“Can’t we just do some analysis on the tv inside instead?” Joe Haines asks in a sort of tone where he knows the inevitable answer to the question, Ivor Green laughs – “I’m fit as a fiddle anyway!” replies Haines. It’s a blustery training day ahead of a crucial clash against high-flying Hanley Town.
It’s another cold Wednesday night in Staffordshire, in typical fashion I arrive stupidly early, it’s 5:30 pm, I wait and wait. Eventually, Jack Longmore and Jim Elkes both arrive, a thumbs up from both is in order. Eventually Lichfield City manager Green and assistant Wayne Chapman arrive in yet another different car as Longmore points out and leaves me in hysterics.
As mentioned last week, Green has a seemingly photographic memory, but that memory failed him and just about everyone who turned up early, we can’t get in. The eyes are shifting to see if anyone knows the famed code for the lock on the front gate, they don’t. Jack Edwards turns up, he doesn’t know, the phones are ringing nobody knows, club captain Kyle Patterson arrives and seemingly saves the day.
We all bundle our way into the changing room, jokes and jibes are flying the atmosphere is as jovial as ever. The changing room is slightly messy from the weekend before, Edwards turns cleaner as he sweeps every crevice of the room he can. I move a chair and probably should do more but he’s in his element, that’s what I told myself anyway.
I sit and ponder; the usual suspects turn up on time and after a few weeks of writing, the players are trying to be more careful with what they say in case they get egg on their face, emphasis on trying to. As the jibes continue, Dan Lomas and Joe Haines, two of City’s finest performers this season are like two boxers in their heyday going pound for pound in a boxing match of wit if you like.
“I’ve won more trophies than you,” says Lomas to Haines. This is followed by a chorus of loud cheers from the players as the jibes intensify. Lomas was handed a swimming outfit that had the words “Howler of the week” which seems to be a deterrent for players not to have a bad training session, which the midfielder seemed to have fallen foul of in the previous session.
The training session commences in what can only be described as awful conditions – the rain is pouring; the wind is howling and by now my white trainers are now brown with patches of mud and my toes are ice cubes.
I’m being waved over by Chapman like a madman as he wants me to get involved, I duly oblige to try and warm myself up, from then I get a footballing lesson from two of the brightest minds in the game.
As the session continues Green is telling me about his football philosophy and tells me about his thoughts for the crunch game against Hanley Town.
“They’re very professional,” says Green. “They’ve all been there and done it, they’ve got a lot of quality on the park. The first priority is to make it hard for them, they’ve played the same team week in and week out, they will be tired and the second is to be brave on the ball take risks in possession.”
The three of us then migrate to the changing room where the talk of the gameplan is the main topic on the agenda. In the reverse fixture, an entertaining 2-2 draw was in order with the game turning on its head due to a subtle switch in the front line for Green’s men but they had to settle for a point, much to the annoyance of the players to this day.
The training session comes to an end and the players depart and the mood is jovial, until a call from behind us – “Whose boots are these?”, the players stop almost frozen, someone had left their boots behind. Once again, the loud cheers come up, Joe Haines admits they’re his boots and one reply to this revelation is “That’s a £2 fine!”.
Saturday 19th of March 2022
“If this doesn’t work then we’re getting sacked,” says Chapman. The look I gave for a second is of severe concern before he bursts out into laughter. It’s game-day and the atmosphere is of excitement, the buzz in the squad is obvious. Chapman has a Costa bag in hand he turns it over, nine sugars fly out, six are for Green much to the squad’s bemusement.
As right-back Max Black walks in near the 1:30 pm deadline for when the players have to be in, goalkeeper James Beeson shouts: “Hooray! You’re on time.” Black responds: “F**k off, I’m always on time”. The banter and confidence seem high.
After I complete two interviews first with Jack Longmore, second with Jonathan Gould I sit and observe the team talk. A plan is in place, Hanley Town are a great side so if this works it’ll be a brilliant achievement.
“Go and have some fun, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work it’s not your problem it’s my f***ing problem,” Green says in an impassioned speech. I almost feel like standing up and applauding myself, a collective cheer is in order as the players go out.
The game kicks off, the stadium seems packed, it’s a cracking first half, which Haines admits to me after the game it was the highest intensity game he had played this season. It was easy to see why Hanley were brilliant on the day and thoroughly deserved the win thanks to an Anthony Malbon winner.
The full-time whistle blows, the Hanley chairman to the left of me is delighted, the players are too, music is blasting from their changing room as I saunter past. Sitting in fourth, promotion seems slim but not impossible.
Both of the inseparable duo are forever the optimists, they won’t give up yet and why not, this club has come too far this season to give up.
By Shaun Webbley