AN invitation for a look around Melwood isn’t one that many Reds fans would turn down lightly and I wasn’t about to be one that did. We were here to see what those who take the club up on the offer of a tour of Liverpool FC’s famous training complex get to see.
We meet in reception before tour guide Alan Herr (@AlTourGuide on Twitter) walks us back outside and past one of the executive coaches that are going to be used take guests from Anfield to Melwood for the tour. These are the same Ellison’s Coaches used by the first team, the coaches that the players arrived on Anfield Road in before recent home games to be greeted to a sea of fans carrying flags and banners under the cover of pyro.
Next it was into the place where the tour will really start for visitors, the media room, a familiar site for press and fans alike, although from the view fans normally get it could be almost anywhere. This is the place where the manager gives his weekly press conferences, sitting in front of a board containing the names of the club’s various sponsors. It’s rare for anything of the room to be shown other than that sponsors’ board, but this is the room used by Brendan Rodgers and his predecessors to bat away questions about transfer targets, tactics and trouble of one kind or other.
There’s a mention for most of Rodgers’ predecessors at some point during the tour (I don’t recall a mention for Roy Hodgson) and the first one to be mentioned is Rafa Benítez. On a wall on one side of the media room, near a couple of smaller rooms used for one-on-one interviews, is a frame with some words in. As the tour continues we see more and more of these frames, we read more and more of these words. They’re all quotes from famous sports people; Muhammad Ali, Johan Cruyff, Michael Jordan and a fair few from Liverpool’s history. It was Rafa Benítez who came up with this idea and so far none of his successors have felt it necessary to have them taken away.
After the media room we walk into reception, past a bust of Bill Shankly, the man Liverpool’s success for more than half a century dates back to. Next to it is a quote of his:
“Above all I would like to be remembered as a man who was selfless, who strove and worried so that others could share the glory and who built up a family of people who could hold their heads up high and say:
‘We are Liverpool’.”
As tour guide Alan points out, the great man’s signature is underneath, written the way he always wrote it, as ‘Billy Shankly’.
The training ground used to be open for fans to visit at any time if they so wished, but as Shankly’s methods brought Liverpool increasing success and as his warmth brought
If that doesn’t provide inspiration then something at the other end of reception should. Another of Rafa Benítez’s ideas, it’s the European Cup, in a glass case proudly showing players and staff what this club has achieved before and what it hopes to again.
It’s actually a replica, a life-size identical replica. The real one, the one Liverpool got to keep after that night in Istanbul, is kept at Anfield in the museum because, Alan says, that way the fans can get to see it and the fans come first.
After walking past that big iconic chunk of silver we were in the boot room. This is where the boot racks are with all the players’ boots on – coaching staff on the left, playing staff on the right. Also on show were a couple of the GPS vests players wear during training, just one of a number of items of technology available to the staff as part of their armoury in preparing for games. There’s also another rack in this area – the vitamin rack. Empty now, with the players all away on holiday or international duty, this is where players will pick up whatever supplements they should take before training, all individually tailored to the needs of that player, all in a compartment with their name on it. This is also one of many places where you might spot a hand sanitiser – probably as many in here as you’ll find in a hospital.
From here, booted up, the players make their way out to the training fields themselves, which at Melwood includes three different full-sized pitches. One of the three pitches, the middle one, has the exact dimensions of the pitch at Anfield. The other two are longer or shorter, wider or narrower, allowing the coaches to prepare on a pitch as close as possible to the one they’ll be playing on in the match that follows.
At the time of our visit the grass was gone – the pitches were being relaid. A few days later the new turf was down, as witnessed in the background as Rickie Lambert was filmed holding a Liverpool scarf at Melwood following his signing for the club.
Underneath those pitches is the undersoil heating system that ensures training can go ahead whatever the weather. In all, Alan tells us, there are 23 miles of pipes under those pitches.
It’s all a far cry from how it was when Bill Shankly arrived at the club in 1959. He was disgusted with the state of the place, saying it was “like a toilet”, and set about getting it sorted. He gathered a small army with wheelbarrows, joining in the efforts to get rid of pebbles and other rubbish from the fields.
When Shanks was in charge the first-team players used to change and get showered at Anfield, travelling in by coach and coming in through the large black gates at the opposite end of the field to where the current building is today. There was a pavilion in use at the time for the reserve and ‘A’ teams to change in.
At one stage, with Liverpool doing so well in the league and Shanks making the fans feel like they were a genuine part of the club, a genuine part of the success, as many as 3000 fans would turn up at Melwood to see the players training. Eventually the situation became impractical and Melwood was closed to fans, training becoming private. Or at least as private as the concrete fences allowed.
