Thursday, 15 February 2018

400 mile Away Days in non-league on a shoe string budget of £0 per week

14 players were able to make the long trip to Wales to face Merthyr Town on a freezing February day to play in the re-arranged fixture after the original Saturday was called off. The trip will rack up nearly 400 miles. So it will need some planning.
I collected the mini-bus on the Friday before the weekend as its half term and the school Weatherfield Academy kindly lend this to us and its half term. So transport is sorted. We don't pay the lads a penny but on a long trip like this we want to at least feed them. So, we were working out the cost and what to buy when the development squad manager Colin offered to cook a large pasta for the lads. Well I think he had offered on behalf of his wife Nikki, but either way we quickly accepted as it beats the hell out of a meal deal sandwich. Thanks Nikki! (& you Colin of course)!
10am: Started the day in hospital, on the phone
On the morning of the game I had to nip to hospital with my wife for two appointments and as always the organising was in full swing. I still had players to confirm, I had injuries to decide on and some logistics to think about. Assistant manager Gareth didn't have a great night either with his partner rushed to hospital over night but thankfully she was home and stable enough for Gareth to come. On top of that I was aware that I had not written up my match prep properly although had the outline in my mind.
11.30 am: Quick bit of work in the office
We dashed back from hospital and instead of now completing the match prep with the team confirmed I was forced into doing some work, that actually pays me. A couple of orders on our shop had to be processed and now I was at my desk in the home office rushing through that. Running out of time I decided to print blanks and maybe we can do it on the way. I think I forgot I was driving!

1.15pm: Any room for players?
I got everything out into the car and my wife had made me beans on toast "You cant go without eating". Yep, correct, so I stood in the kitchen and scoffed it down quick and headed off. We got to the mini-bus and I needed to still pick the kit up. its a mile away at Treasurer Dudley's house. His wife Katrina has been washing the kit to save us money. I dashed round in the mini-bus to collect it, whizzed into the petrol station to fill up then back to the stadium. Still on time. We collected all our equipment from our locker inside Creasey Park and we headed off at half one.

4.30 pm: Dinner is served lads
We made good time and stopped for our pre-match meal. Not at the Hilton, in a Starbucks car park. The lads stretched their legs and we dished up dinner on paper plates in the back. But we couldn't sit on the bus to eat it as we couldn't stand in the isles. It looked like we were going on a camping holiday. So the lads took turns standing outside and eating but it was below freezing so then dashed to the bus for some respite.
4.30pm: Queue for food is freezing!
4.30pm: Share it out Keiran!
On we went and we looked at a huge mountain ahead of us as we got deeper into Wales. We joked about climbing it. The smile was wiped off our faces as the sat nav indicated left and all the equipment slid to the back doors and we indeed would be climbing this mounting. The road actually resembled those on the original Italian Job film but soon we were level with our ears popping. This really felt like a top gear challenge with Jeremy Clarkson. The next part being, what goes up, must come down. We did say that perhaps we would be hurtling into the stadium wall if the brakes fail.

Gareth looked pale but ready for action
We arrived at the impressive stadium in good time and got all our equipment inside. Gareth and I found a quiet room to finish our match prep and we got on with fitness testing one of the players.
We were delighted with our start and showed what a threat we are going forward and took the lead through Ethan Lamptey. At half time we talked about what would happen and of course Merthyr came out all guns blazing. We conceded from a corner which we strongly felt was a foul and later we conceded a goal through an error. Late on another error gifted them a third and we were beat. Terrific effort again from the lads though. Grit and determination with flashes of brilliance. These young players can truly compete.

7.15pm: Warm up on crispy freezing 3G
On reflection that error was a combination of players switching off and when you consider the affect fatigue has on players focus maybe its not surprising. Added to that being crammed up in a phone box on wheels for 4 hours certainly doesn't help physically either.
Ethan scored then stretchered off
As I sat in the players lounge afterwards contemplating and coming down from the energy of the game Ryan approached me and said he was going to get a lift back. Ok, I didn't really think about it.

We jumped back on board the bus and headed back to England. Cans of red bull kept me sharp as I drove back with most of the lads kipping in the back. Around 1.30 am we got a call. Ryan is at the gates of creasey park and cannot get his car out. Oh no, it didn't even occur to me. that when ryan said he got a lift, he meant back to Creasey Park the stadium. Thankfully Ryan is one of the incredible's and managed to get to his car and get inside and sleep till we got there with the gate key so he could get home. Home being another 45 minutes for him into London.
10.30pm: Interview done, time for home
3am we arrived and unloaded the bus and everyone got their cars running to clear the ice. One of the players got inside my car to kick the door open from the inside as it was frozen solid.
One of the poor lads also had the inside of his car frozen as his window was broke and would not go up. I wasn't sure the laughing was sympathy.

3am: below freezing,
I walked in at 3.30am and my wife greeted me in the hallway with a hug, "why are you up"? I asked. She said she was worried and dare not text becasue I was driving. She said "I'm gutted for you with the result". I said "I'm gutted as well, but for the lads, you should see what they have been through today yet tried so hard and performed so well" As I lay in bed at 4am I now realised the benefits of Red Bull getting us all home safely would come at a price. I was wired and re lived the whole day back to back before eventually riding out the caffeine fix. I know some thing really good things will happen for these players. Such an honest bunch. This year has of course been tough and we've got our toughest battles still to come. But every game we try and never ever give up. They learn and have evolved. They are young & their are some good stories coming.
3am: Home & frozen cars
2am: MK Drop off, frozen cars

Next day I took the mini bus back to the school with Andrew our secretary and apart from that I could barley raise a conversation. I was physically and mentally exhausted. By the evening, I was good to go again, ready for another battle, ready to surprise people. When these lads do something amazing, they also will surprise a few people, it wont surprise me though.

We go again.

 Tony McCool