The Pre-Season Training Camp 2015

The end credits of a television programme in 2015 will whizz by without most people taking any bit of notice. Continuity announcers will talk all over them. Promos will pop up telling you what to watch next before you’ve even finished this programme. There is barely time to breathe before being force-fed your next bite of the telly pie. You are constantly ‘consuming’, whether consensual or not. This is not exclusive to the small screen, this is now our way of modern life. We are always looking at what is next.

There was a time when football was reserved for August until May and that was that. Every four summers there would be a wonderful feast called the World Cup in between seasons. Then along came a treat of a European-only competition. The gap between one campaign and the next has steadily been closing. This summer it possibly has reached its nadir. My last game of the old campaign was on Sunday 7th June. My first game of this campaign began just 26 days later. That’s only if you take into account games I’ve attended, as during those lean days there was still a whole host of live football broadcast including the UEFA Under-21 tournament which England crashed out in the group stages, the Under-20 tournament in Toulon, and the Women’s World Cup in Canada. I enjoy the women’s game, I make no qualms about that. I went to the Cup final in 2011 in Coventry and regularly tune into the WSL on BT Sport. England achieved the unthinkable; performing well at a major tournament. Mark Sampson and his Lionessses went all the way to the semi final, losing agonizingly in the last minute through Laura Bassett’s unfortunate own goal. They went on to beat Germany in the Third Place Play-Off And secure a fantastic bronze medal and become overnight stars. It somewhat captured the nations attention, mainly through hard work, teamwork and a terrific ethic. It was a joy to watch.

#1 West Ham v FC Lusitans

My 2015/2016 season began in East London on Thursday 2nd July with a Europa League 1st round 1st leg qualifier. West Ham beat FC Lusitans 3-0. The Hammers qualified for this through the Fair Play league so understandably have the hardest path through to the proper competition. They would ultimately crash out in the third qualifying round before the league season had even started. When I was there there was pretty much a full house. It showed a great appetite for European football, indeed summer football. I had a seat at the very back with a great view of the Bobby Moore stand to my right and a lovely skyline to my left. This is the final season at Upton Park before moving to the Olympic Stadium so I wanted to revisit this old ground one more time.

#2 Arsenal v Liverpool Ladies

Ten days later I was back with further live football. With the Women’s World Cup done and dusted a few days earlier, and the heroics of England still fresh in people’s minds, I went along to Borehamwood to see Arsenal v Liverpool. Some of the national stars were in action, including Alex Scott and Fara Williams. The crowd was more than double the average attendance, and this was replicated across the country. The ground is easy enough to get to, having been in the area before for TV recordings of Room 101 and A League of Their Own. The ground is a short 10 minute walk from the station and easily accessible on a warm Sunday summer evening. The match itself was nothing to write home about, with Liverpool winning 2-1 to go top of the table. It was surprising that it had taken me this long to attend a women’s league match but I was glad I had and have pencilled in another here for next month.

The BrewDog pub

Despite the off-season becoming increasingly shorter, games are still not quite thick and fast so my final match in July came two weeks later on Sunday 26th July in Scotland. Aberdeen, to be precise, as Brighton played in a testimonial match for the home side goalkeeper Jamie Langfield. I’d never heard of him either but a new ground and an exciting trip was too good to turn down. Myself, Ciaran, Dean and Mark Raven (all now regulars on the England away trips) got a taxi in the early hours of the morning up to Gatwick to board the easyJet flight to Aberdeen and arrive nice and safe for just after 9am. We were inside the Wetherspoon for breakfast for half nine but were met with gasps when we were told they didn’t serve any alcohol until 11am! After a quick food break we, alongside several members of the famous GDC who arrived at similar times, were off on a pub crawl round many fine local pubs including the famous BrewDog.

#3 Aberdeen v Brighton

The game was a drab, dull one-nil defeat with nothing to write home about despite me doing that very thing now. It was an extremely cold and windy day and being on the coast amplified this. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a colder ground than that, with the wind swirling in off the North Sea through the big gaps between the stands. Of course on reflection it was a fantastic one to tick off but at the time the game was getting in the way of a very nice day round the city. The trip was made all the more adventurous when we arrived at the airport as our 9.05pm flight home was delayed by a couple of hours. They kept the airport bar open to serve us dinner and further drinks and we also managed to grab a quick word with Albion boss Chris Hughton, as the squad were also flying home that night. Sensibly they were on a different flight to us so we waved them goodbye without controversy. Although assistant manager Nathan Jones did have to suffer the embarrassment of a full bag search.

Albion boss Chris Hughton

After landing around half-past midnight we then had a long wait to get a bus across form one side of the airport to the other, before heading onto the train home. Ciaran and the others headed down south, I went back up to London. I made it home to Ealing via a night bus just after 4am. It was a long, tiring, drunk day but a fantastic experience to really whet the appetite ahead of the rapidly-approaching new season.

Waiting for our delayed plane

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a quick glance round some other sports. I’ve tried several times to replicate what I go through during football with something else but ultimately nothing can replace it. Darts is probably my second favourite sport, closely followed by athletics, cricket and rugby. Honorary mentions for snooker, pool, boxing and the occasional tennis match too. Next summer there is the Olympics, of which I adore. Ahead of that I went to the British Championship Athletics in Birmingham for my first trip to the Alexander Stadium. It’s a fine venue and very easy to get to via a bus from the New Street train station. The days was beautiful, the crowd was enthusiastic and the overall experience was a very good one for my first UK Athletics meet.

Birmingham’s Alexander athletics Stadium

I then attended the Anniversary Games and Diamond League meeting at the Olympic Stadium for my first visit back there since my Gamesmaker stint during London 2012. I do love that place. Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis Hill and Mo Farah were all in action despite a horrible downpour for much of the afternoon and early part of the night. The two men both won their races and showed why they are so loved in a London. It’s still a bit of a nightmare to get away from the stadium but it will forever hold such incredible memories that I’ll overlook that aspect.

