Football training: Old and new

October 4, 1902
What used to be done.
What should be done.
A pithy article by a noted expert.
(Written for Evening Telegraph by Mr. Wm. McGregor)

We did not have much training in the early days of Association football. Even when the pastime had fairly established itself it was difficult, if not whole impossible, to get men to take heed to their condition.

In my reminiscences of old Scottish tours – which, judging from one or two letters I have received, seem to have been thoroughly enjoyed by a few readers at least – I spoke of the disregard shown by leading players for all conventionalities.

To those who are accustomed to the rigid observances of modern football management, the free and easy methods which obtained even in the early days of League football would come as a revelation.

Nowadays players are not allowed to even smoke in the saloon on the outward journey – now almost invariably made on the morning of the match.

Those enthusiastic followers who deadly love to travel in the saloon with the players, but who yet cannot dispense with their pipe during the whole of the long railway journey, are generally accommodated in a separate compartment of the saloon, those with two sections being in great demand among footballers.

The saloon, by the way added greatly to the comfort of football teams, and we do not hear so much of the painful effects of the journey upon the play of an eleven.

I remember that, years ago, the stereotyped excuse for defeat away from home was that the visiting side were jaded as the result of their ride in the train. Not for a long time have I heard that excuse advanced.

Methods seem to have changed altogether. Years ago it was a regular thing for a team to travel over-night to any place more than a hundred miles distant, but Clubs soon had the common sense to see that the ill-effect of sleeping in strange beds more than counterbalanced the advantage derived from not having to travel on the day of the game.

A great many crickets and footballers have a great distaste to sleeping away from home. I have known several cricketers who would not hesitate to take quite a long railway journey backwards and forwards rather than sleep in a strange bed.

Personally, I think it is a great advantage to take a team out on the morning of the match, and in a saloon there can be no excuse for men complaining that they feel cramped and tired.

Coming back to the question of old-fashioned training. I need scarcely say it was to the big cup-ties that we owed the attention given to systematic preparation for the Saturday’s game. Before the English Cup ties became of all-engrossing importance little or no regard was paid to condition.

One of  the best exercises indulged in by some of our early Clubs was that of skipping. The Aston Villa players used to go in for this very extensively years ago, and they derived the idea from the Queen’s Park Club.

Although Queens Park never trained in the ordinary sense of the term, their members were wonderfully keen as to their physical fitness, and many of the old worthies of the Club used to have very prolonged spells of skipping.

It is a wonderful exercise; I doubt if it has ever been bettered. I should imagine that the new-fashioned exercise of punching the ball is a very good one, although I do not know quite so much about it as I do of other methods of gaining agility and wind power.

It has always seemed to me that one of the most serious faults of the systems of football training now in vogue is that too much attention is given to getting the men speedy. I think it would be better if some attention were devoted to the imparting of stamina rather than of speed.

The men should be taught to last the full hour and a half. Pace is very desirable, of course, but it is not given to every man to be a sprinter. Every man, however, can have his stamina improved, and the team which can, without fail, last the full hour and a half at top speed is the team likely to do the best in the long run.

The universal principle seems to be to choose an old runner for the position of trainer. I think if more attention were given to the individual constitution of each member of the team that better results would be obtained. It is to the advantage of every Football Club to have a well-equipped gymnasium. Some of the our teams are exceptionally well provided for in this respect.

What is wanted is a greater variety of work than is usually given. I know one or two League teams which, unless I am greatly mistaken, had their chances in the League and the English Cup competitions very seriously prejudiced by the way in which they were walked off their feet.

The men were taken fifteen or twenty-mile walks regularly, and this continued up to the day before the match for which the men were being specially prepared. The result was that they took the field, not exactly in an over-trained condition, but with muscles far too stiff and brittle.

Excessive exercise of this description does not improve a man for football. I have a great idea that men whose muscles are over-wrought are far more likely to break down than those who receive a more judicious course of training.

There is nothing equal to plenty of good walking exercise for the average man, and for the footballer it is, of course, specially advantageous; but it wants to be done in a sensible way. A man does not want to take the field in a condition that a walking champion would like to take it.

In football a man gets short, sharp bursts, and the men who get their muscles too rigid are apt to suffer when this kind of violent exercise has to be taken.

Several teams I know were run off their legs by their trainers. Come what might, the whole of the new men had to do so many laps round the field. Now this is non-sensical.
(To be continued next Saturday: Next article here.)
(Source: Evening Telegraph: October 4, 1902)

William McGregor

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