Pizza, drinking and nudity - how Everton FC's pre-season tours used to be!
EVERTON have just returned from a hugely successful tour Down Under. Successful in terms of PR, organization, players' fitness - and even results.
Which is in stark contrast to one of the first tours I had the good fortune to enjoy as the Echo's Everton correspondent.
Evertonians may recall the 1994-95 campaign for the abject start Mike Walker's side made to the season, the worst opening sequence of results in the club's history.
Those hardy souls who made the pre-season journeys to Sweden, Germany and Italy will perhaps understand why.
And hope that this season's successful tour reflects in a flying start to the season.
I'd only enjoyed one pre-season tour prior to 1994, an engaging 13 day tour of Switzerland and Germany in the company of contrasting characters like Howard Kendall, Maurice Johnston, Mark Ward and Neville Southall.
If that was eye-opening, it was nothing compared to the following summer's preparations under a new management team of Mike Walker and Dave Williams.
Tony Cottee's engaging 1995 autobiography Claret and Blues offered a little insight.
"Mike Walker was a firm believer in the continental approach to football, but I still couldn't understand why Everton arranged THREE pre-season tours abroad that summer," he wrote.
"We spent nine days in Germany, seven in Sweden and three in Italy - doing the wrong things, eating the wrong things and drinking the wrong things. It seems crazy to me."
All true. But for a wide-eyed young hack great fun.
What goes on tour stays on tour . . . but I'm sure the individuals concerned won't mind one or two tales being related.
After all, it was 16 years ago. And TC's autobiography carries a couple of the tamer tales anyway.
Everton kicked off their preparations with a short flight to Copenhagen - a lively experience in itself with notoriously bad-flier Paul Rideout mercilessly taunted and ribbed by his team-mates at every hint of gentle turbulence - then enjoyed a picturesque catamaran crossing to Helsingborg.
Well, most of the party did.
A couple of notable absentees became apparent when the team checked into the hotel.
"Right lads," barked manager Mike Walker.
"On the training ground in 10 minutes for a loosener. Jimmy, Les, get the kit ready. Jimmy? Les? Where the hell are Jim . . . ."
The realisation dawned that poor old Jimmy and Les had been left to load the kit skips unaided at Helsingborg - and left behind.
Red-faced Les, a physio who was never afraid of injuring a player's pride - or his manager's - stormed into reception 45 minutes later to snarl: "There's a taxi outside. I'm not paying."
The manager paid for it, literally and metaphorically as the week wore on.
That was a foretaste of things to come.
Ian Snodin injured his ankle on the first day and begged to be sent home.
"No chance," said Walker. "You're staying here for team spirit."
"But I'll only get bored boss and be a nuisance," complained Snods.
"You're staying Snods, that's the end of it."
Walker surely regretted the decision when Snodin's ideas of injecting a little life into the tour became quickly apparent.
Late night drinking sessions, pizza deliveries, midnight dips in the hotel swimming pool . . . Snodin did indeed become a nuisance to stoic room-mate Brett Angell.
Manager Walker, however, was blissfully unaware.
Sweden was in the grip of a heatwave, which was bad news for footballers training, but great news for their new manager who loved nothing better than soaking up the sun in high cut orange swimming trunks.
And soak up the sun he did. During morning press conferences on his hotel room balcony (I had to sit with my back to the sun so he could catch the full rays on his face), at the poolside after training and in the evening on the hotel patio.
Goalkeeper Neville Southall, not a man to ever concern himself with the benefits of a tan, almost caught an unexpected bronzey in the most unusual of places.
Before a clash with a team of Swedish lower league minnows Southall, irritated that his strip wasn't ready in time for his lengthy warm-up, threatened to walk out as he was if a kit didn't materialise instantly.
It didn't - and Southall was always a man of his word.
Cue a hugely decorated Welsh international goalkeeper striding out in front of startled Swedish spectators wearing nothing more than boots and shin pads, a pleading kit-man chasing behind.
Southall himself was left behind when the players convinced the management team that a trip to a local nightclub was a good idea for team morale - Big Nev didn't do partying or alcohol.
The rest of the squad did, though, spectacularly.
The team bus returned to the hotel several hours later minus a back window and 70 per cent of the party who set out.
They all returned from various Swedish outposts . . . eventually. My stop-off point en route back to the hotel involved a house party, Ian Snodin and assistant-manager Dave Williams.
The image of him practicing imaginary drunken golf swings in a back garden as the sun rose on another glorious Swedish day will stay with me forever.
So will the memories of that tour, if not the campaign it prefaced.
If travelling fans today complain about pre-season tours being over-organised and perhaps just a tinsy-bit dull, don't knock them.
They could herald a flying start to a new football season!
Are Toffees going under cover to hide talent?
THE days when football managers used to disguise themselves and stand behind the goal with supporters to check out potential targets have long since gone (Howard Kendall watching Trevor Steven, for example.)
As have the days of cloak and dagger transfer deals hatched at motorway service stations.
Not if this week's evidence is anything to go by.
Here is the team line-up printed in The Scotsman for Tuesday night's reserve team friendly against the Bully Wee (Clyde FC to you heathens who don't know your Red Lichties from your Gable Endies): Davies, Thompson, Garbutt (Bidwell 46), Wallace (Savic 80), Nsiala, Mustafi, Schepers (Akpan 60), Barkley (Craig 69), Vaughan (Hope 73), Silva (Kinsella 54), Baxter .
And here's the team line-up from the official Everton website: Davies, Thompson, Garbutt (Bidwell 46), Wallace, Nsiala, Mustafi, Akpan, Barkley (Craig 69), Vaughan (Hope 73), Silva (Kinsella 54), Baxter.
Spot the difference? The Scotsman seems to have invented a couple of chaps called Schepers and Savic.
Except a Dutch trialist called Bob Schepers definitely played, as did a Montenegran youngster called Stefan Savic.
Are Everton trying to surreptitiously run the rule over a couple of promising youngsters without alerting Harry Redknapp - always a man happy to jump in on an Everton transfer?
Gosling's words fail to carry any proper weight
DAN GOSLING signed for Newcastle this week and enthused: "It's a brilliant move for me. Now that the deal is done I just can't wait to get started. I've played at St James' Park before and know all about the amazing atmosphere.
"Playing there in a black and white shirt is something I've thought about already and it will be a great day when I finally get to walk out in front of 50,000 people."
I can't help thinking young Dan might have been better off just mumbling "I've supported Newcastle all my life. Mirandinha's my idol and I can't wait to get started."