Members Day – A step in the right direction

Last updated : 07 August 2004 By Brian Dawes
I met up with some names familiar to anyone who reads The Gooner on a regular basis and we took our unreserved seats in the East Upper having swapped around our tickets in order to be together. Imagine if you will just the south ends of the upper East and West stands containing fans and the rest of the stadium totally empty. The event was sponsored by O2 as evidenced by a huge O2 shirt laid out on the lower tier of the North Stand and a pre-match, sorry, pre-session photo shoot featuring Arsène and someone I presumed to be from O2. There were also a lot of press in front of the East Stand and a number of photographers in the Clock End. We sat behind a guy who sported a genuine looking new away shirt, a nice bit of one-upmanship. I think he said he'd purchased it on Ebay and it originated from the far east, well beyond Leyton I suppose. There were numerous prizes to lucky members whose entrance ticket number matched the numbers relayed on the P A system but they were only read out the once so I've no idea what they all were as I busy looking for my own ticket.

We took up our seats in time to see Pat arrive with Dennis. Both strolled along in front of the East Stand from the direction of the players car park, Pat was smiling and wearing shades, so make of that what you will. Once down the tunnel only Dennis re-emerged for the training session. The mandatory small ripple of applause met each player. Freddie then arrived with Rob but took no part in the training session, presumably the others were already there as only Sol turned up later. He ambled around the perimeter track in whiter than white trousers and tee shirt after the squad were already assembled on the pitch and waiting to start. It looked to me as if Henry was ready to take the piss regarding Sol's choice of outfit but there was far less Mickey taking than I'd expect from a normal training session involving a bunch of professional footballers. They were perhaps on their best behaviour. The crowd were not too sure about the correct protocol for training sessions. Should you applaud or not when a squad of players jog past? We went for minimal applause but I'm not quite sure why, most people I know are capable of jogging slowly without the accompanying applause. Still we were on new territory here for the average fan.

Portable goals were used for the session where they were required and there were a couple of ground staff available for shifting such gear. The pitch by the way had been pattern cut in large squares and looked far to good to run around on. Imagine the perfect bowling green carefully tended, rolled and cut for about 400 years and you'll be close to picturing how immaculate the sacred turf of Highbury appears right now. The training session was split into groups, keepers on their own for the first part of the session with Gerry Peyton in the north-west corner of the stadium. The youngster players who'd featured against Beveren were doing some light jogging and stretching, and Jeffers was doing his solo laps accompanied by a trainer who I think was probably Tony Colbert the fitness coach.

Arsène and Boro Primorac ran the training session. Arsène with his stopwatch and whistle and Boro with the players except when small sided matches were being played. Pat Rice was around but not seemingly directly involved. The players wore training tops with their numbers and ‘Members Day' on their backs, perhaps they were given away later in some O2 goodie bags. When I coached youth teams I'd have loved to have attended such sessions to pick up ideas but what we saw was nothing extraordinary although interesting nether the less. Once Boro and another trainer, who I'm afraid I didn't recognise had laid out cones the players worked within the cone defined area. The idea of an area restricted by cones, for those who haven't trained for a while, is that they offer flexibility. The area of the permitted playing section being a made to measure size and is determined by the numbers involved in the session or the specific exercises being done. There was some minimal ball work, where each player controlled the ball in a way specified and demonstrated by Boro. Most of the session was two-touch mini matches without goals, a session of four v one breaks starting with the keepers catching a cross played in by Arsène at one end and Boro at the other. Then there were matches where the players were doing whatever Mr Wenger specified they were to do for that particular attack. It might for instance involve two specific players switching positions within the move. Basically all good training recreates things that occur in matches. For a coach there is nothing better than seeing something work on match day that has been practised in the week's training sessions. For the record Dennis and Jose both looked seriously sharp throughout. Ashley scored a great header and Thierry fired a low drive home with venom.

Le Boss does everything to a stopwatch and is very strict in his requirements. There was one example I recall where Gilberto's team in the green bibs scored but Mr Wenger called play back to the throw in that preceded it because someone, Rob I think, hadn't moved in the pattern he'd wanted him to. Naturally we enjoyed the small-sided games the best and applauded all the goals. The players themselves seem able to enjoy their training but it was worked on very strict basis. Watching them was interesting but without the company of some fellow Gooners with whom to share some banter it would have been like watching paint dry on occasions. At the end of the session the players did their warm down and we were ushered away as the ground staff prepared the benches for the official team photograph. We asked if we could stay and watch, but were firmly told that the players would not emerge until such time as we'd all been cleared out. Make of that what you will but speculation was rife that photos would be taken with and without certain individuals. That however is on the same level as your average Sun headline, we were guessing just like the tabloids do. Mind you if any prizewinner who was getting his or her photo taken with the team wishes to enlighten us further I'm sure we'll be all ears. As I see it the biggest problem would be that the captain sits front and centre, but as yet that issue of quite who will or won't be captain has not been comprehensively resolved. Edu was also unseen, still on holiday I presume, so may have to be electronically inserted into the final picture.

There was a ‘Tissot' trophy in front of a presentation stand that was duly blown down and wrecked by a light breeze to the amusement of everyone, except no doubt the Tissot PR people. Once out of the West & East stands we were all invited to view the Fuji photo exhibition in the North Stand and were also offered free entrance for the Club's Museum. The museum is well worth a visit but, not for me on this occasion as the queues stretched most of the way along the North Stand concourse and I prefer to see such things without thousands of others. On leaving the West Stand we were able to acquire some free O2 flip-flops which were being handed out before adjourning to the Bank of Friendship pub garden. A nice day for a drink in a sunny pub garden. When I returned to the ground not everyone joined me to see the photos, Bernard and Kev had already seen them while Marc had told his work colleagues he was in a ‘meeting' while in attendance at Highbury and so he returned to work. Mind you that could prove to be something of a give-away if he completes his article for next week's issue of The Gooner and puts his name to it.

Not going immediately to the North Stand was a good move as the place was still crowded and the queue to order photographs was at least 30 yards long. The photos were on offer at half price, that was £5 for a £10 A4 photo and with massive will power I restricted myself to £20 quids worth. Ken Friar was seen wandering around the place with a whole load of suits in tow. They stopped at the model that showed the new building programme and the surrounding area, which is also quite interesting. Having time on my hands I decided to stroll around to survey progress on THOF2 and was quite amazed at how far the building work has progressed. The area is very much fenced off but the progress can be seen from Drayton Park Road, there's a good view end of the platform on Drayton Park Station. One site worker told me that the huge bridge that can be seen on the site was being pushed across the rail tracks this weekend. The end of platforms one and two of Finsbury Park railway station and what used to be Ashburton Grove itself also offer a look at the progress. Another chap told me that the Nature Reserve, the one where Drayton Park Road meets Gillespie Road, also affords a decent view but I didn't check it out. I did travel into Kings Cross however on the main line and no one will be able to miss it on a trip to the Northeast. In fact I might even vary my commuting route into the City occasionally just to check the progress from now on.