BEN Burgess talks travelling, injuries and picking up points in his latest column.
As a footballer, you seem to spend half your life on a coach travelling all over England. I remember my first away trip with Blackburn Rovers first team when I was 17. I was in awe of everyone and just sat there asking the senior lads loads of questions. Nowadays, the art of talking with your team-mates, seems to have disappeared like a Chelsea manager’s reputation.
In the last couple of years, players just get on the coach, then get their massive headphones out and watch their tablets or laptops. Even in League Two everyone has tablets! Gone are the days when the coach would be split up into three sections. The gamblers all huddled around some tables at the front, the older players chatting about family and being old in the middle, and then the cool kids at the back arranging nights out.
I’ve never been a big gambler, so luckily I stayed away from the card sharks, but I’ve seen players lose crazy amounts of money on the team coach. I think generally now, the gambling has been stopped because the last thing you want is your star player worrying about breaking it to his wife that Christmas is cancelled because he had a bad hand.
Players tend to get very protective of their seat on the coach. It’s a particular minefield when you’re new and you sit down, only to have someone giving you evils all journey, because metaphorically speaking it’s their chair. At Brentford I even witnessed two players fighting on the coach about a seat!
At Blackpool I tended to sit on a table with Evo, Crains and Keith Southern, which was always good for a laugh. We went through a phase at where we played Mario Kart on the Nintendo DS from the minute training finished, until the coach stopped at the hotel. It was so popular among the players that we had eight playing at once and then two waiting to have a go. It was great for morale and we would always be shouting and laughing at each other across the coach. We were that obsessed with it, that one time we went to Plymouth and it took six hours but we hadn’t even looked up once before we arrived.
Travelling on the day of the game would be different, as most people got themselves prepared by sleeping or listening to music. Some liked to just chat and have a laugh. Food on the coach going to games is usually fruit, wine gums, jaffa cakes and sports drinks. Some clubs ban you from using your mobile on the way to games as well. I’m not sure how blanking your family’s call is good preparation though.
I’ve only been late twice for a game when travelling on the coach. The first time was Bristol City away for Brentford and we were forced to stop at a petrol station for our ‘pre match meal’. I just remember getting back on the coach and looking around to see people tucking into BLT’s, crisps and chocolate. Surprisingly enough we played well and won 2-0. The second occasion was Stoke away for Blackpool in the season that Stoke won the league. We were so late that Simon Grayson had to stand up in the middle of the coach and read the team out as we bombed around country lanes. Poor Phil Horner had to do strapping’s and massages on the front seat. We arrived at the Britannia 25 minutes before kick off. Peter Fox our keeper coach had travelled in his car and he had picked up our pre-match food from the hotel. So as we ran out for kick off we were chomping on soggy toast dipped in cold beans. We still managed to draw 1-1 though.
Next week I’ll talk about the trips home and what we used to get up to.
With Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Matt Philips and Ian Evatt out injured, now seems a good time to talk about the life (or lack of) of an injured player. After all it is a topic I’m pretty well versed on. I’ve had lots of managers announce on their first day that there are two kinds of players that are useless to them. One is a suspended player and the other is an injured player. Always great to hear when you’re already in the treatment room.
The way managers treat you when you are injured can be one of the hardest things to deal with. It sounds crazy but they actually ignore you, it’s like suddenly you’re invisible. I can understand from a manager’s perspective how frustrating it is to see one of your players injured, but for the player it’s even worse. It’s not as though they enjoy being injured.
Every manager has a different philosophy with regards to treatment for injured players. Many demand that the affected player reports to the physio by 08:30 and doesn’t leave till 17:00 (almost like a real day’s work, I hear you say). It isn’t really the hours that make it hard, it’s the interaction with your teammates that you miss. You’re never with them because you always have to be in the gym, or at Squires Gate. I tended to just look on forlornly at the training session outside. Some players are lucky with injuries and don’t suffer a serious one in their whole career. That wasn’t me I’m afraid. All my problems stemmed from everything in my knee giving way at 21 years of age. Until then I had averaged 50 games a season. I was told I would be out for 12 months and it completely shattered my world. I used to feel sick when I watched the lads play on a Saturday afternoon. I wanted to support my teammates, but the frustration of not contributing would drive me mad. I returned from that injury for five painful months and tore my anterior cruciate in my knee again. In total, I’ve had about 12 operations on my knees, four on my nose and three on my ankles. At one stage I think my wife thought I was addicted to anaesthetic because I was getting put to sleep that often.
Who says sport hurts?
What a fantastic point for Blackpool on Saturday. Not many teams will take anything from Selhurst Park this season. Nouha Dicko is turning into the Ole Gunnar Solskjær of the Championship. I’m sure Ollie would have feared the worse when he saw him coming on. Despite not scoring at the weekend, I have been really impressed with Wes Thomas. He seems to be involved in every goal that the Seasiders score. He really attacks defenders and gets them on the back foot straight away.
Blackpool remain unbeaten under Michael Appleton and he seems to be building something good, and starting to get the players playing how he wants.