Dr Bryce Evans, author of A Different Shade Of Green – The Alan McLoughlin Story welcomes back pre-season with the first in a series of blogs from guest writers.
Ah, pre season! For those of you, like me, who refuse to do the sensible thing and follow cricket during the summer months, the sight of a phalanx of professional footballers back from their holidays and panting around in the heat brings about a thrill of excitement. We’re almost there. The wait is almost over.
I know that football is incessant these days. It never really stops for summer any more – if you want football badly enough at the moment, you’ve got the women’s World Cup or the Copa America. OK, fine. But nothing gets me drooling in anticipation like the sight of eighteen or so men in shiny new kit, some sporting little man boobs or an innuendo of belly fat, sweating their way around the countryside.
On reflection, the above sentence may sound a little odd. But ask yourself this: why does pre-season training always feature squads being put through their paces in woodland, on hillsides, or in public parks? Unless this has something to do with agility training connected to the skill of nimbly dodging dog poo, the main reason seems to be to show off, military-style.
A good example is the recent images of the current Pompey squad striding through the leafy lanes and hedgerows of Portchester and Fareham. Looking strong. Looking disciplined. All neatly trimmed facial hair and determined expressions. Now, I want you to look at these images and store them in your mind. (Photos credit: Colin Farmery)
Done it? Good. Now, six months later, in icy December, when you’re anxiously gripping your Bovril while watching Pompey flounder hopelessly 3-0 down away to Accrington in mud and driving sleet, I want you to conjure up those sunny pre-season images and juxtapose them with what is unfolding in front of your eyes.
Why? Because that’s the glorious function of pre-season: the sun-drenched promise of brighter days ahead. Pompey’s trip to Portugal this pre-season will inevitably conjure up wonderful memories of UEFA cup football. Memories which will, in turn, trigger expectation of big things ahead for Paul Cook and his boys.
Personally, my memories of pre-season are a big more rustic and home-spun. Watching Pompey of the 1990s and early noughties on their pre-season tours of the West Country. Turn up, thump Tiverton Town or whoever, down a few ciders, dare to believe that this would be the season, and on to the next minnow to administer another beating.
After one such pre-season match, can’t quite remember where – although it must have been Devon around 1996/97 – I remember a hot and bothered Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Allen stripping off during the post match warm-down to the bemusement of Pompey fans and teammates alike. The handful of faithful fans still lingering in the ground soon demanded the discarded items of kit. Mad Dog, wearing only y-fronts, boots and socks at this stage, obliged. I made it away with his shorts and with his wry warning – ‘mind the skid marks’ – ringing in my ears.
And then, one year, a few years later, the sunny promise of pre-season finally came true. It was 2002, the year we walked the first division championship. That pre-season I was down in Exeter to see the boys in blue. Before the game, for some reason, the Pompey squad were lingering outside Exeter City’s St James’ Park, all in track suits and looking bored, standing with their backs to the low brick wall at the away end. Patrick Berger was busy signing stuff for the ladies. So I made my way over to goalie Shaka Hislop for a chat. The man was physically awe inspiring; a Trinidadian giant. I got chatting to Shaka. Somehow, conversation strayed to Shaka’s NASA qualifications. It was a conversation which went way over my head in terms of the physics. It nonetheless just seemed like, in that moment, there was magic in the air, or the stars, or something. That year we gained promotion to the Premiership.
Now it might just have been the magic and sparkle of Shaka’s NASA credentials which made me realise that that pre-season would signal great things to come. Or it might have been the cider. Either way, I knew we’d do well that year. Now, I don’t want to tempt fate, but I notice that this time round one of Pompey’s new signings on show at the jog around Portchester – Christian Burgess – comes with some academic qualifications as well: a BA honours degree in History. He advertises this fact on his Twitter page. So, maybe it’s the fact that we again have brainpower on board; maybe it’s the cider again; or maybe it’s just the summer heat getting to me; but, for me, it feels like this pre season, like that of 2002, is going to usher in great things for Cooky and the lads. Time will tell.
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