BLOG regular Forever Dormo was whisked around swanky Rockliffe Park earlier this week as Boro invited some of their most masochistic fans – those who pay for their season tickets three years in advance with no get out clause or escape hatch – to have a look behind the scenes of what is a fantastic facility.
He wrote up his report and posted it on the comments of the last blog bit but as the debate was fizzling out a lot of people may have missed it. It deserves a wider audience so I’ve nicked it, polished it, inserted a few photos and hey… job done. It is well worth a read. Not just for the physical descriptions but for how it picks up on the mood music within the club.
Forever Dormo wrote:
Hello chaps! Been busy lately, but I have just taken some time off work to go on one of the “three-year season-ticket holders events” at Rockliffe. Thought I’d let you know what sort of things go on there.
Put to one side for the moment the nature and scale of the training facilities, and the amount of money that must have been sunk into it. Put aside thoughts about the 5-Star hotel development at Rockliffe Hall, and the golf course that lies right next door.
The whole event was meant as something of a “thank you” to those who lay out three years’ season ticket money in one lump. But in reality, everyone who has spent that amount is probably a fairly committed supporter so the club was preaching to the converted anyway. We’d have been back to the Riverside, finances permitting, without the “thank you”, because it’s what we do.
So, what did the visit to Rockliffe entail? Arriving at 10am we were shown up to the players’ restaurant. A cup of tea or coffee and a Danish pastry (if you wanted) whilst the arrangements for the day were explained. Then it was a guided tour of the facilities there.
We had time to look at the team photos on the way downstairs (look how many England players in different age-groups in one photo, and work out the value of those players and number of Premier League and other league games played by them).
Down to the First Team dressing room…the size of it, the fact that each player has his own alcove…marvel at how many pairs of boots and trainers Varga has stored under his seat…look at the showers, baths, what looks like a jacuzzi, and where ice-bath torture is meted out. Apparently bruising might mean an ice bath then a hot bath, then ice again (etc etc), which is said to speed up recovery. Yeah…and they’ll be telling us next that the world is a geoid. Pride of place in the changies is the de-luxe hamster cage, but the animal remained well hidden somewhere inside.
I apologise if someone’s camera lens failed to survive taking photo of me sitting in Lee Tomlin’s dressing-room alcove.
The corridors outside are painted with motivational slogans. I don’t guarantee that this is 100% accurate, but things like “Play for the name on the front of the shirt, and fans will remember your name on the back” and “blood, sweat and respect – shed the first two and you’ll earn the third” etc.
The Boot Room! You’ve never seen so many boots. My guest and I had a discussion about which players might have to buy their own boots and which might have a sponsorship deal. We were given to understand that young apprentices/trainees are no longer forced to clean the players’ boots but many of them are happy to do so (no doubt for a very nice present at Christmas).
Off to the treatment room with some high tech kit, and Bryn Morris probably bemused to find a group of people watching him lie on a treatment table with a strap round his left thigh, attached to the mains (not sure whether it was delivering electric shocks to the muscle or heat, or throbbing away to excite the muscle but he was taking it like a man).
The gym had the usual weights, cycling machines, cross-trainers etc and a few hardy souls working in there. There was a sheet, rather like a school timetable for the week, showing work for Woody to carry out, no doubt to concentrate on specific areas.
We’d already seen the physio/sports science room with the biggest and tallest running treadmill you’ve ever seen, so a particularly tall centre-back would have hit his head on the ceiling if it hadn’t been raised in the middle, above the machine. Most of the electric sockets there were at ceiling height, so players below could be attached to some electric machine or other whilst undergoing the work, or treatment, or measurement, that was being carried out.
We walked into what looked like an outdoor pitch, but inside. Made with a form of astroturf it would be ideal for playing hockey, and it had a viewing gallery for parents and others to watch whoever might be playing or training there. Like an aeroplane hangar with goalposts at each end, it was colder than the rest of the buildings, and led outside to the training pitches.
The first-team squad was being put through its paces in the mist outside and one of the pitches they weren’t using, with a billiard table surface and closely cropped grass, it would have been an even better hockey pitch than the indoor one. The groundsman must have a lot of work to do – there are LOADS of full-sized and smaller pitches outside. I’m far too loyal a supporter to say who looked better in training and who didn’t, but we arrived near the close of the training session then made our way back inside. Danny Graham is very good at holding doors open.
