My Tour of the Training Ground
Wednesday 12th February me and my Step Dad were invited to London Colney for a private tour in a group of around 20 people of Arsenal’s training ground. It was for a corporate event and the players were not going to be there because of the United game that evening but it was still something I was massively looking forward to as, like most other fans, the only training ground I had seen was in the pictures on Arsenal.com taken by Stuart McFarlane.
We got there early doors, arriving at 8am and was introduced to Sean, the training ground manager in a meeting type room where everyone gathered before being taken around the site. A lot of other Gooners there and we got talking to a man who had arrived with his dad all the way up from the south coast!
Sean ran threw what we would be doing, a tour of the place including changing rooms and boot room which was unusual for tours, they normally don’t visit these rooms, then a sit down with Sammy Nelson and they would even feed us before sending us on our way.
We headed down to the main reception of the training centre and all had to put on red shoe covers whilst walking in and around the facilities. It was something Mr Wenger asked for, (Sean calls him Mr Wenger throughout the tour), to show respect for the site, something which AW must have picked up in Japan. In the main reception are also loads of pigeon holes containing all the players mail and various other items, shoes and gifts etc. Players receive letters from China daily and we are, according to Sean, the biggest supported club in China which was something everyone was quite surprised by given Man United, Chelsea and even Bayern Munich’s status worldwide.
We then went into the main changing room area, the area you see the photos in players tweets taken from. Every player has a locker room with his possessions in it, many have left clothes and other items in there. We were asked not to take close up pictures of the lockers to avoid invading their privacy. The lockers ran from squad numbers low to high with everyone having their set place. The only player to ever change position was Robert Pires who sat next to Thierry Henry in the corner, they apparently had a sign up describing the corner as “Café Bistro”, it was their own little corner of France.
Next we went through into an open space which I think was the exit to the pitches outside. It had pegs on for all of the players and had their training tops and trousers hanging up ready, also in this space was doors which led into the boot room. Big windows let you see out to the pitches outside and it was a nice area to warm up in or do some stretching, I’m sure the players must use the space for something, I just wasn’t sure what it was. The boot room was fantastic, as soon as you walked into it you got that smell, it was a typical boot room smell. The amount of boots in there were colossal, each player had about 6 pegs I think, so many different boots, so many colours. The boots in there were all player issue, nothing like we could get in the shops. Sean took a couple off the pegs so we could feel them, the weight is almost like holding a feather, no wonder players get so many injuries. Podolski’s in particular were so light, it was ridiculous how little they weighed! Szczesny had his old match gloves in there which were a little worn and so now were his training gloves, Wenger had a plain black pair as you would expect. Picked up Jacks which had stitching of his two children on them, ultimately its always pretty cool to see a football clubs boot room, just one of those places which are quite special and this was no different.
We walked back through the centre and passed through the swimming pool. It has a moveable floor so it can adapt to whatever player is in it, if its Per they can lower the floor, if its Theo they can bring it up. In the bottom of the pool, in the walls were windows where the coaching and medical staff can go downstairs to watch the players run or walk to make sure they were running true and not with a limp. They can assess a player just by watching through this small window in the swimming pool. Also in the room was an ice bath and Jacuzzi, the hot and cold routine which so many different sports use for recovery work. There was also another great big window out to the pitch area, it’s a constant reminder to the players to where they want to get to and why they are working out and going through rehab.
On again and we walk into the medical room, massage tables laid out with various diagrams of the human anatomy on the walls like an old school Science room. Sean tackles the question of why Arsenal seem to have more injuries than other clubs without it being asked. His reason is simple, we play football whilst a lot of other teams do not. City, Chelsea and United all have bigger squads so their injuries are not as noticed as ours are. I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure I quite agreed with that view but Sean is an Arsenal man, an Arsenal employee and he truly believes our medical staff are doing everything correct, using modern technologies to keep players fit and get them back onto the pitch when they’re injured. They use GPS trackers to see when players are fading, and have new modern ways of recovering the muscles quicker. He shows an ice pack which runs from a battery, a strapping goes around the leg and when plugged in cold water and ice are sent around the tubes in the strapping. This can be used on the coach back from an away game faster recovering a player and getting him ready for the next match.
We walked out of the medical room and back out to the reception where the players walked in. Once you pass through reception there are 2 corridors, one going to the left and one to the right. The one to the left is the reserves and academy players corridor where their dressing rooms are located, to the right is the 1st team. The furthest door away in the left corridor was for the scholars and academy, then closer was the for the U21, with the 1st team having all their space on the right. It gives a mental image of literally moving up for the youngsters who join us, they move from dressing room to dressing room with the ultimate goal being to end up with the 1st team. There are a lot of these kind of things around the site with the players able to see a goal for themselves and move up within the squad to eventually be in the 1st team.
By the reception is the entrance to the gym, it’s a huge gym for the 1st team, there are other gyms around the place for the U21 and academy as well. The most stand out thing about it was the huge glass windows looking outside. There is a river that runs underneath the room giving the players to work out and see the outside, again another goal for them to set themselves as that’s where they want to get back to being.
We were then taken out to the pitches, to be honest a training pitch is a field of grass and once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. What struck me though is what a nice place it was, it felt like a nice place to be. Hills and fields in the distance and to be able to walk out onto that pitch every morning and play football, it’s the best job in the world, surely!
The land was bought off a Hungarian farmer I think Sean told us who used to use it as a cornfield, for £4 million, its now worth in upwards of £30 million and the farmer regularly visits the site and jokes that he sold it for not enough! All the trees and bushes surrounding the pitches were planted by Arsenal and they have 17 grounds men working 7 days a week on the site, they all have under soil heating as well so training can go on no matter the weather.
The reserve pitches are around the corner behind the bushes from the 1st team, the pitch where they play their matches has all the sponsorship boarding’s around it and the camera scaffolding set up for Arsenal TV. Sean tells us that the reserve and academy pitches cost about the same as most Premier League clubs outside of the top 6/7 and are maybe even better than some Premier League clubs have, just remember this is only our reserve pitches! Wenger sometimes takes groups of about 3 or 4 reserve team players and gets them training with the 1st team, he wants them to see what its like to play with the 1st team, he wants them to have that hunger to aim for that goal to be training on that pitch every day. Another one of those carrots being dangled. We walked back past the pitches and to an indoor AstroTurf for indoor training and workouts.
Sean shows us the area they want to develop, it currently holds all the machinery and vehicles for the grounds men and has a couple of temporary structures for the academy to work out in. They are in the process of drawing up plans to build something new for the reserves and academy players to move in to.
Upstairs above the indoor AstroTurf arena is a sport science gym with yoga and Pilates machinery, it also a 0% gravity running machine to aid in recovery. It lets players run without feeling any down force as they can set their own weight to be much less than what it really is. A player could run on it and set his weight to be only 5% or 10% of his true weight, it lets them run without causing issues on any joints.
We went back into the first room we met in, and Sammy Nelson came in for a answer and question session. I wont go on to much about every question but let me say this, if you ever get the chance to have a chat or meet Sammy then do it. He is a very funny man with a lot of stories. He is an excellent talker and I believe he represents the club at various functions at the stadium with Charlie George, we can all be happy that they are both entertaining whoever is put in front of them. We were also treated to lunch! Steak, roast potatoes and veg, it was lovely if I do say so myself!
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my trip, the players weren’t there and I can only imagine how good it must be to be on site with the training sessions going ahead and players walking around. I want Sean O’Connor’s job!
Cheers for reading