WE sent pafc.co.uk's Rob McNichol on tour with the Argyle squad. His Day Three Diary should speak to you - at the appropriate time...
I HAVE a few friends who are comedians. It is a long story as to why, but I just happen to know several who ply their trade as a stand-up comic. Therefore, I have met and been around quite a lot of their kind.
I find they fall into two categories. Some of them are always 'on'. They are constantly cracking wise, making light of situations or doing funny voices. They tweet wry observations, run their jokes by you, and essentially live life as a funnyman. You could just walk to the corner shop and back and they would make jokes about a tree, a loose pacing slab and the woman from number 58 wearing a funny hat.
Then there are the other kind. If you did not know their craft, you would never have them down as a comic. They are quiet, shy almost. They are often a little insecure, nervous in social situations. But then shine a spotlight on them, give them a microphone and watch them go. It is as if they get to change their identity and become who they want to be.
Spending several days in Delden with the Argyle squad, you cannot help but notice how much players can change depending on environment. I am still surprised that the squad are generally very quiet at mealtimes and on bus journeys, but then I suppose the management are around, and when you are a new player, especially, keeping your counsel makes a lot of sense.
On the training ground, things change a little, but not entirely. I have not seen a single player that does not look like he giving his all at training, but some find their voice more than others. There is still some nervousness within many, and added confidence among a select few.
A further step comes on the actual field of play. There you see almost a complete sea change in some. They find a voice, they encourage, bark orders and communicate naturally. My father was a professional footballer, and he has always said that he would be more nervous on the first tee with ten people watching than playing football in front of 20,000. Don't get me wrong, he is a good golfer, but the football pitch was where be belonged. Making jokes on buses and at dinnertime comes naturally to some, but not others. Playing the ball and talking to one's teammates on the football pitch is basically in built.
Training on Wednesday morning was an interesting matter, though. The ten outfield players that began the game at MVV Maastricht the night before spent their morning in the swimming pool, using the facilities here at Aparthotel Delden to aid their important recovery. The others, including the goalkeepers, assembled on the stunning surface of 'Veld 2' to be put through their paces in a series of small but intense drills. Some passing and running sessions preceded a creative training drill, with two sides competing on a small pitch, which contained one full-sized goal (and a goalkeeper) at one end and two very small goals, unguarded, at the other.
Some last-ditch tackles were required, and quick thinking needed to be employed both by attackers and defenders in the fast-paced drill. Once or twice, a player felt he was fouled, or that a tackle was a little strong. When that happened, they made their voice felt. They complained of being brought down, or objected at the strength of a challenge. It was niggly, and occasionally a little bad-tempered.
Now, you may feel I am breaking ranks too much here; I should not share this info. But I bring it up as a huge positive.
Not one of these arguments boiled over. The fire was immediately extinguished each time. Issues were forgotten, kind or funny words exchanged, and we moved on. What I liked was - here is an overused word in football, but one used in the correct circumstances here - the passion showed. The players training today may be a little put out that they did not get to play at Maastricht. They might be concerned that they are not going to be first choice. If I were them, I would be trying to show everything I could to indicate that I care enough, and I am good enough, to play. That is what happened today. We will be all the better for it.
Think of the five people you care about the most. The ones you would do anything for, that you spend time with and think about constantly. Now think how often you fall out with them. I bet it is way more often than any of the people you dislike intensely, because you spend time with loved one and occasionally heated words are spoken. But you do not love that person any the less.
In fact, it is often the people you are the most comfortable with that you can be the harshest to. I want our players to be comfortable with each other than they can constructively criticise as well as praise and encourage. Luke McCormick and Gary Sawyer are the best of friends, and have been for years, but I have heard Luke bawl Gary out for being out of position, and vice versa. They both know they are doing their jobs, and raised voices just indicate that they care deeply about what they do.
The very best teams are full of talented individuals, but ones who play for their mates. If we nail that - and that is why we are here - we will have a heck of chance of being successful.
After morning training or recovery, the players were given a rare afternoon off to indulge in some leisure activities. Some played golf; some went for walks or cycle rides; some chilled in their rooms; some played pool, table tennis and similar games. One even foolishly challenged me at darts - McNichol 4 Threlkeld 0...although Ozzie ran me very close in several legs.
After my darting exploits, and a quick bit of running - yes, even I am trying to be active here - I retired to my room to do some work, while the management team hired some bikes and headed east. I did not join them - and you will know why if you read the Day One Diary
- as they headed in the direction of Enschede, and visited the home of FC Twente. My lack of cycling ability meant I did not join them, but I would have welcomed the opportunity to view the stadium of one of the biggest clubs in the Netherlands.
The reason was partly because of the team's love of football, but also that Derek wanted to view Twente's facilities. You can always learn things.
In the evening - in a taxi, this time, which was a relief - seven of us headed to Oldenzaal, to see FC Twente play against Southampton. We arrived with over an hour to spare before the game, which would indicate our attention to detail, making sure we had enough time to drink in the surroundings and atmosphere.
Or someone got the time wrong and thought it was a 6pm kick-off, when it was actually 7pm. I will not name the guilty party, but perhaps he should have analysed the fixture list more...
A strong Southampton side played well, albeit in a game played at a slow pace, and won 2-1. The second goal was an own goal, but forced by pressure by former Pilgrim Sam Gallagher, on as a substitute. He came after about an hour, along with another ex-Argyle man Jack Stephens. Both played well and looked assured. It was good to see them.
Watching the game with four ex-professionals was a joy. I loved hearing how Derek, Craig Brewster, Paul Wotton and Greg Strong assessed proceedings.
I watched, and listened. I knew to stay quiet and take in the knowledge, rather than offer up too much myself.
There is a time and a place to speak, after all.