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STFC - Austria 2008 Blog
Our official STFC blogger, Ed Hadwin, keeps an eye on the action on and off the pitch as the team train in Austria.
So finally the end is in sight to our week away in the Alps. Bags are already being packed, although some players are likely to be leaving it until the last minute (yes Pat Kanyuka, I'm talking to you. Big Pat is the most laid back footballer I've ever met. He was asleep before the coach even left the ground at Bruck yesterday!).
This is the third year in a row I've been on Swindon's pre-season tour and, as with the others, there are plenty of positives the players and coaching staff can take away from Kaprun.
All the tours have felt very different though. In Ibiza, Dennis Wise hadn't long been in charge, and you could see everyone at the club was lifted to have such a high profile manager after their dismal relegation season.
BBC sports commentator Ed Hadwin
Last year, the team stayed in a much more remote part of Austria, and it seemed very low key compared to other years. There were also quite a few new faces as players got to know each other.
This year, well most of the players know each other pretty well and there's nothing low key about playing 2 games broadcast live on TV back in Romania and Turkey.
In an attempt to improve Swindon's goal ratio from set pieces (shouldn't be too difficult), Maurice Malpas asked the team to give him their ideas. Cue at least 15 different versions of corner and free kick routines, some of which have been walked through at the training ground.
They seemed to range from the very simple (run very fast towards the goal and make sure you win the header from a corner. Don't know who came up with it, but it had the feeling of someone having done their homework on the bus on the way to school. Not that I know what that's like, you understand...), to complicated looking manouevres involving players stood on the end of a wall at free kicks (this one was tested in the match against FC Zlin. Safe to say it still needs a bit of work).
But it was good to see so many players prepared to give their ideas. Let's just hope it works!
The team training in Austria
The tradition (I'm not sure 2 games in a row really is a tradition, but it just seems like the right word) of singing songs on the way to games was continued on the 20 minute coach journey to Bruck. This time it was Michael Jackson's 'Rock With You', and particularly 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling' from the Righteous Brothers which got the Swindon Town treatment.
You'll be glad to hear I joined in, but very much under my breath. I didn't think it would be good to have the players ears bleeding before a game.
Poor Lee Peacock has cut a forlorn figure at the training ground in recent days. The longer his achilles injury keeps him from being able to run properly, the more frustrated he's become at only being able to ride a bike or have a swim.
Hopefully he's not far away from starting up again, but while his team mates were preparing for the game, he took advantage of the time to continue his attempts to learn Spanish.
Having brought a house out there, he's determind to have a go at the language, and his latest book is one that works through word association. For example, the opening chapter is about animals, and the Spanish word for cow is vaca. So he thinking about a cow using a vacumn in a field. Sounds a little odd, I know, but he swears it works.
According to him, Jerel Ifil was equally sceptical on the flight out, but he made the big defender try a couple of words and when he tested him yesterday, the beast got both of them right. I still think "Peacs" is just after a move to Real Madrid, though.
I suppose I have to talk a bit about the game. Well it was a lovely setting, with a proper Austrian castle in the near distance. And it was lovely and sunny again. And it wasn't a very long coach trip. Is that enough detail?
OK, ok, but I'm going to try my best to forget the first 60 odd minutes, because Swindon were awful. They couldn't pass the ball, kept making the wrong decisions and generally looked a little shambolic.
No-one should read too much into pre season matches and, to be fair, everyone in the squad talked down the results against Bucherest and Fenerbahce. But you knew it wasn't good when Malpas's half time team talk could probably have been heard in the next village.
Conceding a second goal just a minute after the break took even more of the wind out of Swindon's sails, but as the half wore on they started to get a foothold in the game. A complete change of back 4 (Amankwaah, Aljofree, Kanyuka and Oduro replaced by Smith, Ifil, Morrison and Vincent) helped a little, as did the introduction of Simon Cox, who promptly scored his third goal in as many games in Austria - and probably should have had the equaliser shortly before the end.
The whole squad just looked physically and mentally tired, something I touched on in yesterday's blog. If anything they probably had too hard a training session yesterday, but in the long run it's better they get as fit as possible, rather than worry too much about a friendly game.
One thing it did show though, is the lack of depth in the squad at the moment. When the likes of Peacock, Craig Easton, Barry Corr, Blair Sturrock and Christian Roberts are fit, things will look a little better.
But it's obvious Swindon need at least one more left sided player, a central midfielder and a right winger, just to add some competition to the squad. Hopefully there'll be some good news on that soon.
