Bob Latchford

Bob Latchford : Pre-season is serious business

The players are now well into their per-season preparations, and they’ll be glad to finally have got the chance kick a ball in anger again, and even more pleased to have got a good win under their belts before heading off to the States.

Their tours remind me of the tours when I was at the club, although I never got to go to America in the Blue of Everton, but I did with Birmingham. It was part of a gruelling tour which took in several continents at the end of the 1971-72 season, including a game against the Australian national team and two games in Tahitti. Freddie Goodwin was managing Birmingham at the time, and he’d come from the New York Generals, so had some contacts in America. At the end of the season, he packed us all up and off we went. We played in Baltimore and Toronto before heading to Tahiti and then to Australia – all this at the end of a football season!

Things have changed so much though and these days “end of season tours” are a thing of the past for the big clubs like Everton, and with the game being so much more of a global affair, it is easier for teams to go anywhere in the world for their pre-season tours. We did get to Cairo at the end of the 1978-79 season mind, although Andy King and George Wood would probably rather not be reminded of their evening excursion on a Nile boat!

We were usually allowed out during the pre-season tours to see the local surroundings, but Billy Bingham imposed a strict curfew in the 1975 tour of Holland. We weren’t allowed out of the hotel after evening meal, and by 10pm we were expected to be in our rooms. We were only allowed out on the last night, and needless to say we made up for lost time!

The furthest we got for pre-season with Everton was Morocco, where we played either the Czech or Moroccan national team and drew 1-1, but mainly we stuck to mainland Europe for our pre-season tours, with Holland and Germany particular favourites of the management team.

We were always guaranteed some good opposition in Holland and Germany and we played some tough games. Everyone takes pre-season seriously as a player, and as a striker in particular it was always good to get into the habit of scoring goals during pre-season. I once scored a hat-trick in the Olympic Stadium in Munich, although memory escapes me who it was against! Scoring in pre-season gets you in the right frame of mind, and it switches you on to the goalscoring mentality, and it’ll be no different for Jo than it was for me, whether it’s against Rochdale or River Plate, getting goals is what’s important, and it prepares you to do it for real once the season comes.

In one of our pre-seasons in Holland we were due to play River Plate in a tournement, but they pulled out and we had to make do with beating FC Bruges instead. It was something we were all looking forward to as players, and the current squad will be too. It’s not often that you get to play a good South American side, and back then River Plate had won their league and cup, and of course Argentina won the World Cup, so playing against their top players was something we were excited about. Their current squad is made up almost entirely of Argentine players, so it will be a new challenge for the players and they will be looking forward to it.

There are often questions raised as to whether or not players take pre-season training seriously enough, well let me assure you that they do. Pre-season is all about getting yourself right for the season, not just fitness, but every aspect of your game. As a player you want to win, and you want to be out there on the pitch doing things right, at every step of the way. You also want to be as competitive as possible, as a red card in Germany can testify! A defender had been kicking me all match and on one occassion he had come through me and we ended up on the floor. He was underneath me and as I got up I just stamped on him. As I got up I just walked off the pitch, I knew I was getting sent off. He didn’t quite manage to walk off though…

I’m sure none of the current squad will be looking to be sent off during pre-season, but they will all want to win their matches, and play at their best. They’ll all be looking to get their opportunities as well, and I remember Colin Todd feeling that perhaps he wasn’t getting his during pre-season in 1978. He was being played at right-back, which he didn’t like, and halfway through the first half he marched the whole width of the pitch – while the game was going on – to remonstrate with Gordon Lee. After a few moments he marched back into position and carried on – to say half time was fiery would be an understatement, it got so heated it even made Dave Thomas swear! We were always committed though and it’s a sign of a good club when the players and management take their training as seriously as David Moyes and his team do.

The new away kit has been launched today, and sometimes I wonder who chooses them, it’s certainly not the managers anymore, as the diamonds down the sleeve were about as extravagant as Gordon Lee could muster, let alone neon pink stripes. Looking good as a player is important though, and some of the players might be quite keen on the new away kit, but when I was at Everton, I’m not sure we had anything that made you think “yeah, this looks good.”

There has been a lot of talk about investment over the past week, and Neville Southall has a valid point when he expresses his worries about Everton being caught by those around us who are investing heavily. I do think though, that David Moyes and his team know what is expected of them, and as I said last time, there are two important blocks of fixtures for Everton. If the boys can come through those two blocks relatively unscathed, then it won’t really matter what those around or below us are doing, as confidence will be sky-high and could give us the momentum to push forward again this season. David and his players have been improving steadily over the past six or seven years now, and I think they’ll do it again this season, and although it would be fantastic if investment was brought in, I don’t think this season is the time to panic.…discuss this on the forums

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