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Team bonding off the pitch

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Michael Gray | 23:08 UK time, Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Hello, this week I'm blogging about 'video nasties', go-karting, white-water rafting, shopping, how football has changed and about some of our backroom team.

It has been a tough fortnight without a game and it is time to take off the running shoes and get the boots on again. The game against Derby County was put to bed early. After a long chat - and what I would call a video nasty - it was out on to the training ground to work our socks off. As you can imagine, the gaffer wasn't in the greatest of moods and neither were the lads.

I am not one for moping around and thinking the world is going to end. The best thing to do is get on to the training ground and work to put things right. And, in fairness, the lads have looked really sharp. Whatever the gaffer has asked of us we have gone out and done, which I am sure he appreciates.

We went go-karting this week, which was unexpected. I have to admit it was just what everybody needed and we had a great laugh. There were a couple of dark horses out there as well who took it a bit too seriously for my liking!

Luke Varney finished third. Then it was our skipper Darren Purse. He came with the tightest jeans on I have ever seen. How they didn't rip when he was climbing into his kart I will never know. The winner was Etienne Esajas but the real dark horse was Sean McAllister. Can you believe he came with his own helmet and racing suit? He has only got little stumpy legs, mind, so the clothes we had on would not have fitted him anyway.

When we arrived all the staff there knew him already. It was "How you doing Sean?", "What you been up to mate?" and "I've not seen you for at least a week". So that told me he had been there testing out the track to get a head start. Then it was my turn to step in. I went round all of the lads and told them that there was no chance Sean was going to win.

It was a wet day and the track was really skiddy so you could get away with a few little bumps here and there. He might as well have pinned a sign on his back saying hit me. Every time one of the lads got near him they rammed him off the track. Needless to say, Sean did not get anywhere near the podium.

Over the years I have had some great days out with different teams. Take, for instance, Peter Reid at Sunderland. It was the year we were flying in the Championship and we were unbeaten for the first 18 games. Then Barnsley came to the Stadium of Light and beat us 3-2.

I remember coming into the dressing room at the end of the game waiting for a rollocking. It was the total opposite. He came in and told us how well we had done to stay unbeaten for so long. Obviously, with Reidy in charge there were a few swear words thrown in as well.

peterreid595335.jpg Peter Reid in his time in charge of Sunderland at Roker Park

So that gets me on to the Monday morning. All the lads came to training as normal. Kevin Ball, our skipper at the time, walked in and said: "The gaffer wants a meeting with us in the dressing-room." He walked in and asked for everyone's car keys. So the obvious question was what for?

Just as I opened my mouth, coaches Bobby Saxton and Adrian Heath marched in with about 10 bottles of champagne. The lads loved it. After we had a few drinks there was a coach waiting outside to take us to a restaurant just around the corner called Romanos. By the end of the meal I don't think many were asking for their car keys back!

I'm not sure any managers do that kind of thing any longer but it certainly worked for us at the time. Reidy was great at getting the best out of his players and he made sure you knew he appreciated it.

Then there was Mark Hughes at Blackburn. I remember being away in Germany for pre-season training. We were all a bit bored of the routine of train, eat, sleep, train, eat, sleep and having nothing to do other than play cards or pool on the evenings. I think the gaffer must have recognised this and he put it right.

Next morning we boarded the coach assuming we were going training but the boss had made plans for us to go white-water rafting. I'm not sure all the lads were up for it but they soon changed their minds. It was brilliant. What a laugh we had. Three boats full of the team and the staff in their own. Big mistake!

We got moving down the rapids getting faster and faster. You had to work as a team or your boat would just tip over and you would find yourself floating down the rapids until the water calmed. When it did, all the boats grouped together and then we were off again. This time, we let the staff go off first. They must have known what was coming but there were too many of us for them to do anything about it. We surrounded their boat and whipped it upside down. The gaffer's face was a picture but he had no choice but to laugh afterwards.

Those were just a couple of ways managers reacted to different situations and it's amazing what a day out can do for team spirit. Taking your mind off football does not harm you once in a while. Mind you, I've got my kids to do that for me. I took my boys Marcus and Lucas to the swimming pool on Saturday, which was a nice change, and then my daughter Charlotte dragged me to the Trafford Centre clothes shopping (great)! The bank card came back a bit worse for wear. Shoes, bags, clothes, you name it. Eleven going on 21; you get the picture. I had better start getting a few win bonuses under my belt at this rate. But getting back to the football....

I've been very lucky to work under some great managers and over the last 10 years the game has changed so much. In my early years at Sunderland there was never any lunch waiting for you after training. It was a case of jump in the shower and off you went. We could have been eating anything. Then Peter Reid came in and started to make a few changes. He brought a fitness coach with him and made sure we were eating the right things after training. He just made the whole club a lot more professional.

At Blackburn, Mark Hughes would hold a quick meeting on the pitch after training to let us know how well we had trained (or how badly for that matter). Each day you had to train with a heart monitor attached, which was checked to make sure you had worked hard. If you hadn't then questions would be asked, such as "have you been eating the right foods?", "are you getting enough sleep?" etc. All this information was fed into a computer so they knew how to get the best out of each individual.

Michael Gray and Robbie KeaneYours truly gets to grips with Tottenham's Robbie Keane during a game for Blackburn in 2006

No stone is unturned now. We have fitness coaches, sports scientists, you name it we've got them, but it's all about making sure you are properly prepared for the next match. I am starting to wonder what is going to happen in the next 10 years. Maybe they will plug the players into the wall and charge them up or something!

So the Championship throws another tough week at us, with games on Saturday, Tuesday and Friday (against Coventry, Preston and Watford). I think our medical staff and masseurs will be working overtime once again.

Paul Smith and Mark Palmer are our physiotherapists. They are great guys who do a lot behind the scenes. Then we have our two masseurs Derry and Deano. Derry takes about two hours to do his hair in the morning and that is after he has kitted himself out in his Team GB outfit. He wears the types of shorts Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe used to wear. But I have to say in his defence he is top class at his job.

Then we have Deano. Every morning he comes into the medical room and whatever the weather, hot or cold, the windows are open. I asked him for a rubdown the other day on my calfs and he started massaging my hamstrings. What does that tell you? I call him Mr Tickle among other things.

I know he reads my blog so this is probably the best way to tell him to sort himself out. Ha ha only joking, Deano; you know I love you.


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