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Monday 07 July 2008
Players take to Bath for the weekend

Over the weekend, the club had its first ever residential training course, at Bath University. The idea arose when it became apparent that the hoped-for pre-season tour wasn’t going to materialise. Things moved quickly after Jeremy Steele, who is the club’s Community Football Scheme manager, suggested using his former university.

Seventeen of the first team squad went on the weekend, with only Michael Haswell, with Brighton on trial, Andy Little, Michael Peacock and Lewis Taylor (all away on pre-arranged holidays) missing out. While James Pullen attended, he is still recovering from his ankle operation, so Terry Brown co-opted David Guy for goalkeeping duties over the weekend.

Because the players are part-time, arrival on Friday evening was spread over a few hours. Early arrivals were encouraged to have a swim before dinner, by which time everyone else had arrived. Straight after dinner, everyone moved to a lecture theatre where there were presentations by the board and by manager Terry Brown. For the board, Erik Samuelson started by showing the team the first ten minutes of the ‘Football Hurts’ final episode, as a good but concise summary of why and how the club was formed. He went on to talk about the volunteer nature of the club, its achievements and aspirations and what the board expects from the players and management. This included a session by Terry on the club’s code of conduct.

Ivor Heller talked about his role at the club and his expectations from players in areas such as meeting sponsors and the fans; the man of the match award; and attending the Junior Dons party. He also talked about the pressures of being a Wimbledon player and the importance of treating the fans with respect.

Nige Higgs introduced himself and briefly explained the club’s commitment to youth development, pointing out that Luke Pigden and Steve Gilbert were products of the system.

Terry Brown was on next, talking to the players about the plans for the coming season, the playing formation, the need for the players to be an integrated unit – ‘a family’ as he put it - and his desire for them to play attacking football without fear of failing, even if that means making mistakes from time to time. He emphasised the need for everyone to feel part of the team and reminded them of the unique opportunity that playing for Wimbledon offers. With a long day ahead of them on Saturday, the players went off to bed to try to sleep – not always easy if you are in the same hall of residence as Luke Garrard.

Saturday was a really heavy day. It started with a prolonged training session with Stuart Cash and Simon Bassey, with input from Ryan Gordon, and Jeremy Steele. The session ended with a game of eight-a-side where the writer has been asked to say that Ben Judge scored the goal of the game with a 30-yard shot, although he only just shaded the award from Luke Pigden's curling effort from 20 yards. By noon, when the players broke for lunch, they had been working hard for a couple of hours, with brief rests during which the following photos were taken.

Ryan Gordon briefs the squad

Left to right, Ben Judge, Alan Inns, Jason Goodliffe, kitman Robin Bedford and Elliott Godfrey take a break between sessions

Left to right, Kennedy Adjie, Belal Aiteouakrim and Tony Finn sit one out, while Stuart Cash watches the session

Left to right, front, Tony Finn, Kennedy Adjie, and Tom Davis; back centre, David Guy, right, Alan Inns, pitching camp

After lunch, everyone moved indoors to take advantage of the superb facilities. The squad was split into two, with half the players going to the indoor running track for speed and other tests, while the other half went to learn the correct techniques for lifting weights, which will be part of the formal training regime this season.

The speed tests comprised four elements: a 30-metre sprint, timed at the halfway mark as well as for the full 30 metres; a test to see who could jump highest, comfortably won by Tom Davis; a jump and three hops, to test leg strength, won by Jon Main; and a yo-yo run. This is similar to the better-known bleep test where players run back and forth under gradually increasing time pressure, until they can no longer get back before the bleep sounds. The only difference is that, to make it more attuned to football, they get a ten second rest between each ‘lap’. Tony Finn and Sam Hatton won this comfortably, keeping pace with each other right up until the end.

Elliott Godfrey gets ready for 30m sprint, watched by Ben Judge and Robin Bedford, while Jason Goodliffe checks out the trainer's statistics

A new-look Sam Hatton, Tony Finn and Belal Aiteouakrim starting to feel the pain during on the yo-yo test

Chris Hussey practises his lifting technique while Mike Rayner and a pensive Stuart Cash look on

Together, these two sessions lasted three hours and were followed by a game of beach football. As Jason Goodliffe explained, “it was the same at Hayes when I was there. Brownie would run us ragged all day and then suggest a quick game of five-a-side, so he could win”. And so it was. The management team comfortably won the league of four teams, helped by not having been training all day and their numerical advantage of eight players while the other teams had five. Terry Brown (“I was the leading scorer at every club I played for”) captained his team to an inspiring win, despite a knee injury to kit man Robin Bedford.

Terry ‘I top scored in every team I played for’ Brown celebrates his goal

Brawl in the sand, as Stuart Cash is beaten up

The last events were dinner, followed by a visit to Bath town centre by the players, but that isn’t part of this report, except to say that Stuart Cash counted them all out and counted them back in again.

The weekend was a major success, with the players reporting that they had never worked so hard in pre-season before, but that they had enjoyed it immensely. Terry Brown said “the weekend proved to be a real success in every respect. As a manager, it gave me my first opportunity to look in detail at our new signings. The physical tests we did at the indoor training arena can be replicated back at home. Also, we can look at the information that was made available to us regarding elite athletes at the university and use it as future targets for our own players.

“The weekend also allowed the squad to find out a little bit about each other and, of course, a proper English training weekend wouldn’t be complete without the Saturday bonding session, where I found out that Tony Finn is by far the best dancer in the club.”

Whether or not this becomes an annual event depends on funds and priorities but the squad members came away with some hard data with which to measure their progress during the season and a much stronger sense of being a team.

It is worth noting that Nottingham Forest were also on site, for a week, while QPR are due there soon. And that one of the teams we play in the Blue Square South this season has access to these facilities every day of every week….