The Late Fitness Test podcast | Episode Six

Tuesday, September 10 2019


On this weeks’ Late Fitness Test podcast - in association with Shoot the Defence - myself, Johnny Wilson (@johnny_wilson5) and Stel Stylianou (@UncleStel) were joined by former Head of Sports Science at Bury FC – Matt Wood – to discuss the tragic demise of this small northern club.

“100 per cent, I thought right up until the end that we were going to be saved by someone.”

Heart-wrenching stuff from Matt who tells us what it was like during those final weeks and days. He talks us through his time as a volunteer and how he finished as an unpaid head of department. A club left in turmoil, but for Matt, he will always be grateful for the opportunity handed to him by Bury.


Aymeric Laporte

  • Johnny outlines the task-based rehabilitation programme the Frenchman will undertake as he targets a return-to-play in early 2020.

“This guy is going to have to learn to walk again, and the knee is going to have to learn to function with part of its shock absorber gone.”


The International Break

  • Is the social media circus justified given the high number of players who will withdraw from their respective national teams, but return when the domestic fixtures resume?
  • The Fergie fingerprint. Do big clubs influence high-profile player omissions? We look at Aaron Wan-Bissaka/Paul Pogba and the FIFA guidelines around releasing players for games.


Ben Foster

Dietary habits and the ‘Four Pillars of Performance’….

  • Mindset – positive outlook, practice with intensity
  • Type of Exercise – training with precision, periodisation
  • Sleep – more, and better!
  • And diet…… *spoiler* Johnny loses us for a bit when he touches upon metabolic flexibility.


And, finally, Stel is full of praise for Watford head coach Javi Gracia, just two days before his sacking!


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The Modern Day Footballer

Thursday, September 5 2019


Strength Training

In the powder keg arena of Sport Science and it’s mission to improve the athletic prowess of footballers and reduce their risk of injury, this highly political performance pendulum seems to have swung towards an emphasis on training the muscles of the lower limb in an isolated approach to run faster, jump higher and resist injury.

Source social media sport science theorists. That is to say that there is a lot of importance put on gym-based exercises such as nordics, squatting, deadlifting, lunging, calf raises etc. Now, while I am not for one moment arguing against this type of conditioning, as it is also a common theme in my own practice, I do believe that more of a nuance could be placed on a systems approach to improving sport-specific strength. From reading the contrasting and often hotly debated theories on social media, my concern is that we are becoming too granular in the gym with soccer players and that the sports science community are more interested in isolated tissue mechanics; is the muscle eccentrically contracting et cetera, et cetera, rather than what is demanded by the sport.

Let’s get straight into it.


What is a footballer?

In effect, he/she is an endurance athlete and therefore needs to be able to cover roughly 10-to-12km of high-speed running and intermittent sprinting over a 90(ish) minute period.

Therefore, maybe more of an emphasis needs to be placed on strengthening and conditioning the cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory systems in the gym or on the pitch rather than developing lower limb strength in isolation to run faster for longer, jump higher and be more resistant to injury - just a thought (I know a provoking thought).

However, let me be clear, I am not saying that we should not strengthen leg muscles, just bias a bit more towards strengthening them at speed or at a threshold heart rate (THR) (maximum number of beats your heart can beat to supply oxygenated blood to the working muscles usually longer than 10 minutes and less than an hour). And again I am not saying that we need to increase the volume of training or time on the training ground, just possibly tweak the type, intensity and speed of exercise that we choose.

For example, we might select short distance, high-intensity sprints with incomplete recovery between sprints at the end of a training session on a Tuesday rather than three sets of Nordics to help inoculate against hamstring injuries. Here, we are incorporating a high heart rate at or above their THR, improving oxygen turnover efficiency, practising the skill of running at speed (also needs to be trained), replicating the demands of the game and improving the hamstrings ability to tolerate repeated eccentric (lengthening of the muscles) explosive efforts: Better still get the player to execute a motor skill at the end of each sprint (shooting crossing dribbling et cetera, and you have “Soccer Specific Strength Training” which is physiologically demanding, fun and engaging - a systems rather than isolated muscle approach. This is just a redirection on the mindset of strength training for soccer players rather than being opposed to it.

I am in fact a huge advocate of strength training but more from the perspective as a multi-joint, multiplanar activity which requires control, movement of many body parts, rotation and the ability (strength) to move/stop/change direction/vary pace in response to an external stimulus (cone/pole/whistle/opponent). And in my own humble opinion, the ability to lift heavy in the gym doesn’t always translate to fewer injuries on the playing field. I have worked with plenty of players in the past who were incredibly strong in the gym but kept getting injured on the training pitch and also vice versa. The controversy of that statement hasn’t gone amiss on me either, and I’m sure I’ll receive some fire on that one, shields up, fire away.

To summarise, including a systems approach planned around the demands of the game in conjunction with a more traditional granular tissue (muscle) mechanics system (which by the way we still don’t know very much about) may improve our ability to positively affect players’ in-season aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels while also reducing their injury risk and engaging them with fun and demanding sessions with the ball.

Johnny Wilson (🐦@johnny_wilson5)


Why players will [always] choose to play...

Thursday, September 5 2019


Mo’ matches, mo’ money, no problem.


