Today I had the extreme honour of being invited to watch a training session with the club, courtesy of a Cowley’s Campaign reward. It gave a gripping insight into the working of the football club at the moment, and it differed significantly to anything I’ve seen at Lincoln City before.
We were to arrive at the ground sometime between 9.30am and 10am, but all three of us on the day were there before we were meant to be. The two other guys, Dave and Steve were like me, just passionate fans excited about the day ahead. Dave hadn’t slept all night just like a kid at Christmas, and Steve had stayed in the White Hart Hotel the night before after journeying specially for the day. I was keen to see everything first hand and I missed out on last years because of a date clash. It’s fair to say all three grown men were excited like schoolboys to be glimpsing the inner sanctum of the Imps revolution.
We had a brief tour of the back room area and Danny Cowley soon introduced himself. It’s the first time I’ve met our new manager face to face and immediately I warmed to him as a person. He’s friendly and approachable but also very distinct and clear on how things are to be. He came to greet us so fluidly you could almost imagine him having it written in a diary, “10am meets fans briefly, 10.05am talk to Sean Raggett about marking Ricky Miller, 10.25am video footage.”
We were very lucky to get to sit in on that video footage session as well. I’ve seen football teams train, I’ve seen the back room tactics of several managers but I must confess never have I witnessed such a comprehensive piece of coverage as I saw this morning. Between them Danny and Nicky have watched five Dover matches from start to finish, that’s 450 minutes of football or almost a full working day. They’ve then edited those highlights down to a half hour presentation where they pause and rewind, point out movements and get the players interacting.
It was fascinating to watch as they randomly paused a clip on the wild eyed face of Ricky Miller scoring against FGR, in order to do some analysis. It was an unfortunate pause that made Miller look like a crack crazed junkie who had just found a fifty pound note on the floor. Before the first ripple of laughter had even broken Danny glanced up, saw the expression and said to Nicky ‘wind it on a bit, don’t pause it there’. He’s not entertaining the notion of joking or mindless banter. When those boys are sat in front of the video screen they know it’s time for work and credit to them not one of them acted up at the image. It sounds trivial but it showed they are buying into the work being done on their behalf.
Dave turned to me as we were leaving the room and said ‘I don’t want this day to end’.
After the video session we made our way to Sobroan Barracks to watch a training session. Credit to Chris Moyses, Phil Kime and everyone involved with getting the pitch back to training standard. It may not be the facility on Carlton Boulevard we spent so much money on, but it is a good quality turf for the boys to practise on.
Our first real bonus of the day came as we arrived and found Bob Dorrian there watching training. The chairman regularly attends when he can just to watch and observe. He didn’t interfere once and I barely saw him speak to a player. Luckily he did speak to us extensively about the club now, relegation and some of his own insight into what has happened during his tenure. I gained an awful lot of respect for him today for his candour and again his approachability. He was very open about relegation and Steve Tilson and he reflected on how things have been for him this season. It might not have been on the itinerary but that meeting really added value to the day for me.
Training is just as slick as you’d imagine it to be coming from two ex PE Teachers. Danny and Nicky rarely conferred but they knew exactly what the other one was doing. Nicky, the quieter and yet sterner of the two led the session as Danny came over to explain what they were doing and how it tied in with the video we had watched an hour earlier. He answered a few questions and then as if reacting to a cue he said thank you and made his way back across the pitch, curiously as Nicky wrapped up the session. They know each other inside out and I sensed this was a well oiled drill. There was no messing between the players, some friendly banter but again they knew they were there to work.
The session was a series of smaller activities broken down practising certain plays and approaches. I’m obviously not going to go into detail on the ‘how and why’ of it as I know I have a couple of people reading from Dover. Needless to say nobody can say we’re going to this game unprepared and I suspect that has been the case for every match this season.
Naturally as we spoke on the touchline we discussed players and Alan Long, our host for the day, pointed out that Alex Woodyard is never without a football. When Danny got the lads around him, Alex had a ball at his feet. When they were waiting to kick off a small game he was the last to get rid of his ball. The next time they had a huddle he was there juggling a ball. Until Danny spoke of course, because then they listen.