Next we were walked past the pool – tiled with a Liverpool badge of course – which is used for injury rehabilitation. Then it was into the physio’s room where there was a row of beds, or tables, that will look familiar to fans. This is where those shots of players undergoing medicals are taken, these are the beds where they pose with ECG electrodes stuck to their chests and blood pressure cuffs wrapped around their arms as Dr Zaf looks on.
Alan tells us that Jamie Carragher used to like a massage in here, he used to like to feel “nice and supple” before heading out for training.
In the room alongside this is an array of computer screens where the physios will gather in a morning, arriving around 8am, analysing and preparing data for the manager on who is available for training, what kind of training they are fit enough to do and whether they might need special treatment ahead of the next game and so on.
Melwood was practically empty but Alan tells us that the club have one physio on standby all summer, just in case a player needs treatment or perhaps if one is sent home early from international duty with an injury. Sometimes the club’s physios even go on holiday with players to ensure they are sticking to their rehabilitation programmes – one went with Jose Enrique to Portugal recently.
One of Liverpool’s physios, Sylvan Richardson, used to play bass with Simply Red.
Training isn’t just about practicing drills and rehearsing set-pieces and to help on work with fitness and conditioning Melwood of course has a gymnasium. The gym looks much the same as any gym at first glance, but of course its equipment will be top of the range and much of it is attached to technology of one form or other. This is a social hub for the players too, one of a couple of places that acts in this way in the complex.
Alan tells us that Sterling and Sturridge are the quickest and that Sakho and Skrtel are amongst the strongest. The actual strongest – pound for pound – is Raheem Sterling, a stat that won’t come as a surprise to those who see the way he holds his own physically on the pitch with opponents far bigger than he is.
Stairs in the corner of the gym lead us to the canteen, another social hub for the players. A pool table – with a red cloth of course – is the scene of regular tournaments involving players and staff. Our tour guide tells us a certain Brendan Rodgers is a bit of a pool shark. A recent addition to the room is Colin Pascoe’s table tennis table.
The complex was designed so that players would go through the canteen after they’d had their training session, their time with the physios and the time in the gym. It was Gerard Houllier and Phil Thompson who came up with the idea of an ordered pathway for the players to follow from arrival to departure each day.
Food in here is, as you might expect, geared to meet the needs of the players. Everyone who uses the canteen, whatever level they are at, has to pay for their food – but it’s taken out of their wages so they don’t have to carry cash. Fabio Borini has his own coffee machine there, one he brought with him from Italy, one that the canteen staff have had trouble finding the right pods for.
On one wall of the canteen is an addition Brendan Rodgers came up with. He wanted a wall that would contain quotes and photos of current players to complement the various quotes and photos of legends that grace walls all around the complex. It probably hadn’t been updated for a while, one of the quotes was from Carra, but last season was obviously quite a busy one.
There is also a visitors’ area in the canteen, where the players might arrange to meet with friends and family, but as last season drew to a close the place was on lockdown, Brendan Rodgers didn’t want players distracted knowing that their families were waiting upstairs when they still had work to do downstairs.
The tour comes to an end in the area outside the manager’s office. We don’t get to go into his office but we are told he often leaves the door open. As well as making it easier for players and colleagues to communicate with him day-to-day, it enables him to hear if any players have turned up late for training. The area outside his office is right above that area where the boots are kept. The stairwell leading down to that area has a mural on it featuring Reds legends and the club crest and this is often used as the backdrop for photos of new signings.
The quotes on the walls in this area outside the boss’s office, the last part of the building the players see before leaving for the day, are all about supporters. One of them is the famous quote from Rafa about Chelsea’s plastic flags:
“We don’t need to give away flags for our fans to wave – our supporters are always there with their hearts, and that is all we need. It’s the passion of the fans that helps to win matches – not flags.”
From that day Shanks arrived and started to do the place up until the present day this little patch of West Derby has played a huge part in Liverpool’s history and if you can find the time to get on one of these tours it’s well worth doing so. This is only the second time the club have run these tours and of course they only run for a limited time, during the close-season, and there’s no guarantee they’ll be on in future summers.
The Melwood Tour coasts £30 for adults and £15 for children and includes a look around Anfield, entry to the museum and transport between Anfield and Melwood on an executive coach. For further information see www.liverpoolfc.com/melwood. The last tour this summer is on June 22nd.
Pics: Liverpool FC / Anfield Road