In the last couple of posts I’ve had a pop at FIFPro’s At The Limit report.


It outlines their proposal for reducing the workload of elite footballers. Suggesting mandatory pre and mid-season breaks, caps on the number of matches per season and enforced rest periods between games.




It’s at best naive. At worst, nonsense. Not because it doesn’t make valid points. It does. But it completely overlooks two critical factors: Money. And football’s relentless pursuit of it.


And I’m not just talking about the TV companies, governing bodies and boardroom fat cats. All of whom would swallow their collective tongues at the prospect of less product to flog to the masses.


(Sorry, that last line should end: ‘…at the prospect of less of the beautiful game to share with the worldwide football family.’ Pesky predictive text.)


Players are also guilty.


Because fewer matches means less appearance money. Less exposure to bigger clubs, better contracts and more lucrative image rights.


  1. every match you miss means one of the perhaps half dozen squad members battling for the same shirt is out there strutting his stuff. And no-one wants that.


So if it means overplaying, you’ll do it. If it means playing at 75% fit, you’ll do it. If it means having a pre-match injection to block out the 25% that’s broken, torn or strained, you’ll do it.


And if it means lying to your manager… Pfft! What do you think…?!


Spoiler alert: there is no such thing as a magic sponge


I regularly played with cortisone injections. Not so I wouldn’t miss a Champions League final… or to get me through a World Cup… no, no, no.


I did it to collect fifty quid appearance money on a wet, windy Friday night at Rochdale. It doesn’t always have to be a Tuesday night at Stoke, y’know!


Okay, we are talking late 80s, early 90s in Division Three and Four – that’s League One and Two for any millennials or iGens* reading this – so the numbers might’ve changed, but I guarantee the attitudes haven’t.


*Note: Of course, no actual millennials or iGens will be reading this. They’ll be race-trolling a footballer on Twitterstagram, or doing a knife crime.


The difference between a teammate and a mate


I didn’t even know what cortisone was. But I did know I wanted my £50 appearance bonus. I also knew I didn’t want some other - quicker, fitter, better – player taking my place. And quite possibly keeping it.


So I had to play. And that meant a pre-match jab. Which sounds harmless. Quaint even. Certainly no indicator of the bone-grinding agony to come in your late 40s every time you drive, climb stairs or spend more than four minutes on an aeroplane.


But professional football is a cut-throat business. Most people will understand that. What might surprise some is the extent and proximity of the throat-cutting. And how far beyond the 90+3 minutes on the pitch it goes.


That, brothers and sisters, is playtime. All you have to worry about during the match is the other team.


There is not a player playing who hasn’t been ‘done’ by a team-mate. Typically one who plays in your position. Often on a Friday. Occasionally on the morning of a game.


The late (tackle) fitness test


In this next bit, the names have been left out to protect the guilty, but the events are actual.


The year is the late 1980s. The setting is the English lower divisions. It’s the morning of a non-event match between two non-descript teams. A senior player is giving a fitness test to a first-year professional who’s had a spell out injured.


The younger player – who we’ll call… erm… Natt Mesbitt - has missed the last six weeks with a broken foot (now called a metatarsal injury). The senior player – who we’ll call, er… Blive Caker – had been out of the first-team picture for a while and reached that pitiful stage where he is helping out the coaching staff on match days.


Anyway, the foot in question feels fine. No discomfort from running, jumping, or ball-striking — all good.


Young Natt is thinking that £50 appearance money has got his name all over it. He’ll be out on the town tonight!


“How’s it feel?”


“Great. 100%.”


“Right, let’s do a couple of block tackles.”


“No problem.”


Couple of gentle 50/50s. Side-foot, stationary ball. Nice and steady. Feels fine.


Now a bit firmer. Up the resistance. Rolling ball. But nothing silly – after all, we’re in ankle socks. No strapping or shin pads or anything. Not a twinge. All good.


Young Natt’s thinking he might even wear the club blazer out tonight. See if he can get a bit of VIP action in Ritzy's nightclub…


“Okay, one more and we’re done…”




High. Late. Studs up. Six weeks out.


“…well, you’re gonna get them in the game son…” Said the smirking senior player as he walked towards the dressing rooms.


Guess who started the match. And pocketed my £50 appearance money. And guess who stayed in that night.



Matt Nesbitt swapped his short, unspectacular but joyous football career for a much longer, successful one as a football tipster.


Who the hell is Matt Nesbitt?

Punter. Tipster. Collector. Of winnings.

Meet the good boy behind Badman Betting...

World Cup 2010 Prediction Panel with Ruud Gullit and Sky’s Charlotte Jackson

World Cup 2010 Prediction Panel with Ruud Gullit and Sky’s Charlotte Jackson

The planned football career that would allow Matt to spend every afternoon in the bookies was cut mercifully short. So he was able to spend his mornings there too.

But rather than spunk his (sweet) FA pension on a day-tripper to Palookaville, Matt played smart. He watched, he listened. Learned his trade and earned a reputation.

But the bookies don’t like a winner...

First they closed his accounts. Then they tried legal action to shut down his tipping services. Now they employ him.

Matt has been providing winning football advice since 1998. And whether it has been via post, premium rate phone line, email, TV or Twitter – he has always made punters money.

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