Eleven players and several pairs of brand new football boots turned out for the first Northern Leagues United training session. After a late cancellation, Whickham captain Paul Cavanagh gave up his evening to come and put us through our (half) paces. “What do you fancy doing, lads?” he asked. “No fitness work,” someone replied with suspicious haste. “Erm, something with the ball?”
With a crowd of one and a photographer on hand, there was a race to get to the front of the pack (helped slightly by people taking short cuts) as we did a quick lap of the pitch. After dribbling the ball in and out of a row of training posts, the two goalkeepers got a chance to don their gloves while the rest of us practised shooting and crossing the ball. “Play the ball out wide, three of you make runs into the centre and try and get on the end of the cross. We’ll stop when someone scores a goal,” Cavanagh told us. We puffed out our cheeks. “You might want to stick the floodlights on in that case, mate.” Training ended with a game of two-touch football in a corner of the pitch – and, of course, a pint in the clubhouse bar. Things we’ve learnt so far? Grass burns hurt, goalkeepers save their best dives for the camera and you should never ever forget to break in new boots.