Well that's it from me (the computer has got to be packed away now), but I hope you've enjoyed a few of the insights into this pre season tour. I'm aim to keep bringing you all this kind of stuff throughout the season as we commentate on what we all hope will be a successful season for the Town.
It's certainly been another good start as Town prepare to challenge for a place in the Championship.
Managers, and players for that matter, like to talk a lot about honesty in football. For years we've been told that foreign players have brought diving into our leagues, and that home grown stars just don't do that sort of thing. Managers talk about setting a good example.
Well I'm hoping Maurice Malpas isn't going to play that particular card any time soon after his performance on the training field out here in Austria! With a growing injury list which now includes Lee Peacock (achilles, not likely to play on this tour - or even against Portsmouth on Friday which has got to be a worry), Craig Easton (sprained ankle, hopefully there's no ligament damage and he might be back in days rather than weeks) and Calum Kennedy (ankle, which in unfortunate for the youngster as he would surely have played some part in the game against FC Zlin) the manager had to don his boots again and take part in the end of session game today.
First of all, let me just say that the man who was capped 55 times for his country is no slouch around the football field for a 45 year old. But, under severe pressure from Simon Cox who definitely enjoyed playing against his manager, he performed a couple of the most impressive dives you're ever likely to see. To the point where teenage Olympian to be Tom Daley could probably take a tip or two from Malpas! I think I'm going to enjoy asking him about that in the next couple of days...
Having teased you all with the promise of more karaoke stylings from the Town squad, I'm afraid it was a bit of a quiet night on that front. Only new fitness coach Dave Morrison got to his feet after dinner to give us his rendition of "Babylon" by David Gray. It's fair to say that Dave was a little nervous about this, to the point where he had the lyrics written down just in case (good job he did, as he struggled after the opening couple of lines). I think he was hoping everyone would join in, which we would if only any of us had known the words. Sadly Dave didn't even get to the chorus, which we might have had a chance of remembering. While it won't be winning any awards, it was a decent effort considering there are a few players yet to take their turns. More on this if we get some action tonight...
The hotel we're staying at in Kaprun is great, all the staff speak better English than I do (not too difficult, I know), and the facilities are fantastic. But the place is a real rabbit warren, and while having a little explore today, I found a huge classic car museum in the basement. As you do.
Who on earth thought that putting a museum under a hotel is a good idea? Well evidently the owner did/does because that's exactly what there is. There must be well over a hundred vehicles in it. Ranging from scooters to World War 2 transporters, Rolls Royce's to weird little one seater cars which don't have doors at the side, but at the front and back instead. I dread to think how much it's all insured for.
I'm not after sympathy or anything (pretty much everyone from colleagues at the BBC to my wife thinks I'm here on holiday - no matter how much work I do, or don't do!), but the change in the weather from glorious sunshine to steady rain seems to have made a real difference to the mood here in the last few days. Everyone is still enjoying the experience, and the players are certainly getting plenty out of it on the pitch, but a bit of fatigue is starting to set in. At least I can get out of the hotel a bit in the evenings, but the players are obviously spending most of their time in and out of each others rooms. Which is fine for a while, but I get the feeling pretty much everyone is going to be happy to get home later this week.
A big topic of conversation amongst the media out here (and even some of the players) has been thoughts on who's going to be in the starting line up against Tranmere on the opening day of the season next month. Obviously plenty can change depending on who is, or isn't, brought into the club over the coming weeks (still no news on that at that at the moment by the way. Malpas says he'll make a decision about trialist Kwasi Oduro after the game with Zlin on Tuesday. For what it's worth I don't think he'll keep him, but that's just a guess).
So it's head on the block time. As things stand I think the team to start will be.
Cox and Paynter up front. This is one of the easier decisions, given that most of the other alternatives (Corr, Peacock and Sturrock) aren't fit at the moment. Once they are Cox's goals should keep him in the team, but the rest could have an interesting battle
The midfield should include McGovern, Timlin, Easton (assuming his ankle injury isn't too bad) and McNamee. Again partly down to a lack of choice on the wings, and the fact that Michael Pook was told he could leave the club if he could find another team over the summer. Chris Allen is going to need a really big year if he's to break into the first team, and I don't think he's there yet.
I think Petr Brezovan will start in goal. It's a tough decision, because Phil Smith has obviously worked really hard this summer and looks in the best shape I've seen. But while I'd be very happy with either, Brez finished last season in possession so I think it's his shirt to lose.
