Many have asked me, “have you calmed down yet?”, “have you taken it all in?”, “are you still euphoric?” etc after the events of that glorious, sunny Saturday in May. Well, now that the champagne no longer stings my eyes and the visions witnessed of management, players and fans celebrating like Russell Slade would have said “like we had won the FA Cup” but still better are firmly etched in my memory, the answer is yes to them all. For we are now exactly where we want to be, in the best League in the world at, it would seem, the ideal time. Not twelve months earlier when matches were invariably played in soulless, desolate stadiums but in a new home, filled to capacity.
But more about that another time. I’m actually here to let you know what’s happening on a daily basis at this season’s pre-season Training Camp.
This year, due to the restrictions placed on international travel, it’s UK based. We’re spending six nights at the FA’s National Sports Centre at St George’s Park in Staffordshire, which only recently was the base used by Gareth Southgate and his England squad. As you may imagine the facilities are first class but as yet I have yet to see the fabled blow up unicorns. Albeit I never did believe in them anyway.
On route we stopped off in London Conley to play our third pre-season friendly, this time against a Watford side who themselves made it to the Premier last season. The Bees ran out victors by three goals to one. I know it may only be friendlies, which are best used to help coaches make strides towards the finished article but, given what I witnessed today, I’d take that. Everybody did what they do best including goalscorer supreme Ivan Toney who took his pre-season tally to three with a brace (header and a free kick). It was particularly good to see Kris Ajer get his first start which included a Hermann Hreidarsson-esque run through the middle, from which, by his own admission, he should have scored.
We are definitely on the right path. Whether it be with the current First Team squad players or members of the B Team Squad who either came on during the second half or were involved in last night’s 3-1 victory away to an experienced Cambridge United side.
After the match it was onwards and upwards (literally) as we headed on up to St George’s Park. It looks very impressive with images of national heroes across the generations in the bedrooms, corridors, and reception areas. But still not as stirring, for me anyway, as the eight week old images which festoon the buildings and rooms in and around 100 Jersey Road.
As an eventful day drew to a close, I still had another special moment to savour and that was the arrival of Frank Onyeka. He arrived late on and I had the absolute pleasure to welcome him (as I had Pontus a couple of years back) after he had completed the mandatory number of days quarantine and was now able to embark “in person” on his new and much heralded career with the best team in the world.