DAVID PREECE: On tour with SAFC as Lee Howey tried to kill Martin Smith and chairman pretended to be a dog
Prior preparation and planning prevents poor performance.
We’ve all heard about the six Ps of planning in one form or another. Obviously this is a family publication so I’ve used the “PG” rated version rather than one I was taught as kid. It’s a phrase that is never more important than at this time of the year, as last season’s camel trek across America will testify.
I’ve been on many a pre-season tour abroad, some good, some bad, but the one endured by the players last year sounded more like a Japanese gameshow than preparation for nine months of football.
One of the great things about being a footballer is the amount of time you get to spend travelling to other countries but there’s “travelling” and then there’s “torture by endurance”. I know which category last year’s came under.
I’ve always thought it’s imperative that teams should travel abroad during pre-season as it’s an essential part of bringing the side together in an environment where their full focus is on what they are trying to achieve. You take the group away from their home lives where they have their support network of family and friends and put them together so they have to rely on one another.
Bonding doesn’t have to occur by the traditional routes of sharing a beer or doing initiative tests in the woods, just spending time with one another and living in each other’s pockets can bring players closer.
My first pre-season tour with Sunderland had all that and more. Peter Reid took us to Ireland for a series of friendlies against St Patrick’s, Drogheda, Sligo and Galway and it was somewhat of a baptism of fire for me.
The matches were followed by “recreation time” which involved more than a couple of drinks that, at times, got a little out of hand.
After one game we’d returned to our hotel, at a golf resort. The chairman at the time, John Featherstone, had joined us as we sat around playing a quiz amongst ourselves, with the punishment of a wrong answer being either a concoction of drinks or a forfeit set by the rest of the group.
As the evening grew into morning, faces had become more fatigued and brains had become a little muddled.
The chairman had already made his way back to bed after losing a game of “Buzz” and as a result had to crawl around the bar on all fours, pretending to be a dog.
Only now do I realise this would have been a great opportunity to ask for a new contract.
As I remember, Martin Smith had given three or four wrong answers in a row and was now in a position where a forfeit was his only choice. His forfeit? Three minutes Queensbury rules with Lee Howey out on the 18th green, with all of us gathered at the window to watch.
Now, I was under the assumption that this was just a laugh.
But as it turned out, Lee took his bar games quite seriously and was just short of putting a gum-shield in and wearing a robe with his name across the back. It was at this point I feared for Martin.
As Lee swung an arm towards Martin, I remember Andy Melville turning to me and saying “He’s only slapped him there, hasn’t he?”. I was rather hoping he had. He hadn’t, and we all ran out to stop Howey going to prison for murder of the ‘Son of Pele’.
It was on that same trip that we ended up skinny-dipping in the Atlantic off the coast of Galway. A 2am curfew was set and Alan Durban, who was chief scout at the time, was appointed to sit up and make sure we were all in on time, which we were, except we all walked in with our clothes bundled in our hands and soaked from head to toe. Alan barely looked up at as we passed, simply saying “You’re fined” to each of us as we passed him.
It was all pretty old school stuff back then. I’d just caught the tail end of that era and whilst it was eye-opening for a young player like me, I just loved being away.
Holland has been my favourite place to go for a training camp, a place called Delden, not far from the German boarder. I loved the fact it was 100 per cent football, like a crash course in team building and although I hated running, I loved the hard work and the feeling of exhaustion after putting in all that effort. It was addictive.
I could never get my head around why England players in the past moaned about boredom at major tournaments because in my mind it’s one of the best parts of the job.
You’d never hear me ever complaining.
Well, not unless I had Lee Howey coming towards me anyway.