There is an theory that only the fans remain static in the game, supporting their club through thick and thin, but elsewhere football appears to be in a constant state of change. In these times of financial difficulty even clubs can exist in a state of flux. As fans of Eastbourne Borough have discovered recently Managers, Coaches, Players can all, and do, come and go. However there is an apparent constant at the Priory Lane playing staff - Darren Baker.
Darren is on his 4th Management team at The Lane, starting under Pete Cherry, continuing with Steve Richardson, achieving great success under Garry Wilson before continuing to hold his place in the squad with Tommy Widdrington, the later possibly raising a few eyebrows as he made Darren his first 'retained' signing this year but the experienced boss listed 'Bakes' ability, fitness, and willingness to adapt within the squad as key strengths. As the pre season progresses Darren took a few moments after the AFC Wimbledon draw to discuss his experiences as the 2012/2013 build up continues.
After 20 years playing at the same club how do you feel this far into pre season ?
"I feel good. We have been working on how The Gaffer (Tommy Widdrington) wants us to play but there has also been a real emphasis on personal and squad fitness. Tommy appears to have a real desire for physically fit players. That has luckily never been too much of a problem for me. I have always used the gym and do my best to look after myself in and between seasons. Without this approach I would not have got to the 20 year mark, of that I'm sure. I have managed to find a 'football specific' fitness coach that was engaged at a pro club and this I think has been vital. He has helped me work on what is needed within the game as opposed to just general fitness or strength work. The effort on your own before getting back to pre season, especially as you get older, is important. Getting back with the squad early on sees a need for a base level of fitness. I have always worked on this, it's not new, so I can build on that as the sessions progress and get harder."
Have, in your opinion, pre seasons changed drastically over the years at the club ?
"Yes they have without doubt, but rather than just change because of different people, they have changed because football has changed. Of course the fitness needs and levels are different from the County League to the Conference, but in the last 20 years sports science and thinking within the game have changed. This area of the game at the pro level has become a technical science and it has trickled down the pyramid to our level. Over recent years measuring, weighing, testing, has become part of pre season and the season as a whole, this has continued at the end of last season and this pre season. In the past, especially in the early years at Priory Lane, there was lots of running. Along the seafront and back with a spell of running up and down the beach even thrown in. That was the fitness regime. Although the sessions have evolved in the past this pre season it appears to me that the work is in limited bursts, 15 minute sessions of intense work with short breaks between. A lot of this is also with the ball so You are working on fitness and technique."
How is the squad adapting to the sessions ?
"The fitness work is now very much a squad thing. Different positions have different demands on a player so even though we all work together the sessions are designed to improve the squad for their individual positions. AK (Alan Kimble) runs the fitness sessions. He's very much a joker in the changing room but like The Gaffer when the sessions start it's very serious and intense. But that is a good thing. There is a definite line. When the session is over then it's back to banter. Both of their histories generates respect, they have done it so you know the instructions come with a knowledge generated at the highest level."
What about your year Darren ?
"I'm not looking to play every game. I want to, but I know that I will need to do what The Gaffer needs from me and I'm more than happy with that. Also the game is different now. He (Widdrington) looks like he is happy to change the side depending on the opposition and what is needed to win that game. In the past possibly we haven't changed too from match to match, we maintained a starting XI if we had done well the previous week. I hope that I can fit in where ever I am needed, whenever I am needed. Whatever happens I'm looking forward to another season at Priory Lane."