I recently listened to ‘ The Fozcast’, a podcast where former Manchester United and Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster discusses his experiences as a professional footballer.
Two of the topics he spoke about were ‘the night before games’, ‘and the day of games’ and what players do on both.
It was different to how I experienced it but it all depends on what club you are at.
Each club has its own beliefs when it comes to the night before games.
Foster discussed how it was mandatory that players spend the night in hotels before both home and away games. I find it ridiculous that players are forced to stay in a hotel the night before home games when they are only minutes from their house.
It’s understandable for those whose home is in a location hours from the stadium, but not for players that live close-by. If I were a manager, I would want players to feel as relaxed as possible the night before games.
They are going to be more comfortable staying at home in their own bed and having their own routine, rather than being told what time they have to be in a certain place and potentially share a room with someone they mightn’t like.
Managers believe that by putting players up in a hotel, they will focus on the game more, but too much focus can cause worry and anxiety, and some players want to zone out from football the night before.
For a lot of away games, players will understand that managers don’t want them to be travelling the day of a match on the bus for hours, but even then players are still looking for ways to recreate their home environment. I think the number one thing most players will do to do that, is simply bringing their pillow from home to the hotel.
I was amazed once, when at a team meeting in a hotel the night before a game, the manager of Preston North End told us that one player had asked could his girlfriend drive to the hotel and stay in his room, as he would feel more comfortable with her there.
The player saw no issue with it because his argument was that she would be with him if it was a home game. The manager declined his request but did admit he thought long about the plea as he could see reasoning in the player’s argument.
Staying in a hotel the night before games are pretty dull with most teams, with the exception of when Graham Westley was manager of Preston. You never knew what rabbit he was going to pull out of his hat at team meetings.
Most managers would use those meetings as another opportunity to show video clips of the opposition, but for Westley, it could be anything. He would normally set us tasks such as when he assigned each team member a set-piece routine (of which we had around 30-40) to explain to the rest of the group.
We were more like an NFL team rather than a soccer one. He also made us write stories for a play once, where players were divided into groups and write a narrative of our team’s past, present, key moments that will happen in the game the next day, and what the celebrations would be like after. He was a unique manager.
Usually the night before in a hotel involves getting settled into your room. A mandatory dinner will take place around seven o’clock. A short meeting will commence afterwards, and there will be optional food (which usually is cereals, yogurts, fruit, toast) around nine o’clock, which half the players only turn up for.
Match days in the UK were better because with the 3pm kick-off you weren’t hanging around as much as you do with the 7.45pm in the League of Ireland.
For home games, you tend to meet an hour and a half before matches whereas with away games, it all depends how far away the pitch is and of course if you stayed together in a hotel the night before.
Nothing special happens in the dressing room before games. Music is played throughout and players tend to do their own thing to prepare. A manager will speak to the players briefly to assign markers for set-pieces when the team sheets are handed in, and also gives a quick talk before going out for kick-off.