It’s not all listening though either. I heard input from senior pros such as Nathan Arnold and Jamie McCombe. Sean Raggett was consulted too given we play his old club. Everything felt very inclusive, and yet organised and structured. The players seemed relaxed but focussed rather than just chilled out and larking around. It was good to see Macauley Bonne back in training after his concussion, and it was amusing to watch Luke Jelly wince as he contested a header. ‘He’s not supposed to be jumping’, a worried Jelly told us.
At the end of the session Danny came over and explained how they’d finished the training and took a few more questions. We were thanked for our contribution and as we left I shook Bob Dorrian’s hand. He’s taken an awful lot of stick for trying to do the best he possibly could for a football club he clearly loves as much as any fan. Fans would do well to remember before Clive came and really secured our future, Bob had to put his hand in his pocket just to make sure we had a future. He may not have always seemed to get it right, but he’s sailed some really choppy waters as skipper of this helm and he’s done bloody well not to drown.
As we left Dave smiled and said he didn’t want the day to end again. He wasn’t alone, I didn’t want it to end either.
Alan drove us back up to the ground and said we could have lunch with the players if we wanted and maybe attend the press conference in the afternoon. As we got our food it was explained to us that every day the diet is mapped out for the players, building up to a match day. We enjoyed lasagne today but it was no surprise at all that even their food is pre planned. Not only was there lasagne but also vegetables and a great array of salad and fruit at the end of the room. It wasn’t opulent in any way though, it was clearly a well prepared and structured meal, just like everything else around the club.
I know Dave said he didn’t want the day to end as we went to the press conference. I may not specifically recall it but I guarantee he said it.
Around 4 minutes into the press conference you can see our minder Alan Long open the door and three starry eyed adults who should know better walk into the room. I usually watch the live feed back in an evening so to sit in the press conference and watch was superb. I really wanted to be sat around the table with my Dictaphone asking the questions, but alas I sat a little bit back and watched the professionals do it instead. Rheady came up and did a short ‘presser’ (as it’s know by us journalist types) and it was good to actually hear the big man speak. I thought he only made noise when he pushes a header astray but he does have a voice. He was very droll and dry with the assembled press quick with a one liner or piece of stinging wit.
Dave said he didn’t want the day to end so after the press conference Alan said he’d take us on a little tour of the ground and boxes. The pitch looks absolutely magnificent, like a carpet of purest emerald silk. Once we got up into the boxes we sat reminiscing about Keith Alexander and Lincoln City of past. We admired the ground from the comfort of the biggest exec box and chatted about everything and anything Imps related. Talk switched to that of a new ground and how much we’d truly miss Sincil Bank.
Then the day was over. Dave insisted he didn’t want it to be over and I suspect as Alan Long drives home tonight he’ll hear a rustling from under a coat in the back seat of his car.
I joke but Dave, Steve and myself are normal working blokes, all older (I assume) than the players and yet when around the inner workings of our club we reverted back to the excited teenagers who thought the likes of Tony Lormor and David Puttnam were proper heroes, not Lineker and Gazza.
The whole day was a credit to the club, and massive thanks to Alan Long who brought it alive with his knowledge and insights. There isn’t a single person connected to the club who I feel is better placed to represent it than Alan, although I’m biased as I’ve worked first hand with him for a long while.
My eyes were opened today to exactly what it is that Danny and brother Nicky do differently. They have a good sized back room team that’s for sure, but every one of them fit succinctly into their place in the overall machine that is Lincoln City. Every cog, every turn and every last detail is planned by our management duo and as far as I can see the players have all bought into it.
We are dealing with something very different here at Lincoln City, the club feels a tier or two above its status already. Steff Wright’s board championed Goal 2010 and thought success was all about nice new training grounds, but Bob, Clive and the current board have silently implemented Football League 2017 and given us the exact set up we need in order to achieve it. Danny and Nicky Cowley.
They say you need hard work and a slice of luck to get out of this league. We only need the slice of luck because the first bit has been taken care of. Trust me.
I’m entered into the Football Blogging Awards of 2016 and if you read and like my blog I’d urge you to vote. You can do it two ways, if you have twitter there is a link below to take you straight to a tweet you can use to register your vote
If Twitter isn’t your thing just click the link below and write staceywestblog – Gary Hutchinson in the Best New Blog category. I appreciate all your support and messages.