You'll have noticed I've left the defence until last. It's for a very good reason because I think 3 of the 4 places are still completely up for grabs. Only Jamie Vincent looks set at left back, mainly because he's the only senior player in that position at the club.
Right back is a straight fight between Jack Smith and Kevin Amankwaah, and I don't think there's much in it at the moment. This decision could well be made on how they both perform in the remaining pre season games. At the moment, I'd probably go with Amankwaah just for the extra height at set pieces, but there really isn't much in it.
All of which leaves us with the centre backs, and here I'm completely stumped. Aljofree and Ifil are the two senior players, who offer experience, organisation, pace and power between them. But then you've got 17 year old Sean Morrison who has just looked in great form whenever he's been involved in the first team. If he continues to develop I think he could easily play in the Premier League in a few years. I'd have no problems at all with him starting against Tranmere. And then there's Pat Kanyuka, who's had so many injury problems in recent seasons. He's tall, quick and powerful and has similarly impressed in the few occasions we've been able to see him in the first team.
The battle for the 2 places promises to be the most difficult to choose in pre season, and probably throughout the campaign if they all remain fit. I feel I should probably toss a coin to pick 2 at the moment, because they all offer different things. But I'll stick with Aljofree and Ifil, as they have the experience. I wouldn't be surprised at all though to see Morrison and Kanyuka in those place on August 9th - it really is that close.
Right then, it's been a few days since my last offering (nothing works in Austria over the weekends. It's a bit like being back in the 1980s, everything other than bars and restaurants shut at six, and you can forget about anything other than maybe petrol stations being open on a Sunday.
And while we're on the 80's thing, the music here seems to have stuck in that decade, although at least that's better than the sound of pan pipes which are currently drifting annoyingly into my hotel room. And relax........) so there's plenty to talk about today.
Starting with captain Hasney Aljofree, who's enjoyed/endured an interesting couple of days. First of all I cost him a ten euro team fine. I didn't mean to, it was just a case of unfortunate timing. Basically I'm incapable of turning up to most things on time (apart from football matches, which is just as well), so I usually get down to Swindon's training sessions a good 5-10 minutes after the players have arrived.
So I rock up to the morning session on Friday only to have all the players start killing themselves laughing. Now I'm pretty used to that kind of response, but I didn't think my shorts were that embarassing.
But it turns out that Has had been a couple of minutes late himself, and was telling everyone it was because there were no bikes left for him to use. So you can imagine his face when I turn up on one. Sorry Has.
To make matters worse, it was only his birthday as well...And he was 30. Although he did get a cake and a sing song from the rest of the squad. He also picked up a toe infection overnight and had to miss out on the game against Fenerbahce. So all in all I think it's fair to say he'll remember his 30th!
On the same night as his birthday came probably the funniest moment of the tour so far. At some point last season the players decided that any new signings would have to sign in front of the rest of the squad as an initiation ceremony.
There was plenty of banter flying around about this, much of it aimed at 442 reporter Ben. Fair play to him, despite the heckling he stood up and remembered at least most of the words to "Wonderwall" before the rest of the team joined in. But that was very much the warm up.
Up next came Michael Timlin. Technically he is a new signing, but having had 2 loan spells at the County Ground I'm sure he could have got out of it if he wanted to. No chance. It's safe to say a fair bit of effort went into his version of 'American Pie', with Craig Easton helping out on guitar. Probably not the most tuneful version, but he had the whole room in hysterics with his performance. Watch out for those 2 on X Factor in a few years time.
They were a difficult act to follow, but Kevin Amankwaah certainly made a decent effort with his R&B effort. And there's more to come before the end of the trip, with Simon Cox (surely he should have done this by now given he was signed back in January) and Pat Kanyuka due for their party pieces. With any luck I might even be able to record a bit of them. If I can, I'll stick them in tomorrow blog.
There are obviously a few frustrated musicians/singers in the Town squad. On the way to the game with Fenerbahce the stereo was on, as normal, and it seems there are a few (not so closet) Neil Diamond fans on the trip.
As soon as the opening bars to 'Sweet Caroline' opened up, a few of the players had joined in. By the time we'd reached the chorus it was like being in a karaoke bar. I'd have joined in, but I don't know the words, honest...
Now we knew the game with Fenerbache had been moved because so many of their fans wanted to come and see it - but I don't think any of us were really prepared for the next few hours (apart from Craig Easton, who'd played one game out in Turkey in the UEFA Cup while he was at Dundee United - and said it was nothing compared to what he'd seen out there!).
