Blog on the Royals’ week in the Far EastA week in Thailand has come to an end and an unquestionably successful pre-season tour to Bangkok and Koh Samui has been thoroughly enjoyed by one and all.
A squad of players, the majority of whom have not ventured to the Far East before, gathered at Heathrow airport perhaps not knowing quite what to expect from the trip. A lot of hard work in the relentless heat, incredible hospitality and interest from a Thai public obsessed with English football, some periods of relaxation and the chance to bond with their teammates in the tranquil setting of Koh Samui and an entertaining and closely contested match against a very impressive Thailand All Stars side.
Eyes were immediately opened when the plane first touched down and the squad emerged from the confines of Bangkok airport to be greeted by a media frenzy patiently awaiting their arrival. Every man was presented with a floral lei, hung around their necks, and in excess of 30 video and still cameras pointed their way. Manager Steve Clarke and Chief Executive Nigel Howe spoke briefly to the media, thanking them for a fantastic welcome, and the squad boarded an RFC-branded double-decker bus to head for their hotel.
There was no time for jet lag. A press conference planned for early afternoon saw Clarke, Howe, Chris Gunter and shareholder Khun Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth join representatives from Carabao, speaking to a packed conference room at the neighbouring Intercontinental Hotel in what must have been one of the busiest press conferences in Reading Football Club’s history. Everyone was pleased to see Reading Football Club in Thailand…and despite an 11-hour flight, the Royals were clearly very pleased to be here.
In the afternoon, the squad got the chance to run a long, long day out of their bodies in their first training session of the tour. With a skip of water bottles on hand, the players got their first taste of training in very humid conditions at the Supachalasai Stadium – the venue which would host their match against Thailand’s All Star side on Wednesday. Some players did more than others, those who had been on international duty late into the summer and others who have only recently arrived as a Royal were given tailored training regimes, while the young players experiencing such conditions for the first time were also well looked after. The sanctuary of an air-conditioned dressing room was very welcome come the end of the session.
The first day in Thailand didn’t end there. Showered and refreshed, the squad and staff joined the club’s shareholders on a magnificent cruise down the Chao Phraya River. Good food and a peaceful journey through one of the busiest cities in the world – the tranquillity was only tarnished by the singing voices of a host of new staff and players who bravely accepted the challenge of their initiation by taking to the mic for some customary karaoke. Stephen Quinn seemed to steal the show with an Irish ditty that went down very well. Dave Beasant’s gutsy rendition of ‘Delilah’ was excellent too, although a little lost on the younger memebers of the squad who perhaps weren’t all ardent Tom Jones fans.
It was up early again for another gruelling training session in the morning. A lot of time had been spent planning the players’ recovery from the sessions and each player left the pitch with a towel dripping with cold water draped over their necks and heads in an attempt to bring their body temperatures back down quickly. Back on the bus for a short trip through notorious Bangkok traffic to the hotel, though some of the coaching staff opted to jog back, gluttons for punishment in the searing heat but clearly keen to keep their own personal fitness levels up.
In the afternoon, Assistant Academy Manager Lee Herron and coach Lewis Goater led a coaching session with in excess of 200 local children from the Bangkok area. Helped by a team of coaches looking to learn from the Royals representatives, all 200 kids had huge smiles on their faces from start to finish and, at the end of the clinic, they posed for a photo with manager Steve Clarke, strikers Pavel Pogrebnyak and Orlando Sa as well as forward Hal Robson-Kanu. Thailand’s Minister for Tourism addressed the crowd and the TV cameras as did shareholder Khun Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth, and from the stands the children watched the squad train for the second time that day.
