It’s amazing how much content there is in the match programme these days. You used to be able to read it in half time. Obviously most of it is bog all to do with the game at hand and of no use as a record of the event, which is the primary purpose of old programmes, which had team line-ups that were usually pretty accurate. Anyway, I was flicking through the Norwich one from last month before filing it away somewhere, and I came across these two things.
Firstly, there are two pages of pre-match superstitions that fans have tweeted in. Leaving aside that a few of them look completely made up (“We shout ‘The Russians are coming’ out of our bedroom window” – oh yeah? Do you really?), are there genuinely this many people who think that their actions have any bearing on the wider world? I bet if you asked these superstitious people what they think of religion they’d mostly say, “Oh I don’t believe in that rubbish.” And yet they fondly imagine that they – not even a mystical higher power, but them in person – are making a difference to a completely unconnected event by going to the same pub or wearing the same shirt. As Denis Leary used to say, ‘I think you hear me knocking, and I think I’m coming in.’
“League One is a hard, fast league,” says Anthony. “It’s so much more physical too and that is something else that I am adapting to. The guys here are in the weights room before training! I was one of the strongest at Arsenal and yet I am a weakling compared to the guys at Stevenage. I will certainly be fitter and stronger when I leave and I can already feel the benefits in training. I look forward to applying it all in a match situation.”
Now I don’t know about you, but this makes me think. Specifically it makes me think WHAT THE HELL DO THEY DO IN TRAINING AT ARSENAL? Why is that you can be one of the strongest at Arsenal, who no doubt have every state of the art bit of machinery going and top notch fitness and conditioning coaches, and yet be the weakest at a League One club? Why do you have to go down two levels to get ‘fitter and stronger’, so you can ‘feel the benefits in training’? This annoys me so much. It’s not like footballers are pushed for time. We’re not talking about 12-hour shifts daily, leaving time for nothing else than online betting and occasional sexual assault. They’ve got plenty of time at Arsenal to get fitter and stronger alongside their hour a day of short passing practice. Football is a physical game still, and anyone who’s played it knows what an advantage it is to be stronger than your opponent. Strength and power aren’t more important than skill, but they help you use the skills you have far more effectively.
I want to see Arsenal players going on loan or being sold to other clubs saying, “The training here is so easy compared to Arsenal. I’m doing extra stuff to keep my fitness level up.” Instead we get Clichy going to Man City and saying how much harder training is there, tales of how Arsenal players aren’t even allowed to tackle properly in training (so how they’re supposed to practise it except actually in matches I’m not sure) and Anthony Jeffrey having to confess to being a weakling compared to players who aren’t fit to bow down in front of a statue of Thierry Henry.
When people say “How can we be expected to compete against clubs with much bigger budgets?” well this is one way: be fitter and stronger than them. Margins in football are so thin – one point out of a possible 114 in a 38 game season decides the difference between fourth and fifth, a £40m CL payload or £5m in the Europa League – that you should take every advantage you can. Isn’t this obvious? It should be. Disregarding aspects of the game that can give you an advantage is stupid, whether it’s strength training or practising penalty shootouts. I think you hear me knocking, and I think I’m coming in. In fact I’m already in – I’m wandering round the house, and guess what, I found your unused gym equipment.