Ahhhhhhh! the joys of pre season training. During the close season the thought of the pain ahead is always not far away. It plays on your mind from about a week into your break and picks away at you until that horrible day arrives – the first day of pre-season training.
Having retired I thought that missing pre-season would be a blessing. But it's strange the way you miss the things you think you hate. It is weird, but I miss those 50 pence piece sized blisters, the aching muscles and the running until you think you will pass out or throw up.
Time for a bit of reminiscing now. In my day, God, that makes me feel old, I remember pre-season being very different to the way it is today. Our gaffa would make us run up hills until our legs gave way, or we were sick or passed out. Then you could stop. There was always that competitive edge to it as well. We would run in groups against each other. The reward for the winners was being allowed to stop. For the losers, a couple of extra runs as punishment.
Then there were the timed runs. I swear our gaffa had no batteries in his stopwatch. We would always just be outside the times, he would count down the seconds left to get in? 5, 4, 3, 2, 1? and seemed to speed up as we got closer so we would fall outside the time.
Then we would hear those words which we knew were coming? 'YOU OWE ME ONE'. I put it down to the manager wanting to stamp his authority on us players and just part of his evil plan to give us a fitness edge on the other teams come the start of the season, well that's what he told us? and it was either that or he was a just a sicko.
Now to the modern day pre-season training. To be fair, I caught this change at the back end of my career so I know how to compare the old with the new styles.
Players today are treated very differently fitness-wise than many years ago. During the close season they are given programmes to follow as we were, but they now have to come in for a day or two to complete fitness tests to see if they have been doing the work they have been given. Nowhere to hide!
Heart rate monitors are worn then downloaded to computer as proof of the fitness work. Although I do remember a player once putting the monitor on his dog for an hour in the garden to register it for him. He did get found out though as the fitness coach noticed he was as fit as a greyhound, which, I can tell you, he was far from that!
The heart rate monitors are a big advance in fitness training. You are given a base heart rate and a top heart rate depending on the lactate blood test results on return from your holidays. Depending on the kind of fitness the coach wants you to work on that day, from your stamina to speed work, different heart rates work different levels of fitness.
You set your watch say between 160 beats per min to 170 beats per min. you then run between these rates. The watch will beep if it drops below meaning you speed up (booo!) and will beep if it goes above which means slowing down (yeaaah!).
As for the trips away? very different. Now I think the lads get one night out in say a week trip for bonding as a team! During my playing days we got a whole lot more (not always with permission), but that's a whole other story.
So is the modern way better or worse. Well having done both I have to say? I don't know. You cannot cheat anymore or come back for pre-season with a terrible level of fitness. But it really boils down to the player's attitude and honesty. As long as you put the work in either way you will be fit for the big kick off.
Then it's about your football doing the talking and, let's be honest, that's all that really matters.