I HAVE long known that 30 minutes of six-a-side football a week is not enough to satisfy my craving for the beautiful game.
So imagine my delight when new Bowers and Pitsea boss Rob Small, aka “Smallsy”, asked me to take part in a training session with the club’s first team two games into the new season.
Bowers had the started the season well, drawing 0-0 with Tower Hamlets and beating local rivals Hullbridge Sports 4-1 only two days earlier (which I was doubly pleased at as I didn’t want to be walking into an unhappy camp!) I turned up to at the Len Salmon Stadium just before 7.30pm, walking into a changing room pumping with the heavy bass music I have now come to associate with Saturday afternoons.
Having met Smallsy, I changed into my training kit (choosing number three – the same number from when I played Sunday League!) and was given a tour of the facilities, shown the impressive physiotherapy room and manager’s office before being given a tour of the training ground.
Since the new manager arrived at the club, who chairman Barry Hubbard is quick to insist is “under no pressure”, the team has seen the arrival of a host of new players, including half a dozen from Small’s old side Southminster St Leonards.
However, as I do the warm-up lap around the pitch with the players, there is no sense of any divisions in the squad.
Luke joins the Bowers squad for the warm-up drills
Around 20 players have turned up for training (a good number Smallsy jokes due to the presence of an Echo photographer!) and the evening started with some pass and move drills, led by first team coach Mark Hunter.
That was after I joined a one-touch keepy-up circle – which inevitably saw me targeted straight away and, to my dismay, saw my first touch kill the ball dead, to howls of laughter from the Bowers boys.
I realised within seconds my six-a-side matches had not prepared me for the power and movement of the Essex Senior League players.
They switched passes with speed I struggled to adapt to at first, but I eventually caught up and, a few bad touches aside, I didn’t do that badly.
That changed when two more balls were introduced to the drill. I was looking this way and that for guidance from Mark and I struggled to match the speed of the players.
Shooting practice for Luke
Thankfully we moved onto small-sided games soon afterwards, and thankfully I wasn’t the last one picked – although I think they took pity on me!
I struggled to get into the match early on – mainly due to the incredible speed the Bowers boys moved at. Every one of them also seemed to have a thunderbolt shot, whereas I have always been one to place the ball, although luckily I never managed to get into a goal scoring position. My highlight was in fact winning a header from a long ball!
The session ended, just before 9pm, with Smallsy praising his players’ efforts, adding “they are a great bunch of boys” – something they appreciated, with Smallsy as much a part of the team as each man on the pitch.
I even got a round of applause, the first time since I was awarded “most improved player” award in my under-16 team in 2006 (make of that what you will!) A big thank you to everyone at Bowers & Pitsea and, not wanting to put him under any pressure, if Smallsy keeps performing pressure will inevitably follow.
Bowers coach Mark Hunter addresses the squad