It all started off normally enough, ok the fans were noisy and the music was "interesting" but it just gave the whole event a bit of atmosphere. But then their team turned up and everything went ballistic.
You know it's something a bit out of the ordinary when the sight of the teams reserve left back sends teenage girls into a screaming fit. Seriously, we thought this guy must have been a big star or something, but he's just the bench warmer for Roberto Carlos. Who played the entire match, as did former Brazilian captain Alex.
Throughout the entire game the fans were either chanting or setting off flares. Certainly an improvement on the 50 people who watched the game against Steaua.
Carlos may not be the player he once was, but he's still a huge star. And when he hit the post from 40 yards in the opening minutes, it was obvious he's still got something. Doesn't like to defend too much, but still you wouldn't mind him in your team.
I didn't think he'd make it off the field alive though, as on the final whistle literally every single Fenerbahce fan jumped the low barriers and ran on. He was virtually mugged, but still seemed to smile through it. Even when Billy Paynter managed to get hold of his shirt. Safe to say Billy was a happy man afterwards.
And then after the game the Turkish fans basically layed siege to the dressing rooms as they tried to get a photo with the players. Something which celebrity stalkers, and injured footballers Lee Peacock and Hasney Aljofree managed to do, by the way.
There was no chance of getting to the Swindon coach, so everyone just waited for Fenerbahce to leave. Even then plenty of people wanted the Town players autographs, with phrases like "you play good" and "perfect goal" being particularly popular.
So what to say about the game itself then. Well the Turkish side had most of the ball, with Swindon content to let them have it in their own half.
But other than that there wasn't a great deal between them. Former Chelsea player Mateja Kezman gave them a deserved lead, but apart from the effort from Carlos, and a second half chance that should have been scored, that was pretty much it from the Champions League quarter finalists (to be fair I think they'd only had 3 days training, compared to Swindon's two weeks).
At the other end, Craig Easton could, and should, have had a hat-trick. Seeing one shot turned onto the bar, another get caught in his feet and a third hit inexplicably over from just a few yards out. Paynter also hit the post, and JP McGovern had a couple of decent chances as well. But there's no doubt the star of the show was Simon Cox.
His goal is up on YouTube now, if you want to see it for yourself (you have to sit through a few replays of Kezman's strike first, but it's worth it). As you can see it, I won't describe it all, other than to say the first thing I thought of was Gazza's goal against Scotland in Euro '96.
But it was far more impressive in real life than it looks on the computer I can promise you. I've seen some pretty decent goals at games over the years but, at the moment, I can't remember anything more impressive that that. We were half expecting Luis Aragones to put in a bid for him after the game!
And while I'm talking about the former Spanish manager, he has got to be the most miserable looking person I've ever seen. His team have just been crowned European Champions, playing some fantastic football. He's agreed a, no doubt lucrative, contract with a club that reached the later stages of the Champions League last season. And he didn't crack a smile once all day.
So day 2 in Austria and if Swindon deserve an A for their performance against Steaua Bucharest, the rest of the day has been all about B's. Bikes, bottoms, Ben (all will be explained) and well Bucharest.
It wasn't exactly a promising start to our first full day in Kaprun though. In a fit of enthusiasm entirely out of keeping with a team on a pre-season training tour, the vast majority of the Swindon squad couldn't wait to get started.
So much so, that rather than waiting until the appointed time of 9.30 to leave for training, most of the squad left much earlier than that. Normally I'd be the first to congratulate them, and hold it up as an example which should be followed by all professional footballers.
Unfortunately though, for those who turned up at the correct time (which as you've probably guessed by now, included me), the only people who knew where to go, were already at the training ground.
So less than 24 hours into this tour and I'm already late for the first session. At least I was in good company though, with Lee Peacock, Kevin Amankwaah, Jack Smith and Jerel Ifil all equally lost and unhappy.
We had the bikes to get to training, but no idea where to go. Eventually we ended up in the right place, but it's safe to say I'll make sure I'm very early for anything similar over the rest of the trip.
After the session everyone had a few hours to kill before the game in the evening, and most of the coaching staff took the chance to get back on the bikes and do a bit of exploring.
Given that the hotel is at the bottom of a couple of dirty great mountains, it was always going to be difficult to avoid doing a bit of climbing. But from the way Dave Byrne was walking when he got off his bike, I think he'll be sitting a bit funny for a day or two yet.
Talking of which, I decided to follow their lead and head out for a quick ride along with Adam from the club and Swindon Advertiser reporter Andy Cryer.
