Pre-season is under way

Pre-season training has changed immeasurably since the days of the Boys of 86, according to former West Ham United defender Tony Gale.

West Ham's modern-day squad - including the welcome sight of a jogging Valon Behrami - returned to Chadwell Heath on Monday to work under the watchful eye of fitness coach Antonio Pintus.

Gale, who was a mainstay of the Hammers side that finished third in the First Division table 23 years ago, used to get himself fit for the new campaign by pounding the streets wearing a bin-liner.

Having taken it easy during his summer break, Gale admitted he would take drastic measures to loose any excess weight before returning to Chadwell Heath.

Nowadays, the preparation is more scientific, but the players' pre-season work is still geared towards the same goal - ensuring they are in the best possible shape come the big kick-off.

"Pre-season is all about hard work," said Gale, who made 368 first-team appearances for the club. "I don't think it's as much hard work now as it was when I was playing because the boys look after themselves a lot more during their break. However, they don't get as long a break as we did.

"I used to look forward to my breaks but I do remember, about two weeks before coming back, the bin liners used to go on and I'd be running around the streets trying to lose weight and get back for pre-season training."

Gale also pointed out that today's players are given their own specific fitness regimes to follow, rather than the 'all-for-one' mentality that predominated two decades ago.

"Nowadays, I think conditioning training is gauged for the individual rather than the group," said Gale. "As a group at West Ham, they'd have us all training together and all doing the same things, so you'd have little Mark Ward lifting the same weights as me and me doing the same sprint training as a little Mark Ward.

"It's more controlled now and the players really don't have any excuses because it's lovely to work in that environment."

While fitness drills have moved on since Gale's time, the condition of the pitches has also improved, with new techniques ensuring the playing surfaces are lush regardless of the time of year.

"Looking at the pitches, we used to have scorched, bone-hard surfaces and there used to be a lot of injuries, particularly knees, ankles and achilles injuries, in pre-season training. It was hard work."

Following a week of training at Chadwell Heath, the squad will take on Blue Square Premier outfit Grays Athletic at the New Rec on Sunday 12 July before heading to Austria for a fortnight.

There, the players will continue their training, while also playing friendlies against local side SC Raiffeissen Furstenfeld and German UEFA Cup finalists Werder Bremen. Further matches have been provisionally arranged against Turkish club Bursaspor and Slovenian side ND Mura 05.

On their return from Austria, the players will have a short break before flying to China. There, West Ham will take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Barclays Asia Trophy on 29 July, with a possible final against Hull City or Beijing Guoan to follow two days later.

Gale believes both trips will be of huge benefit to manager Gianfranco Zola and his players.

"The training camp in Austria will be a lovely environment to work in," said Gale. "It will get the lads away from Chadwell Heath, because they spend enough time there over the course of the season, to a specific training camp where they can work in some great facilities in great weather.

"After that they will be off to China. We've got Spurs over there which we're all looking forward to, then it's back here for the Bobby Moore Cup against Napoli [at the Boleyn Ground on 8 August]. I'm looking forward to a really good season from them."