There was something in the air at the training ground last week. The sprinklers were on for the first time following a very wet winter, as the spring sun beat down on Chigwell. Despite no win in our last five, the mood was good and the intensity of training was striking. It felt like the start of the season again.
We have lost a bit of momentum recently and the gaffer, Russell Slade, has been focused on keeping spirits up by providing reminders of just what we’ve achieved this season. His message has been clear and based on three key points: what we were – rank outsiders; what we are – guaranteed at least the play-offs; and what we can be – a Championship side in August.
He has also put an emphasis on togetherness and there have been a few team-building activities in the last couple of weeks, from laser clay shooting to watching the Champions League together. One such activity came last week when the lads took over the running of Nando’s restaurant in Brentwood in aid of charity.
The premise was simple: supporters buy tickets and get served their food by the lads, with proceeds going to our charity partners Haven House and St Joseph’s Hospice.
I think the players were expecting to hand out a few plates and pose for a few photos but I don’t think they realised how fully involved they needed to be, as they were assigned roles from cleaning to hosting, manning the tills and grilling the chicken.
Sometimes it can be tough to get the players to buy in to stuff like that but what was amazing was how into it they all were, as David Mooney was whizzing around wiping tables clean and showing customers to their tables, while the likes of Lloyd James got stuck into grilling the chicken and Moses Odubajo swept up.
It was a funny role reversal as the players served the staff too and I felt a bit awkward having to summon our striker Kevin Lisbie over and tell him: “Excuse me, Kev, I ordered halloumi and it hasn’t arrived yet.”
They all deserve a huge amount of credit and the only difficult thing was telling them that it was time to call it a night.
It was still the talk of the training ground on Thursday, though they weren’t quite as forthcoming when it came to clearing plates, reverting to “rock, paper, scissors” to decide who would clear the decks.
Thursdays normally mean the start of shape work, where the predicted opposition line-up will be laid out in mannequins and the lads go through wave after wave of passages of play. Following that, they went into an 11-a-side game, with one team given instructions to play in the style of Gillingham, our opponents on the Saturday, based on scouting reports. As I mentioned, there seemed to be something in the air, as the lads looked sharp with goals galore.
Unfortunately for the Gills, the lads carried on in the same manner on Saturday as we returned to form with a 5-1 thumping of our opponents, serving up some wonderful football. Maybe there was something in the chicken.