It was interesting to see last week that, with all the new technology and money that has flooded into the game, some things haven’t changed. Of course, we must embrace modern technology and all the new ideas and developments that come with that or we will never progress and move forward, but the training ground ritual of wearing the “Yellow Jersey” it seems, has remained intact. The sight of Partick Thistle defender Jake Carroll training in a muscle laden, lycra onesie morph suit as a punishment for being the worst performer in training over the previous week – their very own version of the “Yellow Jersey,” brought back many memories of similar dressing room rituals and bizarre routines over the years.
In truth, training schedules and drills are very similar the world over. There is a general pattern most clubs will follow throughout the working week. Sunday/Monday will generally be recovery days. Light sessions of gentle exercise, five-a-sides, pool work and massage after the weekend game. Tuesday is the day when the main fitness work of the week is done. Aerobic work, strength and conditioning training, and more demanding possession and pressing sessions, alongside possible gym work in the afternoon. Wednesday is the traditional day off to allow for recovery from the exertions of the previous day. Thursday is usually when the technical work, practice matches and team shape is done, working towards the match and exploiting the opposition’s weaknesses, allied with some crossing and finishing and some small-sided games. Finally Friday, a light session, five-a-sides and possibly some set-plays. Some teams will also do some short, sharp sprint work to ready the legs and mind for the challenges of the match.
Initiation ceremonies, where new players have to sing or dance or indeed indulge in their “party piece” (whatever that may be) are commonplace in football and usually take place before the start of those Friday, light hearted, less demanding sessions. These ceremonies are as much about nurturing team spirit and accepting the new guy, as they are about breaking up the monotony of the working week and easing the pre-match tension. Many a new signing has been accepted on the back of his rendition of “Delilah.”
At Airdrie we worked as hard as anyone in training, we were the original “work hard, play hard” Crazy Gang and those rituals formed an important part of that togetherness and harmony. The razor-tongued wit of Kenny Black and Allan Moore would cut you to pieces if you allowed it; you had to stand strong and show your mettle among the group and, if you didn’t have the tongue of a serpent yourself to reply with, you had to have an iron will to show you could still be trusted to stand tall when it mattered.
It was a brilliant dressing room and we had our very own “Yellow Jersey” ceremony every Friday. Only ours wasn’t a lycra onesie, it was in fact, a yellow jersey; old, decrepit and resembling a rugby top, it was signed by everyone who had ever had the honour of placing it over their head and was rarely, if ever, washed from week to week. It was a horrible thing and certainly ensured a competitive edge to training matches throughout the week. No one wanted the “yellow jersey” in Friday’s secret vote.
Each day the players’ performance would be assessed by their peers and, usually by the end of Tuesday training, ideas were being formed as to who was this weeks favourite and, of course, the lobbying began. If I hadn’t had a great start to the week, I’d begin leaning on the influential ones, “Moorie’s having a shocker,” “Jimmy Sandison’s had a terrible two days,” just to plant the seed.
Fortunately for me, for a while there was no need as one of our new signings was to become the proud owner of the jersey as he ‘won’ it so often, although ultimately he was to become the reason it was tossed in the New Broomfield bin.
Gary Mackay had taken over from Alex MacDonald and with financial constraints now kicking in, we were forced to sign some lower league players and throw together a squad which was a pale shadow of the “Crazy Gang.” One of our new signings struggled in games, but even less impressively for him, he struggled in training. He wasn’t up to that level at that point in his career and by the time each Friday came, there was no longer even the need for a vote. The run was only broken when the Gaffer came to me to relay to the rest players that we were to manipulate the vote, as the player in question had expressed the view that it was now affecting his confidence and his level of performance. I was gobsmacked and, to a dressing room that was a bastion of political incorrectness, I knew I had a struggle on my hands to get them to accept the Gaffer’s reasoning, but with team spirit and the well-being of the player concerned to consider, the decision was taken to bin the Yellow Jersey altogether, rather than manufacture someone else to take it on his shoulders.
Whether that was the right decision, I’ll let you decide for yourself, but the Gaffer had to be respected. As for the player, well, I think it’s fair to say that to some of his team mates that same respect was almost impossible to win back. The dressing room circle had been broken and, whilst there is no question in my mind it was the right thing to do for the individual, the team spirit that I held sacred had been compromised. I’d much rather he’d stuck it out. You just never know, he might have come through it a better player.
Ultimately that’s what it’s all about in a dressing room environment. Getting the best from each individual whatever way you can for the benefit of the team. Although in this instance, I’m not convinced it did.
Whilst the majority of these bizarre training rituals and routines are team based, there have been many individual sessions I have been privy to over the years that are sometimes baffling and occasionally downright ridiculous. I’ll leave John Burridge and his many idiocratic ways for another time, indeed Budgie deserves a blog all of his own for some of his antics, but one person you would never have associated with the bizarre, was big Stevie Woods. However, in this instance, Woodsy was victim rather than perpetrator, although as with many of these routines, there was to be a twist.
Stevie, as we know now is Celtic goalkeeping coach and was trusted mentor to Fraser Forster before his £10million move to Southampton, but whilst at Preston as a young up and coming ‘keeper he was an innocent pawn in a game between John Beck (Preston manager), who was renowned as a task master and, the first team goalkeeper at the time, whom Beck wanted rid of. They were both called in for afternoon training whereby some young players would cross balls and as the goalies jumped to catch, Beck would swing a full bag of training balls and smash them into the body of each in an attempt to get them to drop the ball. As if the Republic of Ireland international wasn’t vexed enough by Beck’s inconvenient, impromptu session as he lived in Sheffield, the pugilistic nature of the routine and the subsequent sit-down to answer the question “the merits of catch or punch,” was enough to tip him over the edge.
The goalie was out, Woodsy was in and Beck had his way. It was a classic, yet rather bizarre piece of football management.
Would he get away with it these days? I’m not so sure. When I reminded Stevie of the story recently he was at pains to emphasise that it wasn’t a drill that he used with big Fraser. Indeed, his exact words were “he would have smashed me into next week had I tried it.”
The modern footballer is well looked after, pampered even and, at the slightest hint of anything unusual or untoward, the ‘players union’ card is played. A lot of these unusual training routines and team bonding exercises will become a thing of the past, but I for one, believe they should still have their place. Whilst the world moves on, the mind of the footballer and the manager may not and it’s important to remember that every bizarre routine is played out for one purpose only, to improve the team either in character or in ability.
That’s all every player and manager ever wants. You’ll never see any of these unusual routines and traditions on Sky in “The Boot Room” or on your FIFA 15 training game. But wouldn’t it be just a little bit more fun if we did?
Onto this week’s Guest Tipster and the least said about my grammar policeman, Paul McGeary’s effort last week the better. Daily Record columnist and sports journalist Michael Gannon is doing the honours this week and he goes for, Inverness (23to20) to beat Hamilton, Kilmarnock (10/11) to beat Ross Co and, Forfar to win at Morton (12to5). Good Luck
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