From Northampton Town to Real Madrid
Glen Thurgood was up early on the morning of Wednesday, 23 September, e-mailing friends and discussing the events of the previous evening.
Northampton Town had defeated Liverpool 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out at Anfield in the Carling Cup. It was a sensational result that did little to help the cause of beleaguered Reds boss Roy Hodgson but it gave Thurgood a huge sense of satisfaction.
As fitness coach at Northampton, Thurgood was delighted to see his charges more than match their more illustrious Premier League opponents.
"In many ways, the victory was the proudest moment of my career so far," Thurgood told me. "We ran Liverpool off the park in extra-time, proving to me that everything we had been done in pre-season - conditioning the players correctly - had been crucial.
"To beat League One side Brighton in round one could be viewed as a fluke but to defeat Championship side Reading and Liverpool showed that Northampton had the conditioning to match these teams."
Following the coach journey back from Anfield, Thurgood had struggled to sleep after arriving home at 0400. He tried but the adrenalin was still flowing. In the end, he gave up.
And then it happened. Into Thurgood's inbox arrived the golden ticket - an invitation from Real Madrid to travel to Spain, to watch them at work and learn from their methods.
Thurgood has worked hard to minimise the number of injuries: Photo: Northampton Town FC
Thurgood had appeared on Real's radar several months earlier during pre-season. Town were preparing for the new campaign at Stowe School, where Real were running a residential football and language camp.
The Real coaches who came over from Spain observed Thurgood's techniques as he conditioned the players after their summer break. His programme was based on the sort of biometric, speed and endurance work far removed from the antiquated idea of running a squad of players up and down hills until they threw up.
As pre-season wound down, the Real coaches approached Thurgood to compliment him on what they had seen. They exchanged contact details and the Town coach wasted no time in e-mailing them, asking if he could visit. He heard nothing.
Until the victory over Liverpool.
Thurgood travelled to Spain in December and spent a week observing how Real work. There is a sense of awe in his voice as he discusses the attention to detail at Real's Ciudad Real Madrid (Real Madrid City) training facilities on the outskirts of the capital, which opened in 2005.
The main complex is shaped like a T, with pitches and changing facilities running off at either side. The youngest age group starts at the bottom of the T, while the first team have their own sealed-off area at the top.
Thurgood noticed the size of the toilets and showers in the changing rooms increased the closer he got to the first-team's quarters. The very youngest age groups also trained on smaller pitches because smaller people have less aerobic capacity. It is just one small example of how sports science has shaped the design of the complex.
The contrast in facilities between Real and Northampton is obviously stark but Thurgood, who spent most of his time with the second team, realised the principles that govern what he does at Town and his counterparts in Spain are the same.
"It is not that far apart but they have more money to invest in facilities and equipment," said Thurgood.
Thurgood obviously feels great pride in the fact that Northampton players have suffered very few muscle strains this season. One was a hamstring injury suffered by a senior player in a game at Hartlepool in August. It came minutes after his introduction as a substitute and took the gloss off Thurgood's otherwise successful summer. Many of the injuries sustained during the season have been calf strains. Thurgood attributes some of these to training on hard artificial pitches during the cold winter.
"I take injuries personally," he said.
"The longest a player has been out with a muscle pull this season is three weeks. In pre-season, there was a 78% reduction in injuries from the previous summer. I am hoping to keep the number of muscle pulls through the season in single figures."
I get the impression Thurgood's visit to Spain underlined his belief that his work has an integral role to play in football. Most top clubs now have several conditioning and fitness coaches. Lower down the leagues, they are still regarded as a luxury by some.
"It often comes down to finances and sometimes it is the chairman rather than the manager who needs convincing," said the 33-year-old Thurgood, who is close to completing a master's degree that has involved studying the speed and acceleration of players over short distances.
Thurgood (right) has been at Northampton since July 2010. Photo: Northampton Town FC
"Sometimes it is a choice between employing a conditioning coach, investing in new facilities and seeing the results in three, four or five years, or buying a couple of new players in an attempt to get promoted."
Thurgood told me he had worked at National League Two rugby union clubs that employed several conditioning coaches. I could sense he was frustrated that, in his opinion, football had been slow to embrace the idea of placing greater focus on the wellbeing of players. More than half the clubs in League Two do not have a fitness coach.
Yet Thurgood can make the significance of conditioning and strength work sound very simple. The body only works in one particular way and so you can predict what will happen when you do X, Y or Z to it. It is possible to predict how long it should take a player to return to optimum condition after injury, or how long the body will take to adapt to different things you ask of it.
"Training is standardised for the squad but in strength and conditioning everything is individualised," added Thurgood, who is keen to continue to share and exchange with his contacts in Madrid.
"Footballers play in different positions, they are different genetically and have different training ages. It is a lot of work and a bit of a headache but worth it to work out their [strength and conditioning] weaknesses and then improve them."
Thurgood was employed by Notts County last season, working as a sports scientist in their academy. He was impressed by the grasp that the much-travelled Sven-Goran Eriksson had of the importance of conditioning and sports science. Eriksson's view is shared by Northampton manager Ian Sampson and club captain Andy Holt.
"Glen makes a big difference," said the 32-year-old, who has been at the club since 2006.
"I am definitely less injury prone than in previous seasons and for the older professionals like myself the work that Glen does might mean the difference between playing as few as 30 or as many as 50 games a season.
"We have had an intense run of games recently, with eight matches in 29 days. In none of those games have we looked tired or lost to a fitter team."
Northampton drew six consecutive fixtures prior to Tuesday's 3-2 defeat against Burton. The Cobblers trailed 3-0 at the break and almost snatched a draw after a strong second-half comeback but the defeat was a further blow to their fading play-off hopes.
Real Madrid are back in action when they entertain Real Malaga at the Bernabeu on Thursday, a result they must win if they are to cling to the coat-tails of Barcelona at the top of La Liga.
In many respects Real Madrid and Northampton are separated by a vast chasm of history, fame and wealth.
But as Thurgood has discovered they are united in their belief in the importance of strength and conditoning.