Life with England: Big Macs, boredom and huge phone bills
THREE LIONS ON THE SHIRT . . .
ONE of Fabio Capello’s biggest challenges over the next few weeks will be keeping his squad of 23 players focused, happy and entertained. I found out through going t o major championships with f our England managers that the experience varies a lot.
One key element that changed dramatically over the years is food because you get bored with eating the same things all the time. That’s why Glenn Hoddle would throw us the occasional barbecue and Sven Goran Eriksson would go to the extent of having a restaurant closed for the evening so that we could eat in peace.
It was healthy to have a change of scenery. When I went to the European Championship in Sweden in 1992 under Graham Taylor, there were lots of treats for players, such as chips and pizza but it was still monotonous.
The year after when we were on tour in America, we were so bored that we persuaded our doctor John Crane to tell the coach driver to pull over at a McDonald’s and we ran in and got 30 Big Macs.
Under Hoddle at France ’ 98 there were no more fatty foods. He also brought in Dr Yann Rougier, who was i n charge of giving each of us supplements. We were each tested to see what we needed and then some players were given intravenous injections of essential vitamins and minerals. The whole process felt a lot healthier.
Kevin Keegan maintained that, and Dr Crane also used to come round knocking on doors every evening with
“We all went orienteering and Carlton Palmer got lost”
the mandatory bar of chocolate. That was more an excuse to look in on us and check we were OK — though you’d always try to get an extra bar in case the supply ran out.
Before Sweden in 1992 we went to a miserable training camp. We had no TVs, no phones and we were each given a phone card for the one phone box at the camp. It felt like a prison. There was some light relief when we went orienteering. We had all had psychological profiling and were put in groups with people who were supposedly similar to us.
I was with Des Walker but I’m not sure why. The funniest part of it was that Carlton Palmer got lost and we were still trying to find him in the dark two or three hours after everyone else had finished. Carlton was at the centre of things again when we went to Pinewood Studios for dinner and they put on a show in which terrorists pretended to kidnap him. It was all good fun and something different.
But in general the trip was a bad idea and you wanted to go home because of the loneliness — you didn’t want to go to a major championship.
Once we were in Sweden, there was nothing to do except build up your phone bill and I thought the FA were paying for mine. I don’t know what was a bigger shock: getting knocked out in the group stages or being presented with my bill afterwards.
Hoddle picked a very good venue in La Baule, France, six years later because all the rooms were set out around the swimming pool and it backed on to a golf course. There was even an area where we could practise set pieces.
The attention to detail was outstanding and was a million miles away from 1992. It was thoroughly enjoyable. There was a basement area below the apartments where we spent most of our time, watching the other games in a relaxed mode. Under Keegan and Eriksson we also had areas with arcade games and the players loved that.
You can’t talk about Hoddle without mentioning his faith-healer, Eileen Drewery. I was one of the few players who just said no, but players definitely went to see her because they were worried they wouldn’t get into the squad if they didn’t. Darren Anderton spent a lot of time with her but people generally took the mick, particularly Ray Parlour who went in and asked for a short back and sides when she put her hands on his head.
Under Keegan, there was an emphasis on the feelgood factor and maybe less so on tactics. The most confident I ever felt in an England shirt was under him because I was having f un. We played cards a lot, we had our amusement arcades and race nights — gambling on horse races we watched on video or DVD — really took off. One night Keegan’s coach Arthur Cox pushed Keegan into the room on a steel skip, as if he was riding a horse. It was hilarious.
Things were a lot calmer under Sven but it was very noticeable how many staff there were. When we sat down to dinner, there were more staff than players. There was even a little table of FA delegates. Sven gave clear instructions, and training — carried out by the grinning Cheshire cat Steve McClaren — was of a high intensity. His last team talk before we l eft f or matches was him leaning over the smallest tactics board you’ve ever seen.
I always made sure I was sat as close as possible so I could actually see what was going on. But there was never the feeling of hair on the back of your neck, which was maybe the missing link.
Perhaps a perfect blend would be the f un there was under Keegan and Sven’s organisation. Achieving that balance for Capello is no easy task but it is vital.
Sven’s men: Keown and Beckham in 2002