Now Andy had claimed he'd never ridden a bike before, but seemed happy enough to come along. Well up until the point where he tried to change gears, got stuck and a bit worried, and ended up going over his handlebars having slammed on the front brake a little hard. Well at least it's a different part of his body that's hurting. But get well soon Andy!
All of which brings me to Ben. Who is Ben? Well in this case it's a journalist called Ben Welch who works for 442 magazine. Most people reading this will already know the magazine is going to be Swindon's shirt sponsor next season.
All of which means we'll be able to read a lot more about the Town in 442 over the coming months, and the first feature will be all about one of their writers playing a (very small) part in a pre season game as a substitute.
Well that game was against Steaua Bucharest in Bischofshofen last night, and Ben spent the entire day trying not to stress out about the match, despite the best efforts of his new team mates.
The plan was to give him 5 minutes at the end of the match, so he could write a big feature on it for next months magazine. Unfortunately for him, the game was still very much in the balance with Town clinging onto a 2-1 lead for most of the second half.
So instead of 5 minutes, he was brought on with something more like 2 or 3 to go as Swindon tried to close out what would have been an impressive victory.
As we now know, it didn't quite turn out that way, and the only time he touched the ball was in the re-start after Steaua had equalised (for the record, his substitution had nothing to do with the goal, which would have been scored whether he was on the pitch or not).
Not a lot to write a story on then, but it should still make interesting reading when it comes out.
So finally to the game, which was one of those funny ones where Staeua should have been out of sight after the first 10 minutes, but somehow found themselves 2-0 down at half time thanks to an own goal and a good opportunist strike from Simon Cox.
As we know the Romanians came back, but Swindon can, and should, take a lot from a battling, resolute performance against a team stacked with current internationals who played some lovely football at times.
Sean Morrison seems to have grown even more over the summer (I still can't believe he's only 17) and playing alongside Pat Kanyuka in the first half. they both looked like they'll push Hasney Aljofree and Jerel Ifil very hard for a starting place in the team.
Cox was his usual lively self, combining well with Billy Paynter at times, and stand-in captain JP McGovern certainly seemed to enjoy wearing the armband in the opening half. And pointing out to those who only played after the break that they'd wasted all their good work.
Nothing like a good bit of banter to let everyone know that pre-season training is going well.
So we've finally arrived in our Austrian base of Kaprun and I'm already feeling sorry for Swindon Town's new trialist, Akwasi Oduro, who plays for Belgian side KSK Beveren.
First of all, his English doesn't look like it's up to much (but then neither is my French/Belgian/whatever he speaks) which could make for some interesting conversations with Town assistant manager Dave "Budgie" Byrne.
The Swindon coaches introduction to the trialist wasn't exactly normal either. Having waited for a good 20 minutes for Oduro to turn up in the arrivals lounge, the Austrian bus driver mentioned there was another terminal which he might be in.
So off we all drive to the next spot and Budgie is practically off the bus before he realises neither he, nor the player, have any idea what each other looks like (one of the problems of only having seen him play on DVD so far!).
Cue the assistant manager parading around with a fetching yellow sign, with Swindon Town Football Club printed on it. It worked but, as first impressions go, it was certainly unusual.
Without wanting to be unkind about the trip from Swindon to Heathrow, the journey from Munich to the hotel was certainly a bit more ... well impressive really.
The Madjeski Stadium is all well and good, but compared to Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena, it really isn't up to much. And then there are the hills... which aren't bad!
The other thing you can't help but notice as you drive through pretty Austrian village after pretty Austrian village, is just how clean everything is. It's as if dirt is banned, or at least all brushed under some extremely big rug somewhere.
And even though the weather forecast for the next couple of days is for temperatures of up to 30C, there is still snow on the peaks of some of the higher mountains we can see from the hotel. I know there's a perfectly rational explanation for all this (I just don't know what it is), but it still looks a bit odd.
My final thought for this rather incoherent blog of the first day of Swindon's trip (sorry about that, I'll do better tomorrow), is all about Thursday night's game with Steaua Bucharest. A game against arguably the biggest team in Romania is a far cry from the start of their last pre season in Austria against Jiul Petrosani (who?) last summer.
With or without the members of their squad who were on Euro 2008 duty with their national squad, and no-one really seems to know who's going to be playing, Bucherest are still going to be the toughest of opening tests for the Town.
So no pressure on Mr Oduro then as he tries to earn a contract with Swindon over the next few days.
I'll have much more on how he does, the match and plenty else besides tomorrow.
last updated: 16/07/2008 at 10:11
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