From the team bus to the post-training meal, Fulham FC and adidas let me live a day in the life of a professional footballer
Every young football fan dreams of becoming a professional. Following in the footsteps of your heroes, in whatever field, is something each of us aspires to. And when it comes to football, the luxury lifestyle makes it all the more appealing. I was given the chance to live that dream for one day only – and this is how it went.
6:00am: My alarm goes off. It’s still set to Three Lions from the heady days of World Cup fever back in the summer. I’m not much of a morning person, but I reluctantly roll out of bed and prepare my things before heading off to Fulham’s training ground, where I will be put through a gruelling training session by professional coaches. Already a little anxious, I settle my nerves with breakfast comprising a chocolate muffin and a milky coffee. I doubt this is what real professional footballers have to start the day.
7:00am: I make my way to Vauxhall, where a coach is waiting to collect me and my new teammates before heading on to Motspur Park.
While drifting off to some music on the tube, I realise that if I was actually a professional footballer, I would definitely be the answer to ‘worst music taste’ in the squad. Still, if Enrique Iglesias’ greatest hits doesn’t get you pumped for a hard day’s work, as far as I’m concerned that’s your problem.
8.00am: Resurfacing above ground, I walk across the bridge as the sun rises behind London’s newly constructed skyline. Switching the tube for the swanky team bus, I suddenly feel as though I’ve made it. There’s a coffee machine, WiFi, plug sockets, leather seats. This is no Sunday morning Megabus with the smell of cigarettes and stale booze. We’re in the big leagues now.
After exchanging pleasantries with the rest of the squad, I settle into my seat and imagine we’re heading to a Champions League final. Some of the team put on music, updating their Instagram story every five minutes and truly sliding into the mindset of a modern footballer. As we set off late due to a couple of players’ poor time-keeping, I can already tell who’s let the fame get to their head on day one. We’re not going to win any titles with this level of punctuality, lads.
9.30am: After a short health and safety briefing, I gather my things and get off the coach – Louis Vuitton wash bag in hand – to a flurry of cameras clicking away. ‘Shit, does my hair look alright?’, I think to myself, realising why so many footballers become painfully vain after the smallest whiff of public attention.
Stepping into the dressing room, we’re greeted by every kid’s dream: freshly-laid, personalised kit waiting on the benches. A shiny pair of original adidas Copa Mundial boots – the 1979 model – are sitting underneath.
10.00am: We head outside to the Motspur Park training pitch. The playing surface is immaculate, the lush, green grass stretching out like a snooker table. I’m giddy with excitement to zing some daisy-cutters around, feeling like a young David Beckham in my Copa 79s.
Waiting for us on the pitch are academy coaches Mark Pembridge and Stephen Wigley. My mind is cast back to watching Pembridge play for Fulham in the mid-noughties, when Steed Malbranque pulled the strings and Brian McBride led the attack. It was a wonderfully entertaining period of Fulham’s history, I’m sure you’ll agree, if you too have a strangely clear memory of Chris Coleman’s reign at Craven Cottage.
10.30am: The first session has been designed to reflect training from the era of the Copa 79’s initial release, hence the old-school adidas Tangos lying around. They’ve been designed to imitate the heavy balls that were used at the time – and nobody is keen to try out heading. Adjusting to these factors is part of the process, but makes me glad I was born in the 1990s.
We pair up and begin some short passing drills. Pass, touch, pass. Pass, touch, pass. We’re starting with the basics.
11.00am: I consider myself a half-decent footballer, but I soon realise why I never made it beyond little league. I know my limitations, but I also know my qualities. What I lack in physicality, I make up for in shithousery. Sadly, that’s not much use in a training session.
I make it through the first couple of drills without disgracing myself, but every sloppy touch is deeply embarrassing, with the added pain of letting down my teammates as we attempt to keep the tempo high.
As we test our long passing range, there is even less room for error. Not only does a bad touch or an inaccurate cross-field ball spoil the rhythm of the session, but every single moment is being captured by a host of cameras around the pitch, which we’re all acutely aware of.
11.30am: We return to the club house, where Fulham’s staff escort us to a different changing room. There’s a graphic lining the corridor, illustrating every stage of the Copa Mundial’s evolution. Fittingly, the dressing room takes us back to the modern day.
Cotton becomes nylon, tea becomes Gatorade, oranges become protein bars and laces become elastic. Even the music changes – everyone’s favourite song of the summer, ‘Ramenez la Coupe à la Maison’, gets a spin. It’s no Enrique.
The new Copa boot, which reminds me of the spaceship from Flight of the Navigator, is like nothing I’ve previously put on my feet. Its off-white colouring, curved leather ridges and laceless tongue give it a futuristic feel that isn’t usually associated with the Copa Mundial. It’s the perfect hybrid between retro and modern. I convince myself they’ve given me the power to recreate Zidane’s volley against Bayer Leverkusen.
12.00pm: Before we begin the next training session, coaches Pembridge and Wigley are keen to emphasise the importance of ball retention.
“Nobody likes playing with someone who gives the ball away,” Wigley explains.
All I can think about is not being that guy – the one who lets the team down. Still, it doesn’t prevent me from attempting an audacious overhead kick during a five-a-side match, which predictably sees me lying face down on the wet grass, winded from landing poorly. It turns out the boots don’t give you world class technique, even if it feels that way.
The pace of the possession drills is another stark reminder of the superhuman levels of control that professional footballers need to have (and which I woefully lack). Training every day you’d surely improve, but the amount of natural ability required is painfully obvious.
1.00pm: We head back in to get cleaned up and make our way upstairs for the post-session analysis.
Collective sighs are let out as we realise this means reliving some of the more embarrassing moments of the session – including Pembridge savagely nutmegging one of my teammates. On the whole, feedback is positive. But nothing brings you down to earth more powerfully than watching a football fly off your foot in front of a room of your peers.
2.00pm: Before the day is wrapped up, we make our way to the canteen, where a variety of super-healthy footballer food is on offer. It might get tiring having to run every meal by a nutritionist, but the flip side is that you have personal chefs laying on an amazing spread every day. I opt for the salmon (rich in Omega 3, kids) and take full advantage of the plentiful options at the salad bar – I’m talking olives, coleslaw, tomatoes, the lot.
3.00pm: As we make our way back to the coach, I reflect on a day in the life of a professional. It was only a glimpse of what it must be like living the dream, but I already know I could get used to this.
Getting back on the coach, there’s one overriding conclusion from the immersive training experience. While so much has changed in football – from nutrition, to boots and training equipment – the fundamentals remain the same: the importance of your first touch, the spatial awareness, the dedication.
That’s why for the vast majority, it will always remain a boyhood dream.