An absolute success in every way possible, there is simply no other way to describe the Shakers pre-season training camp in the mountains of Marbella.
15 July 2017
13 top quality training sessions delivered by the staff. There is no doubt about it, Lee Clark, Alan Thompson, Chris Brass, Tony Caig and Jim Henry have delivered excellence to the lads for seven days.
13 top quality training sessions received by the players and every one of them committed to every session, committed to every run, 110% committed to every drill. Every one of them has lost litres in sweat and every one of them is fitter and stronger and, as for team spirit, that bond that has been forged between the lads – that’s just special.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been in and around squads of all shapes and sizes in the 17 years I’ve been with the club including the Alan Knill squad of 2010-11, and the Dave Flitcroft squad of 2013-14 – two promotion winning squads. They were two squads that showed a similar type of bond to this squad in abundance, a team spirit that was flawless throughout the season.
This group of players, coaching staff and support staff be they the physiotherapists, the sports scientist, the kit man, the video analyst, the coaches or the manager, they have something special, something I’ve not seen or witnessed to date. The spirit and bond they have is special and, in the words of an old and bold Royal Navy Captain (from my previous career): “If you have a bond with your men, then special things can happen…”
The final day began with another early start for the lads. Our last breakfast started at 7am with Jim Henry tearing into me, again, because of my choice of food. He has sworn to change my eating habits before the end of the season – has he seen a pie!!!
As it has been, for the last seven days, the banter amongst the lads and staff starts from the minute anyone walks in. One thing I have noticed over the week, and even before the week away, before Lee Clark does anything he will go to each player, say good morning and shake their hand, it’s the same with staff, whoever it is, you know to expect a shake of the hand with the gaffer every morning, it’s become tradition.
Even the Chairman gives and receives the banter from the lads, it’s sometimes a little toned down, obviously, as there is huge respect from the lads towards the Chairman, but he’s mixed in with the lads as he does with everyone.
Once breakfast was out of the way, it’s down to business and the final session and the lads know it's going to be a tough one but, first, Lowey had to pack his fun bus for the morning trip. The coaching staff were first down, along with several large cases of bottled water. Then it was the turn of the lads, it takes three trips to get them all down the hill and, despite several offers from Lowey of a lift down, I walked – every time – down and up.
The session started Ryan Lowe leading the lads around for a slow jog. By the way, it took me three attempts to wake him this morning – he likes his kip does our Ryan! Jim Henry then took over with a set of circuits which we covered on Facebook Live before Alan Thompson and Brassy took over with two circles.
The lads were split into two and formed a circle, one was “volunteered” to go into the middle. The player in the middle had to get the ball, whoever touched the ball last, replaced the man in the middle. The idea of the exercise is to ping the ball around, get some quick fast accurate passing going, to speed up the lads thinking and, at the same time, it provides plenty of banter amongst the group for mistakes and awkward challenges.
Once the ‘circles session’ was over, the gaffer took over and split the lads into two teams, Old ‘uns v Young ‘uns with the losing side having to provide the cold soft drinks on the team bus at the next away game at Macclesfield.
The Youngsters quickly raced into a two goal lead with Tom Heardman and Chris Sang both scoring. The gaffer was giving the Oldies side some grief and did question if they were still in bed.
Stephen Dawson, now playing the captains role, and playing in the ‘Old’ side - I remember him on the young side - suddenly erupted with his team mates and delivered an almighty rollicking at which point they got back into the game with a thunderous volley from Mr Dawson himself. Jermaine Beckford then levelled moments later with an exquisite turn and shot on the half volley – which brought a dry comment from Alan Thompson “You’ve still got it Becks”. His reply was: “Of course I have, that’s why you signed me!”
With just minutes to go, the “Oldies” side hit the winner although who scored the goal remains a mystery as I was watching Andy Tutte through the viewfinder of the camera at the time. It's very difficult to watch a game when all you see is through a 2cm wide slot on a camera!
As the gaffer blew the final whistle and brought the Marbella training camp to a close, Joe Murphy quipped “Can I have a Vodka in my Coke please lads?” The banter was flying by now amongst the lads. From the youngest (Tsun Dai) to the oldest (Ryan Lowe) – and it was a pleasure to see.
