Footballers do a lot of travelling and the glamour soon wears off, especially when much of it is spent in traffic on the M1 and M6, but there was a buzz about last weekend’s trip to Oldham Athletic.
The players were all excited as we had a new coach provided by Anderson Travel, complete with all manner of mod cons. Even before we left the ground at 9am on Friday for our four-and-a-half-hour journey north, Jeff, the coach driver, was busy reminding the lads not to make a mess as they had a good root around inspecting the new facilities. There was a huddle around the Wi-Fi box as they scrambled to get the internet code and they also looked around the kitchen at the back of the bus which would later be used to heat up the chicken-and-pasta dishes supplied, as ever, by Mrs Lisbie, Kevin’s wife.
The coach boasts a fold-out massage table, a coffee machine and Sky TV, but the most exciting thing for the players was a PlayStation 3. For the majority of the trip the lads, led by Lloyd James, got stuck into the new Fifa 14 game and at times even played as themselves against Oldham in preparation for the match the following day. The staff were quick to implement a “no Fifa on a matchday” rule, however. The gaffer suspects several hours playing football on a video game is not conducive to a good performance in the real thing
Driving a coach with 18 players and 10 staff can be a thankless task and, despite the new facilities, Jeff got the usual abuse for his navigational skills, “New coach, same old driver,” yelled Mathieu Baudry as we hit traffic on the M1.
The staff sit at the front and the new coach has some features for them too, including a monitor on the coaching staff’s table that is linked to the laptop of Matt, the performance analyst. This enabled Kevin Nugent, our assistant manager, to watch Oldham in their previous game and make notes for the team meeting the next day.
We trained at one of the Manchester United academy grounds in the afternoon. Finding a training venue for an overnight trip is normally relatively straightforward as the coaching staff utilise their contacts to find somewhere willing to host us. Clubs are normally very accommodating as one day they might need to use ours.
The training session was a light one with a lengthy warm-up from the fitness coach, Lee, to get the tiredness of the journey out of the players’ legs before some nine-a-side on a half-sized pitch to work on their sharpness. Much of the preparation for Oldham had been done on the Thursday when the session focused on shape and patterns of play, using mannequins to mark out the anticipated Oldham formation.
After training the players refuelled on toasted sandwiches on the coach as we made our way to the hotel. There is a fair amount of dead time in the hotel on these trips and the players take a nap for an hour or two before an evening meal then retreat to their rooms or gather in reception. The hotel bar is out of bounds. In the morning some of the lads get up early for breakfast while others lie in. About 11am they go on their usual team walk before a pre-match meal at 11.30am. Then they have another short rest followed by the final meeting at 1pm to go through the last plans before we depart for the ground.
We were below-par in the first half at Boundary Park, which fortunately was not living up to its reputation as England’s coldest ground, but ended the second half the stronger to come away with a point from a 1-1 draw that extended our start to 10 league games unbeaten. Despite our success we don’t seem to have lost too many players to international duty this week, so we’re now preparing to host MK Dons on Saturday.