Back at the centre of the London 2012 Olympics

With The Ashes currently moving towards its climax, and with England going great guns, I decided to go back to live cricket. I made my first venture to The Oval where Surrey destroyed Northants in a One Day Cup match. I made the mistake of not bringing much cash so I had to forego the expensive beer and food for just a solitary burger all day. I also booked a trip to Edgbaston for the fourth day of the third test. However, England had such an incredible time the match finished on day three so I was left with just a refund rather than a great day out! I don’t think anybody could’ve predicted that.

A small crowd at The Oval, Surrey

My summer break from football incorporated going to cricket and athletics, as well as being glued to an excellent Tour De France (and outstanding coverage on itv4 from Gary Imlach and Ned Boulting) on TV, but the focus was always on football. Signings, transfers, fixtures, new shirts; it ultimately never really stops. The new season is nearly upon us and we’re opening the show live on Sky on the Friday night against Forest. It’s high time we started booking these trips and planning these weekends. I barely had time to read through the name credits of the editor and production assistant before the executive producer and Roman numeric year info appeared. The next programme is just days away now.

Introducing Me; A Football Addict

It’s all about being there to witness events with your own eyes. Nothing beats the sight of a wonderful volley flying in past the keeper just yards in front of you. The soundtrack is provided by a chorus of predominantly young-to-middle-aged blokes shouting and cheering, sometimes jeering, in unison. The wit and wisdom of the terrace is a thing of wonder. Of course there’s always a few knobheads whenever you go, people I imagine say that about me, but that’s so often countered by great humour and collective willing. Then there’s the smell. Grounds have a particular fragrance. It’s recognisable and it’s comforting but it’s hard to say exactly what it is. Several thousand paper plates of chips and burgers, mixed with even more cups of beer, added to the musk that the human body only naturally exudes in small, confined spaces, and you can begin to imagine; all ingredients to that familiarity. The ‘matchday experience’, as our beloved Chief Execs will want you to call it, can be joyous, it can be frustrating but boy is it addictive. There’s just so much about the apparent ‘beautiful game’ that I love,  it keeps me coming back week after week, season after season. My name is Mark O’Meara, and I’m a football addict.

At the home of football

I don’t remember exactly when it was that I caught the bug, I can’t even tell you for sure what my first fixture was (annoyingly). I think it may have been an England youth match at the old Goldstone ground but I have no recollection at all. I was taken by my Dad to a handful of games when I was young and didn’t really understand nor love it at the time. I’m very grateful in hindsight. Prior to the ’98 World Cup I would prefer to watch whatever was on ‘the other side’ than the Saturday afternoon results on Grandatand. Oh, the shame. That all changed. The more I watched the game, the more I understood and therefore the more I loved it. I owe my early love for the game largely to Sky Sports and the way they covered it. Watching Soccer AM became my Saturday morning ritual. Then Jeff Stelling, George Best, Rodney Marsh and co took over until the early evening. Finally Des Lynam, and later Gary Lineker, rounded off the day with the highlights. For 40 Saturdays of the year I’d spend my time being told about all the emotions, good and bad, the sport brought. People of all ages loved it. My Dad loved it, even my Mum would watch a lot of the time. Football was becoming an increasingly major part of my life and I wanted to experience more for myself.

Fast forward seventeen years since watching on telly those Finals in France, my first taste of really enjoying football, and we are in the summer of 2015. I’m 25, living and working in London and a season ticket holder at Brighton and Hove Albion. It’s not how I had planned my life to be, nor had I expected it like this. I have a fair bit of ‘disposable income’, whatever that terrible phrase means, no responsibilities other than looking after myself and a decent knowledge of public transport routes around Great Britain. Consequently I attend upwards of 40 football matches a season, all over the country. I’ve been doing this many for about four seasons now. And I absolutely love it. The further I have to travel the more enjoyable I often find it.

With Brigton being in the Championship it means travelling to some of the better grounds; the likes of Leeds and Middlesbrough for example. It also means visiting some of the less glamorous places, such as Burnley or Hull, but that’s what makes it even more fun. Burnley away has been one of my favourite trips in previous seasons, regardless of the result. Being in the Championship also means there are around four or five weekends a season when there isn’t a league game due to the international break. I’ve been using this opportunity to experience lower league matches and they’ve been just as enjoyable, sometimes more so because the nerves aren’t there over the result. Unconsciously down the years I had been ticking off several of the 92 League clubs (from the Premier League down to League 2). That goal became my new obsession.

I’ve visited over 115 football stadiums around Europe and, after a now very conscious effort to fill every free moment with some form of live match in recent seasons, I am now just one team away from completing ‘the 92′. Notts County, if you’re interested. I don’t really speak extensively about my trips, mainly because I didn’t think anyone really cared, but it’s turned out to be a decent talking point, particularly when meeting new football fans. Twitter and Instagram have showed me quite a few people are discovering new grounds and share the same passion and interest that I do. I wanted to get in on this, give my thoughts and share my passion in the hope others follow suit. Websites such as Football Ground Guide and Football Ground Map are invaluable tools for pre and post trip planning and documenting. This blog will allow the words to meet the pictures. The upcoming season has the potential to be my greatest one personally. I should complete my 92 club mission at the start and hopefully end it in the greatest party on the continent; the Euro 2016 finals! It’s going to be a memorable season, join the ride. My previous season ended on June 7th in Dublin with a friendly between England and the Republic of Ireland. There’s no talk of a summer break here though, the fixtures are out ten days later! Let the games begin.