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Raise your game: Episode 1

It’s a hot and humid July day. Britain basks in a 33 degree heatwave, all the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

But 25 amateur footballers are scared. They’ve been dreading this day all summer. They’re about to start pre-season.

Instead of spending an afternoon re-arranging the furniture of their underpants and reminiscing about a summer’s debauchery, the charges of Surrey amateur clubs Laleham FC and Holmbury St Mary are going to be put through their paces by Jon Goodman, former Republic of Ireland international and director of Think Fitness.

Over the next five months, FourFourTwo Performance will be following these Average Joes as they try to get their bodies into Premier League shape.

To help them achieve their goals, FFT and Lucozade Sport will provide the players with expert advice on training, diet and nutrition. Each team will also be assigned a mentor to push them to their limits, and we’re not talking clipboard coaches from Sunday league football, either.

What’s more, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale will be taking time out of their busy top-flight schedules to give the team drills and encouragement.

But, first things first, it’s the hellish spectre of pre-season training. Goodman is expecting to see beads of sweat and tears of despair.

“We’re looking at all the vital aspects of footballing performance, from risk of injury through to the ability to maintain a certain level of intensity during a match,” he tells FFT.

“The endurance test will break a few of them and they won’t enjoy the body fat testing.”

Shuffling into a state-of-the-art performance hall at St Mary’s University in south west London, the test subjects look worried. “We’ve all been drinking and doing the usual things amateur players do during the summer. We’re going to struggle,” admits Steve Grace, captain of Laleham FC.

Goodman shows no mercy. The players are put through a series of tests to measure power, mobility and inches around the waste. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to measure – apart from muffin tops and moobs.

There’s no respite as the players are marched out on to the field to face three challenges, designed to test speed, agility and endurance.

Gasping for breath and desperate to rehydrate their fatigued muscles, the players guzzle a supply of Lucozade Sport drinks and there’s a marked improvement in their performance.

Goodman admits some of the players even “compare well to professional athletes” in the speed tests.

However, their weary legs are about to go through hell with the dreaded Yo-yo test.

This energy-sapper requires the players to run from one end of a 20-metre deep grid to the other.

They increase their speed according to the pace set by the beeps. Each shuttle run is followed by 10 seconds of recovery.

As they get more tired the beeps get closer together. The buzzer sounds. It’s a massacre. Bodies are everywhere. Tongues hang out of panting mouths. Lungs rapidly inflate and deflate.

What did their efforts amount to? “A reasonable benchmark for a professional footballer is level 25,” reveals Goodman. “The best on the day was 18 and the majority were around 11, but the good thing is this is very trainable.”

For the two captains and their dog-tired troops this has been a dry slap around the chops. “We started last season like a steam train, but we tired and lost the league title on the final day,” wheezes Laleham defender Grace.

“We need to make the most of this opportunity and embrace sports science because it could make all the difference to our season.” Holmbury St Mary’s skipper Chris Marriott is equally concerned. “Last season we started terribly, but as it went on we got fitter and ended up pushing for promotion,” he splutters.

“Today has been a wake-up call. We’ve got the talent, but we need to sort out our fitness, nutrition and hydration if we’re to have a successful season. This is our chance to be the players we’ve always wanted to be.”

Will they do it? To find out, keep your eyes on

Also see:
Raise your game: Episode 2
Raise your game: Episode 3
Raise your game: Episode 4
Raise your game: Episode 5
Gareth Bale: Terrorise the defence
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Make something happen