Matchday had arrived. But yet another training session came first, early in the morning to avoid the hottest part of the day. The humidity never dropped though and the team rested well until boarding the bus at 5pm to head to the match. Without knowing too much about their opponents, the Royals knew they were in for a real challenge against a fit, fast and technically gifted Thailand All Stars side who certainly tested Steve Clarke’s squad at the very start of their pre-season campaign. The Royals took the lead when Nick Blackman turned home Tariqe Fosu’s excellent cross, but the All Stars levelled on the stroke of half-time and early in the second half Reading found themselves behind. The results at this stage of the summer count for very little of course, but nobody likes to lose…so Sean Long’s goalline clearance was met with the same enthusiasm as Pavel Pogrebnyak’s equaliser – the big Russian meeting Dominic Samuel’s cross from the right to make it 2-2 near the end. Reading used a total of 23 players, only Orlando Sa and Hal Robson-Kanu missing out on any game time. And a closely fought and hugely entertaining game would end in parity. A Thairath TV drone flew overhead to capture footage of the presentation ceremony and the fireworks that lit up a stage hosting both squads and the match officials at the end. The manager and Danny Williams met another busy press gathering to give their post-match thoughts, which were then translated by the moderator, and it was swiftly back to the hotel for some sleep. The manager and his coaching staff were kindly invited to a restaurant by the club’s owners and together they talked football.
An early flight the next morning took the team to the picturesque island of Koh Samui. Waiting to board, Chris Gunter kept the players up to date with Garath McCleary’s goalscoring exploits out in the US as Jamaica took on Costa Rica in the Gold Cup. A bumpy touch down in Samui…this was the squad’s chance to relax, rest, enjoy some of Thailand’s beautiful scenery and bond with their teammates and coaching staff. Not only did it present the perfect opportunity for the new players to integrate with their new teammates but it gave all the squad a chance to get to know the new friendly faces on the coaching staff, Steven Reid and Dave Beasant, not to mention our new Head of Sports Medicine Jon Urwin and Masseur Danny Flitter who the players instantly got on great with. And mention should also be made of Kit Manager Stewart Bannister who, so early in his career at Reading, diligently worked his way through a week in foreign surroundings and amongst players and staff he is yet to get to know, without a word of fuss or bother!
It wasn’t all going to be sun loungers and fresh coconut – the squad were split into groups for gym sessions that afternoon, before dinner on the beach brought the whole squad together for a barbecue buffet. With the waves lapping against the shore, the players could finally relax, with a leisurely round of golf and some free time scheduled for the following day.
Head of Sports Science Nick Harvey led more sessions in the gymnasium, preparing the squad for what was going to be a tough week filled with double sessions when back at home, but after lunch there was time to chill out by the pool before boarding a flight back to Bangkok, where they trained for the final time early on Sunday morning. And oh how they trained! The sun had burnt the cloud away and shone down, hotter than ever, on a squad of players who endured a gruelling two-hour session. Hundreds of bottles of water were drunk, short breaks saw players cool down by rubbing ice cubes on the backs of their necks and draping themselves in wet, ice cold towels. Come the end of the two hours, some literally sat themselves in the skip full of icy water, others tipped what was left over their heads. What relaxation they had enjoyed in Koh Samui was over. This was hard, hard work.
The management staff were again invited to a farewell dinner with shareholders Narin Niruttinanon and Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth, and they linked up with the squad back at Bangkok airport – where at 1.10am, they took off to return to Hogwood in the early hours of Monday morning. The sun had set on a hot, busy but throroughly enjoyable trip to Thailand.
All those who have worn the badge have been excellent ambassadors for Reading Football Club throughout. And a huge thank you must go to everyone who helped to organise such a wonderful visit to Thailand. Preparations in pre-season need to be perfect to allow the players to ready themselves for the long, hard challenge that is the Championship – and the squad, management and coaching staff were impeccably looked after from the moment the Royals arrived. A cast of many deserve our gratitude, but special mention should go to Patty, March and Barbara, our local logistics team out in Thailand who deserve a lot of credit for their hard work. Nothing was too much to ask and on behalf of all who travelled to the Far East, thank you.