Cardiff’s pre-season is currently in full-swing with the lads on their tour of Cornwall. After reporting back last week and the fitness drills starting in earnest, it’s a time of the year that players either relish or dread.
Me? When I was playing, pre-season never really bothered me. I was naturally a fit sort of player, and I’d do what I could during my summer break to keep that going – cocktails instead of beer, that sort of thing – so when I returned to the grind it wasn’t as bad as it could be.
But now it seems like a different ball-game altogether. When I was playing, you’d have some players go off for their breaks and they would do less than a week’s worth of training when they were off – a run here, a gym session there. Nowadays, you only have to look at what some of the Cardiff players were doing on their breaks. It’s not just enough to be doing 30 minutes in the morning while on your holiday– players are working in the gym and with their own trainers every day. Even on holiday. Mendez-Laing’s pool parties for the World Cup have been supplemented by training sessions daily. It’s just the way it goes now – if you’re not athletic enough, you’ll get caught out.
When I was playing, I would just always try and keep up with Don Cowie. Most Cardiff fans knew that Don was a guy who had bundles of energy – and in training he was the guy I’d try and keep on the coat tails of. I always knew that if I was near Don, I was doing ok. The boys an absolute athlete, a real steady Eddie in the off-season who looked after himself like no other player. He ate well, looked after his diet and was a work horse. When the bleep test was out, he was the one who bossed it and I was happy to be just behind him.
Just as the players are away now, we did a few tours in my time too. They were always hard work, double sessions most days but we did get to relax too with a few nights out here and there. Tours are always a good way for teams to integrate – lads living in each other’s pockets and spending evening’s together. After double sessions all day, no-one wants to walk far so we all played Playstation and cards and quiz nights together.
My first pre-season was a tough one. Double sessions every day, and on the last night we had the obligatory night out. Young Joe Ledley was in the squad back in those days and were treated to some of his famous dance moves – way before the Wales fans were back at the Euros.
One of the most memorable nights out was on our tour of Portugal. We ended up going to this club where you got given a card on your way in and you used that to get your bevs. Then, on the way out, you had to pay for your drinks with it. Bit of a backward system but we just wanted a beer so we went along with it. We had a few jars, and were a wee bit drunker on our way out. There must have been six of us left at the end of the night – but we only had five cards. And Roger Johnson’s was the one that was missing. All of a sudden these lads started appearing from everywhere, having a gander at what’s going on.
Next thing we know, this lad has grabbed Roger by the back of his shirt and Roger’s bolted – leaving his shirt in the hands of the boy who gripped him. Before you know it, Roger’s streaking up the road, shirtless, and we are none the wiser as to where he’s gone.
We hopped into a few cabs and started on our way home before Roger starts calling us. Turns out, he’d dived into a bush to escape the mob and got a bit creative. He crafted a bin-liner into a shirt to cover up his modesty. To be fair, with his gear, the bin liner was better than the shirt he’d been wearing. He even knotted parts of it to make shoulders!
I think the manager surprised us the next day with a double running session – Ross McCormack managed to skive off by saying his ginger hair and pale skin were causing him problems in the sun…
As a team, we never got ourselves into any major bother, thankfully. When I started out, the older pros like Ricci Scimeca, Darren Purse, and Kevin Cooper took me under their wing. Steve Thompson tried, as well, but that boys too daft for that – I could write a book about his antics. He was banned from everywhere in Cardiff. Not for any aggro – just for being daft. He was prone to throwing plant pots around and winding up other players. I’ll never forget him pouring candle wax all over Willo flood. Willo was a wily lad and didn’t see the funny side of him – I think he tried swinging for Thommo…
While players are going back for pre-season, I’m looking to my future. I spent time last season helping out at Forfar – part-time coaching and I was playing a bit too. But, as things go at some of the smaller clubs, they had to close their youth set-up so that opportunity went with it. I went into it with open-eyes, not really knowing what to expect, but it’s fair to say I loved it. Helping the kids develop and train was class – and it was great to play a little bit too.
We are living just outside of Forfar and we’re settled for the first time in a few years. Over the past few seasons, it’s fair to say I’ve been around the block a bit. Time at Bolton then Wigan and Inverness – so it’s nice to set up a base near our family. The kids are settled in school and we are near to family so they can see their grandparents regularly. We did consider staying down in Cardiff but with no direct flights back up to Dundee, it was a pain in the arse to see family and friends.
I’m just taking my time to assess my options and do a bit of painting. Once the season starts again, I’m going to do my coaching badges and start exploring what’s out there. I’d love to go back into a youth setup somewhere but to be honest, I’m open to anything. Once I get started on my badges, I’ll know more about what happens next. For now, I’ll just enjoy not having to chase Don Cowie about…