This year, because of Covid-19, it was thought highly irresponsible to travel overseas as well as it being a close season/pre-season like no other. Instead of the “normal” seven weeks sojourn separating one season from another, this close season was foreshortened to just 13 days, following a season which had effectively run for in excess of thirteen months. As a result, this current pre-season preparation period which would normally run over six weeks has been reduced to just over two weeks.
So the players (and staff) who had returned on Wednesday of last week had just a few days training before we travelled up on three coaches, allowing us all to be socially distanced per the current restrictions on coach travel, to Burton on Trent. Here, at the The FA’s National Football Centre, we were based for five days.
We arrived mid-afternoon last Saturday and within an hour the players were in the gym being put through various routines with the conditioning staff.
That evening, as is customary fare, players and staff were entertained by those who had not previously had the pleasure of travelling away with the First Team Squad. This time the honours fell to new signing Charlie Goode, Paris Maghoma, a member of the B Team, Manu Sotelo, our new goalkeeping coach, and Liam Leech, a new addition to our Catering Team.
First up was Liam for a valiant rendition of “You Remind Me” by Usher, which reminded me that it gave further credence to his decision to become a chef rather than an entertainer. Next up was Manu who performed an odd dance routine with his hands (bedecked in blue plastic gloves) whilst “singing” an all too short version (two lines to be exact) of Los Del Rio’s popular hit “Macarena”. Third up was Charlie who managed to find a song which brilliantly included his footballing position and then his name, when singing “Back for Good” (Back 4 Goode) originally recorded by Take That. Finally Paris took to the “stage” and as if to re-emphasise his current promotion from the B Squad to the First Team, chose Ed Sheeran’s “A Team” as his offering.
I have to say having witnessed many attempts at entertaining the players and staff on such nights, Saturday night’s answer to The Voice was teetering just above average ...... which is praise indeed. The only real difference from The Voice is that those in close proximity didn’t have the option of turning around if they liked the sound, although there was nothing to stop the players and staff in attendance from turning their backs!
After breakfast on Sunday, the players had medical prep, and gym prep before heading off at 10.30 to Pitch 12, named after one of England’s finest, the late great Gordon Banks. The training session was intense, both in the morning, and later on in the afternoon, so much so that the stats showed it was the most intense joint session ever on the GPS system (which the players are linked up to), since they were first introduced at the Club in 2014! Incredible. That says so much about the current crop of players.
Sunday evening after dinner was a time to relax and together we all watched the Champions League Final. Personally it was of no particular interest to me as Brentford weren’t involved (maybe in 2022). However it made for a noisy evening as King Kev and Brian Riemer devised a fun competition in which the different tables had to nominate such as: who kicked off, the first throw in, the first yellow card, the first manager shown once the game had started, half and full time scores, etc etc. You can probably imagine the shouting from the different groups as their selections manifested themselves. The winners were the table comprising Thomas, Luke Stopforth, Big Bob, Tom Perryman, and King Kev. Needless to say, as one would expect, there were protestations from all sides as the team included one of the organisers, and it was generally accepted that they had seen the game earlier and we were all watching it on “catch-up”.
Monday took a similar course to Sunday with prep, gym and training sessions interspersed around breakfast, lunch and dinner. West Bromwich Albion arrived mid afternoon as they too are preparing for their season at the FA’s headquarters. It meant we had the chance to meet up at varying times in and around the Centre with Romaine Sawyers. An absolute quietly spoken gent who possesses the same quality in his manner as he does on the pitch.
Tuesday saw the weather take a turn for the worse, with gale force winds and driving rain, excellent preparations for our mid-winter visits to places north of Championship newcomers Watford. The players again gave their all in each session despite the problems caused by the prevailing conditions.
Tuesday also saw the arrival of England Manager Gareth Southgate in readiness to announce the upcoming England squad. Whilst here he took the opportunity of meeting up with Thomas, presumably for any coaching tips our own Head Coach could pass on to him.
After lunch it was the turn of the staff to play a match with the players themselves forming the assembled attendance. Four players were drawn out to assist in the proceedings - Mads Bech Sorensen was the referee, Mads Roerslev and Patrik Gunnarsson were the assistants, whilst Ellery Balcombe was the match commentator.
The match, which was surprisingly entertaining given the conditions and the participants, ended up with the teams sharing eight goals. But it was noticeable that the spectators were highly critical of the officiating as they felt they should have been more controversial than they were, and that there should have been a flurry of cards shown, as opposed to just the one yellow. All in all I think it proved the best place for the players is on the pitch doing what they do best and leave spectating to those who know best!
And so to Wednesday, our final day and more importantly our first “pre-season friendly” against Derby County. I will leave coverage of the match to the regular match-day scribes who are here to cover the game on behalf of the Club.
Post match we head back home whilst I personally will be heading off to Griffin Park to cover the PA for our final ever competitive fixture at the home which served us so well for the past 116 years. Hopefully too the match will give a young B Team Player the honour and distinction of scoring the last ever goal there. If ever there was an incentive, that is one to cherish.
Looking back on the days spent in the Midlands...it was the perfect way for players and staff alike to eradicate any lingering thoughts of recent disappointments. It showed that Brentford Football Club is in a very good place at the moment and the squad are as well prepared as can be. The training sessions were hard and testing but, whilst you could see that the players were straining every sinew and had given every last ounce of their energy, they invariably had a smile on their face as they recovered. The stats following every session were impressive, particularly so in comparison to the similar stage last pre-season.
We have an excellent squad of players who represent the Club both on and off the pitch to the highest standard. Almost to a man, with the obvious exception of those new to the squad, they have the experiences of competitive Championship football at its very best, fresh in their minds, and are straining at the leash to launch back into the new season. Whether as fans we will all have the pleasure of seeing our heroes perform live or from afar, one thing is certain from this particular die-hard, lifelong Bees fan, “you ain’t seen nothing yet”, or in the words of Frank Sinatra “the best is yet to come”.