sykes who flew back from Northern Ireland duty too late and therefore has to cram everything in to hand luggage. Fortunately I am also keeper of the spare kit so when we meet at the Training Ground on Saturday afternoon he is able to change from last season’s blue to this season’s black kit before we head for the airport and a three hour flight to Faro.
We arrive at the hotel at midnight and are met by Karl plus Faz, Browny and Chris Short who caught earlier flights. The only man missing is Gavin Whyte who will join up with the squad on Monday after his international summer. A quick snack then it’s time to head for the smart villas which are our home for the week.
It is hotter than Hades and only slightly cooler than Haddenham so the first day is to start at early o’clock to miss the worst of the midday sun when only Mickey Lewis and Englishmen go out. At 6.45am we are all climbing in to cars to take us to a nearby beach where the players have a series of runs along a very picturesque wooden promenade high above the cliffs. Fabio Lopes catches my eye and sets the pace but Alex Gorrin is a running machine and the entire squad is in high spirits despite the early hour.
While one group jog into the distance the others play a series of games that, frankly, Mr Fazackerley is making up on the spot. At one stage Jamie Mackie is up on a wooden stage for no reason that I can work out and the whole thing bemuses a growing number of locals, intrigued to see a squad of footballers training so hard in the shadowed ampitheatre of their town church on the day of rest.
Breakfast is followed by a quick shower then it’s time for the day’s second session where we are using a very nicely appointed stadium for training throughout the week. There is a light breeze but it is still ferociously hot for the players. I walk past one group where Mr Mackie is explaining to the younger lads ‘don’t think of it as pain. You are getting paid to come out here in the sun and make yourself fitter.’
Even so, I don’t think some of them are truly buying into his way of thinking when they end the session with a version of ‘Tag’. Did you see David Attenborough last week? The one where the poor little seal exhausted itself while two killer sharks chased it round an iceberg? For some reason I have that show in my mind as Sam Long is pursued mercilessly by Gorrin and Josh Ruffels. I am pleased to report that he escapes and looks really strong through the whole session.
It ends with a huddle and a round of applause from the staff before we head back to the hotel for lunch. There is some down time, spent catching up on missed sleep or relaxing by the pool, then one final session of core work; shorthand for making a different group of muscles ache.
There are some tired faces by the end of all that but everything is being done sensibly by Chris Short and the strength and conditioning team. It’s a recovery day on Monday so Sunday night is ‘downtime’. For the staff this mean a night out where the analysis team serenade us and stop traffic, while the Manager sits on the other side of the market square on his phone talking to potential players...
The players sensibly give the staff a wide berth and have a quiet night out of their own - the one time they will get to do it as we prepare for Rangers on Sunday. It is maybe a chance for one or two of the new faces to get to know people. Nico Jones and Fabio are with us as are Sam ‘not that one’ Allardyce and Kevin Berkoe. They have been impressive already, as has Tariqe Fosu. Monday morning brings final paperwork and he is now an Oxford United player.
But then 24 hours with this squad and you belong anyway…
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