Competitive football is back and amongst the serious business I have immensely enjoyed the niche qualities that only the Scottish game can produce. The Cove Rangers directors calling Cowden fans sheep shaggers and Craig Samson removing a decapitated seagull from the pitch mid game have particularly caught my eye – great stuff. This aside, pre season is out the way and teams are starting to reach peak fitness and it has got me thinking about the majority of player’s attitude towards this particular area of our sport.
As the season draws to an end we should have our feet up with a bit of exercise to keep the legs ticking over. This isn’t usually what happens. Some take the option to indulge in vast alcohol consumption – ocean beach club and pool parties, there will be those that take the time to do nothing, there will be those who do are far too ”busy” and overdo it; but for me I always respected the approach that Iain “Yano” Campbell adopted. Instead of 2 litres of normal coke he substituted it for Diet Coke to wash down his 2 smoke sausage suppers. That is real professionalism.
But how do we look after ourselves away from the game during the season? The reality is that the work/life balance of a part time footballer greatly restricts this pursuit. On my part, it is not for a lack of desire to look after myself but it is extremely difficult when you are working full time. Midweek games can lead to you being time pushed and your only choice of food is the last chicken wrap at a service station garage which is usually out of date. You will then play 90 minutes running on an empty stomach and will scoff whatever food the home team puts on, usually a plate of crusty dry sandwiches or a tray of pies. Since entering professional football I would estimate my supermarket meal deal consumption at approximately 2342 tuna baguettes, 3321 bottles of highland spring and 2531 packets of Doritos. With this situation happening regularly, it takes those with great discipline and time management to ensure they are eating the right stuff and training the right way.
There is a reason why we are all playing at this level and not the Premiership. We all have one or two shortcomings or in my case several. I have played with players who are as technically good as anyone in the game but move at the pace of a fridge, I’ve played with players as fast as top level footballers but they usually have a trampoline touch and then there are others who seem to have it all but it turns out they don’t know their arse from their elbow (although footballers are perceived as thick, to really make it you also have to have practical intelligence). Having said all that, the factor which I find most infuriating is those players who ignore the impact of fitness and nutrition.
Of course a factor in many transfers and moves can be luck, but those players who look after themselves definitely increase their chances. Every transfer window a player will get a move that baffles those in the game and the cliché “He must have a Carlsberg agent” will be rolled out. Occasionally, the same player will keep getting good moves despite the continuing disbelief from fellow players. We as players will pin it on luck but often this is not the case, 95% of the time (plucked this figure out of my backside) this player will be an extremely fit, professional and committed albeit with a lack of technical ability.
Many in the game turn up their nose to those players who seem to prioritise their fitness over any other attribute in football. I hear this in throw away conversations, sometimes on the training pitch and even more so on social media. This was highlighted by comments underneath a twitter post by Inverness Caley. In the post the players are getting put through their paces in an army themed boot camp and the reaction was typical of what I have seen. Comments such as:
“Embarrassing, get a baw at their feet”
“This is what’s wrong with the Scottish game”
“This is why we underperform as a nation”.
No it’s not. Every world class team will do strength and conditioning and it is not done at the expense of ball work at the training ground. It is just one part of what contributes to an effective footballer but these little things can make the difference.
We constantly moan about our national team and compare ourselves to Croatia and its population size but we are deluded to think that world class players such as Modric, Rakitic and Perisic are ignoring the nutrition, fitness and conditioning element of the game. As a nation we do produce technically gifted players; players such as Snodgrass, Bannan, Charlie Adam, Matt Ritchie and Ross McCormack are all fantastic ball players however we rarely produce players that are the whole package. Although I’m possibly stretching it a bit by drawing parallels from the general reaction towards an Inverness Caley video, we should possibly think twice before we lambast this type of work. Of course the most important area is training ground ball work but there is absolutely no need for this to be at the expense of fitness and conditioning.
I have been guilty in the past of labelling players that do this kind of work “busy bastards” but these players are doing everything they can to give themselves a better chance in the game. Big John McGlynn used to always say “Hard work and running covers a multitude of sins” and I used to metaphorically shake my head at his overused phrase. However those who heeded his advice had the last laugh – playing week in week out in front of a few thousand adoring fans. And here I am writing blogs craving that same attention…
Let’s maybe consider a more holistic approach to the game we love so dearly.