We tried to stop him but Chris Williams brings us a taster of the forthcoming Tour Diary...
It is 6.30 on a Thursday morning and at Pret a Manger in Luton Airport a familiar pair of football fwiends are huddled over a phone and becoming over-excited as they randomly shout out the names of football clubs. “DERBY COUNTY” says one. “Ipswich on Boxing Day” says the younger one. “”Plymouth on a Tuesday”…
People are staring so they draw their oat flat whites closer and mutter instead about the next ten months they will share.
The pair are Oxford United Communications Manager Chris Williams and the club’s Head of Athletic Performance Harry Routledge. It’s a new job title but basically Harry is in charge of fitness and performance. So we have the club’s HOAP and it’s OAP. I am a veteran of Fixture Release Days, this is my 21st, but it is still exciting to get the list a few hours before the rest of the world.
Today it beeps into my inbox as we await a flight to Spain. We are the advance guard for the travelling Yellow Army, leaving my house at 3am. I didn’t sleep, afraid my alarm wasn’t going to go off. Not since I went to Boston with Micky Lewis have I had so little sleep on a pre-season tour, and it hasn’t even started yet.
I am regretting that by the time we board our flight so I doze quietly during the two and a half hour flight to Malaga. I listen to an advance copy of a forthcoming podcast which people are going to very much enjoy, while Harry fine tunes the fitness schedule for the next eight days.
We arrive at the team hotel around midday and Karl is there to greet us. We find our rooms and go and find kitman Jonny Edmunds who has been here for 48 hours after a marathon drive in the kit van, with coach Leon Blackmore-Such volunteering selflessly to keep him company.
There is work to do through the afternoon for all of us but by dinner time a coach has brought the rest of the squad and staff to join us. The players are in dark blue Macron travel kit, the staff scuttle off to collect their sky blue version from Jonny and then we have something to eat and the first team meeting of the week.
Jonny spends the evening printing badges and kit until well past midnight, but by 6.30am he is there with the rest of us for the short walk to the Atalaya training pitch. It’s lush. Players stretch and have a run and a test and then we all walk back. Two hours later we are on the team bus for the marvellous Marbella Football Centre. “Nice wicket” says cricket fan James Henry as we walk across an immaculate playing surface that might offer turn from the coast end. There is not much cover but for once I have a hat. It is very unsuitable, which Marcus Browne kindly points out. Twice.
I have my revenge on him though because for the next 90 minutes he runs and runs and runs, while I, complete with unsuitable hat, stand in the shade and take pictures of this. I venture out every so often and take videos, but I don’t want to overdo things on the first day do I?
To my untrained eye it looks like the whole group have reported back in fine fettle. Alex Gorrin ( A-Rod to all) is a machine but Steve Seddon matches him, Marcus looks strong, John Mousinho and James Henry set a superb example, which the youngsters respond to: Slavi Spasov is fully fit after a nightmare run of injuries and runs strongly throughout. But it’s not fair to single individuals out; they all run well and there are no stragglers.
The keepers work hard. “The thing is Chris” Jack Stevens tells me with an almost straight face as he pulls on his gloves for the first time “I may need that extra bit of fitness from that last hour if I have to go up for a last minute corner”
Readers, all is well in the OUFC camp. At the end of the session Lee Ryan off Blue turns up and the staff get to run rings round his motley crew of amigos who dared to challenge them. His promise was that if his team lost he would come and sign for us one night. Every pre-season has its challenges.
Back at the hotel there is a light lunch, then gym sessions and more training. A team meeting takes up the evening, with a new face or two on the cards over the weekend. Indeed, two turn up by tea time.
Pre-season is underway. It has started as it always should, in hard work, sunshine and smiles. All Rise.
Chris Williams is the club’s Communications Manager but all views in this article are his own, not necessarily the club’s. You will be pleased to know that this will be the ONLY tour diary online this summer. The series will conclude in Issue 4 of THE OX, our official magazine, which will be available in the Club Shop at the start of the new season…