Bristol City’s pre-season fitness plans have been examined and laid bare with the impact of the covid-19 pandemic affecting last year’s preparations.
Head of Fitness and Conditioning Patrick Orme spoke to the Football Fitness Federation podcast recently giving his views on the build-up to the last three years and an insight into the decision-making at the High Performance Centre. The podcast is aimed at fitness professionals working in the football industry.
The sports science graduate explained that after time at Blackburn Rovers, Macclesfield Town, Everton and Liverpool – who he supports – gaining insight into elite sports environments, he joined Bristol City U23s..
Two years ago he was promoted internally from the Development Squad to the senior set-up following a reshuffle at Bristol City as Rhys Carr and David Coles left Ashton Gate.
Orme is the fitess coach you can hear before and after matches barking out the instructions as the Robins get ready for the match ahead.
He recently turned 30 and was presented with a card in training at the HPC by manager Nigel Pearson in a group event and showing the importance of Orme’s work.
“I know when we spoke the other day I mentioned this idea that sometimes you see people talk about when you work in football it’s the same experience year after year after year,” he said reflecting on his time with the Robins.
“But definitely the last three years haven’t been that. My first year working with the first team was the year that got disrupted by covid so straightaway that was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
“It was a really crazy time and a bit of a worrying time as well because there was a period of time where we didn’t know what was going to happen and if jobs were going to be safe and things like that. It was very difficult.
“In terms of pre-season that year (2019/20) it was one of the best pre-seasons that we could have had. We were quite lucky and went over to the IMG academy in Florida and we spent two weeks over there. The facilities there are literally unbelievable and real top class.
“The interesting thing about that was that it probably affected the week we came back because one thing we’re not fortunate enough to do as the Premier League clubs do was that we couldn’t afford our own flight back, with the cost associated with that. Travelling back on a normal plane, the few days after we got back were a little bit disrupted by jet lag and trying to give the lads a little bit of time away at home with their families that they’d not seen for a while.
“That disrupted that last week a bit but all in all I think that was a really good pre-season with an amazing trip in the middle to get some good work into the lads,” he said.
Bristol City were beaten 0-5 by Crystal Palace a week after their return from Bradenton in the US that year, and went on to lose their first game of the Championship season 1-3 to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United a week after that, although City did beat Forest Green Rovers 3-4 at the New Lawn upon the club’s return to UK.
Whether the first fixture was affected is unknown but Lee Johnson’s side then lost just one of the next 16 league fixtures and soared into promotion contention from then.
The campaign was affected when the league was suspended from the beginning of March to June 20 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The season after [2020/21] was that season where we basically we had come back and played the remaining six games, two weeks off and then we were back into pre-season,” says Orme.
“There were so many limitations around what you could do in terms of the building you could use, the groups that you could train in, who could be in contact with who, what type of drills you could do. It was very, very difficult.
“I think the interesting thing was and the thing I learned most was that we made this assumption that because we had such a short period of time off in between the last game and starting pre-season back, we sort of felt ‘the lads aren’t going to lose fitness that much at that time and we didn’t need to worry about the type of work we were doing in pre-season at that time.
“I think we probably got that wrong in hindsight looking back. I think we could have done more and we could have pushed on a little bit more.
“We probably did underestimate how much conditioning we would lose in those couple of weeks that we had off. We definitely learned a lot from that.
Bristol City suffered numerous injuries across the last campaign and the squad’s level of fitness was criticised by manager Nigel Pearson, but things appear to be on the up.
A decent start to the new Championship campaign appears to be allied to much better fitness and player availability.
“And that [last year’s lessons] impacted on this pre-season that we just finished now,” explained Orme. “Through every pre-season has been with a different manager as well which has brought its own challenges as well, trying to adapt into the way that they want to train and the way that they see things.
“It can be stuff as simple as some managers want fitness work to be purely running without the ball and it doesn’t have to be specific but is just conditioning players whereas you’ve got others who want to include the ball in everything. That can be a bit of a challenge at times.
“This pre-season has been brilliant. Again, there’s been little limitations to it with the last little bits of covid. With ‘freedom Day’ as it was called being stuck right in the middle of pre-season it felt like there had to be some restrictions before that day so it could be different afterwards, so it was a bit weird.
“We didn’t leave the country, we stayed in the UK and went to Loughborough for a week, which doesn’t sound as glamourous as going to IMG but ultimately was probably just as good: the facilities are at that same sort of level.
“It was an hour and a half or two hours on the bus rather than being a 10-11 hour flight. We had a brilliant time there.
“The other thing we changed was that we had a little bit of a longer period before we started playing games, so that just gave us a little bit more control over what we could do in training. We didn’t have to worry too much about the exposure to matches early on, which I think worked really well.
“And the last thing I found interesting – and again it’s probably a bit of a hangover from the covid period – is that a lot of teams seem to have been playing games at their training ground rather than at their stadium, which we found particularly moving into the new building recently, it was a massive advantage for us.
“When lads weren’t playing full games they were coming off the pitch and going straight into the gym and getting a bit of a strength stimulus into them as well, but in a proper environment instead of trying to do it at the side of a pitch where you haven’t really got the equipment that you need,” he explained, also admitting that the weather can also play a part in pre-season trips too.