We trooped inside for a warming cuppa and Danish pastry in the parents’ room in the “academy side” of the building.
We then had a visit to the Press Room, which doubles as a classroom for scholars at the club. An opportunity was taken to have a photo or two in the seat (on a raised dais with tables/counter in front, and the usual sponsors’ signs behind) that might be used by the manager, or by Steve Gibson when presenting a new signing. We were told the press conferences are normally there on Thursday lunchtimes(?).
There was a counter around the three walls of the Press Room (the dais being the fourth “side”), and computer connections so Press laptops could be set up. I was surprised at how small the room is. Smaller than my living room, it must be packed out when major announcements are made to the assembled Press.
Aitor Karanka and Higgy came in and said a few words, the manager being interrupted by a visit from a group of players, and the assembled mass of three year season-ticket holders had the opportunity to take photos of them, or selfies of themselves and players or to persuade someone else to take a photo. Kei Kamara was there (does he ALWAYS smile – seems a nice chap) and Tomas Meijas amongst others.
I saw Ayala elsewhere in the building and what a visit like this teaches you is that very few players are 5ft 8inches tall. Another thing is that whilst, to be fair, being pleasant and talking for 10 or 15 minutes or so to a group of strangers may not be the most arduous of tasks faced by a man, the players seemed to be perfectly amiable and happy to oblige. However the manager and Higgy obviously bent over backwards to make sure anyone who wanted a brief chat, or a photo, got one. Really good PR.
We went into an academy changing room and had a chance to listen to Peter Hood (head of Sports Science which has pleasingly been resurrected at the club, and from whom we had heard briefly in the earlier part of the tour), from the Head of Education and Welfare about the way in which young scholars and trainees are handled and brought through the system, and from Gordon Cox about the Press and similar activities undertaken including the production of the matchday programme.
After all that, and I will have missed out some because no notes were taken and I am growing forgetful, we went back upstairs to the players restaurant for a late lunch at about 2.20pm. Three course meal, no less, and very good quality. You should not expect anytime soon to hear that any Boro players have died through lack of food.
We had an eye-opener about the extent to which stats and science are used. Players with GPS devices attached during training so the distances, speeds etc can be measured and compared. If injured, and the player is coming back to fitness, the player’s stats can be compared with what he was doing before the injury took place. The information about the efforts made to teach, train, and make progress with academy members was very interesting.
The various members of staff were very helpful and friendly: those guiding us round, the catering staff, the cleaning and the laundry staff all seemed to be getting on with their work with genuine enthusiasm. It was suggested that the people there all feel is if they are being paid for working at a hobby. It was good to hear from a colleague of Billy Day, Cloughie and Alan Peacock and of other players in the 1950s/60s. They didn’t have these training facilities in those days.
All in all I am absolutely convinced that everyone on the tour had a really good time. This was a very good exercise by the club, and that view is in no way influenced by the fact that I won a prize in a draw at the end of the visit (one that I very much look forward to “using”).
MEANWHILE, Saturday sees the return of the Mac.
Our most succesful ever manager was begrudingly slow hand-clapped out of town in 2006, not least by those who would have preferred a public show trial and had long nursed their lengthy charge sheet against him: playing weak side, playing one up front to basement battlers, angling for his next big job, disdain for the public, glib ‘magnificent’ post match comments… shiny teeth. His transgressions were many.
For all his success he was never loved. And never given full credit for his achievements. And even at the moments of glory acknowledgment was only given in some quarters through gritted teeth. I have always felt sorry for those poor tortured sould that sniped all the way through a golden age and moaned about the boss right across Europe.
However, he has been rehabilitated by the passage of time and the harsh reality that his successors have failed and the club has slowly slithered back from his high water mark.
In the Gazette this week we have had some reflection on his time in charge. Philip Tallentire looked at how he grabbed the club by the throat and reorganised Robbo’s unbalanced squad and set about rebuilding. And Bernie Slaven recalled that his football and his public persona wasn’t always popular.
Both agree though that he should and will get a warm reception at the Riverside. What say you? Has time – and Boro’s subsequent drift – been kind to Steve McClaren and his legacy? Was he just “lucky” at Boro?
Is it time for a revisionist view of his time in charge? Is it time to say ‘thanks?’ And mean it.