INITIATIONS are funny old things.
Plenty of institutions have their own rituals of initiation – a Christian baptism, the swearing in of the President of the United States, downing a dirty pint and running naked through campus – all
of which share varying levels of pomp, circumstance and excess.
And football is no different, as we have discovered on Swindon Town’s pre-season tour of Italy, as the rites of passage for a modern-day footballer have been played out in front of us at their team
hotel on the banks of Lake Garda.
It’s hard to know whether each individual player’s song choice gives an insight into their character, but you’d like to think it offers some kind of indication.
On that basis, what can we make of Jay McEveley opting for a spot of Dean Martin, Troy Archibald-Henville belting out ‘Amarillo’ and James Collins interrupting lunch to unleash a few verses of
Uncle Kracker’s ‘Follow Me’?
Make of it what you like but one thing is for sure - the squad love and loathe the entire ceremony - and ceremony is exactly the right word for it.
I’ve made a handful of speeches in my time in front of small to medium-sized crowds and it’s tough keeping your composure looking down onto a sea of eyeballs.
And when it comes to singing, well there’s as much chance of me signing up to open mic night as there is Paolo Di Canio taking to the stage with Toploa… oh.
Anyway, you get my point. It’s a daunting prospect. And not one many people would chase willingly.
As I write, Gary Roberts, Tommy Miller, Andy Williams and Alan Navarro are yet to have had their X Factor moment, and I know for a fact that at least Roberts and Miller are dreading their turn in
But what was evident after Collins had completed his brief set, standing on a chair in the Hotel Veronello restaurant yesterday lunchtime, was how these occasions really bond a team together.
The striker had his new teammates clapping along to his performance, smiling and joking together about his vocal abilities (which didn’t sound too bad from where I was stood in reception) and
generally having a laugh.
It’s that kind of unified ethic that must win games when all other margins are as tight as they can possibly be.
Away from the meal-time sing-a-long, the players were put through their paces in a fascinating 11-a-side drill yesterday morning, which focused on formation, shape and movement.
Playing against a static defence, each team would pass the ball across the defence and midfield before the wide men provided the ammunition for the strikers to fire at goal.
At the end of each passage of play Paolo Di Canio would bark instructions and the attacking side would have to drop into a defensive position to cover an invisible full-back in possession.
It was meticulous, brilliantly absorbing to watch and repeated again and again until the Town boss was fully satisfied.
Whatever happens next season it will be impossible to suggest the Swindon squad was either underprepared or untogether.