Then it was back up the hill, for the final time. The par three on the golf course caught my attention, again, as two blokes set about hitting the green with their first shot. The first one found the rough on the edge of the green whilst the second one seemed to struggle, maybe he was trying to impress his boss or something, but his tee shot just about dropped on the edge of the tee – a distance of around ten yards. After a quick laugh at his poor fortune, it was time to hit the hill, get showered and get on the bus.
Within minutes of leaving the hotel, most of the lads were asleep after a gruelling session an hour before. The 45km drive to the airport, in the rain, passed by quickly before we started the process of checking in.
Most international airports, during the holiday season, are a nightmare to get through and Malaga airport was no exception. It took us around an hour to reach the front of the queue.
When we did get to the front, Joe Skarz was panicking about his case. Excess baggage is always a problem for a football team. When you're taking forty footballs abroad, the rule of thumb is to deflate them and pass them amongst the lads. Each had one or two balls in their bags for the trip out and for the trip home, and because time was short, the balls were half deflated and most seem to have been shoved in Skarzy’s case whilst he was at lunch!
His bag was on the mark – just - and Joe let out a huge wave of relief. Security was, again, a nightmare for me with my usual six trays for laptops, camera equipment, chargers, cables and every other attachment I’ve used over the week, but we got there in the end.
Duty-free was the next stop. The lads were getting perfumes and gifts for loved ones. Anyone who knows me will know what I got, it’s a nasty habit, but there you go. I’d also been pre-warned that the wife wanted a present. She got a tin of biscuits, which have been duly scoffed.
A quick coffee and then the flight was called, get on board and off we went. As per the coach trip the lads were soon asleep. Tom Walsh, who was beside me, dug out his iPad, plugged in his earphones and set about watching a movie but a quick glance ten minutes later and he was also fast asleep whilst his movie played on.
Greg Leigh and Nathan Cameron sat in front of me, watched a movie on Greg’s laptop using a shared set of iPhone headphones, with Greg using his right ear and Nathan using his left ear.
As the lads gently snoozed, including me, the flight eventually descended into Manchester Airport. Through passport control, collected the bags – we had more bags than the usual traveller, but all eventually appeared.
As I came through departures, Tony Wilson, the maintenance man from Carrington was there waiting to transport the kit back to Carrington. For the duration of the trip most of the lads had left their cars at Carrington, including James Vaughan and George Miller and whilst both are in the North East both their cars are at Carrington.
Some players were met by family and I watched as Callum Styles, who had suffered from the heat during the latter part of the week was met by his parents. Craig Jones stood outside Terminal Three, on the phone, eagerly trying to find where his family were waiting.
And that was it, all of a sudden the trip was over. Done and dusted, and we move into the next game. I got home and started work on the preview for tomorrow almost straight away before starting this final blog for the pre-season trip.
The Hotel – La Cala Golf resort – was absolutely outstanding and the facilities were used to the maximum by everyone. Everything about the Hotel was exceptional from start to finish. The staff there met every request, no matter how strange they were. The ground staff supplied us with an outstanding training pitch. The kitchen staff provided stunning food throughout the week and the pool staff were excellent in supporting the lads through their pool sessions. The bar staff though had a quiet week from all at Bury FC – sorry lads!
I shall miss sitting on the balcony until midnight, encoding interviews, editing images, writing the blog and thrashing out statements for player departures and arrivals. It has been an absolute blast.
I have to thank Lee Clark who insisted I go because he wanted, more than anything, to show everybody that this was no holiday. It certainly wasn't and I hope we proved it. Lee also gave me free reign to interview the lads whenever I wanted and as many times as I wanted. His stories of when he played a worth a book in itself - or has he already done that?
Thanks to the lads who not only endured lots of heavy training sessions in the heat, but also had me pointing camera's - stills or video - at them for seven days solid.
Thanks to the coaching staff and the support staff who answered every question and, to a certain extent, let me batter them with the daily blog.
Thanks to the 'Fun Boy Two' - Craig the Kit man and Jimmy the analyst for having the funniest accidents in flooding rooms and crashing golf carts - which brought much amusement (and flack).
Thank also to Lowey’s Fun Bus for providing him with a possible new career when he finally hangs his boots up. There's a possible franchise in there somewhere.
Thanks also to the Chairman, who must walk ten miles a day whilst on the phone, for funding the trip for the lads - money well spent in my book.
Finally many thanks, to our supporters, for the comments on the coverage.
Over the last week, we have produced:-
20 iFollow Video Interviews totalling 12 GB in filesize