Yeovil Let Fans Watch Training in Survival Fight

Friday, 26 April, 2019 - 06:00
London - Ben Fisher

It is 10am and Yeovil Town training is about to start. The gates to the Alvington Sports Development Centre are open and standing on the brow of the hill casting their eye over the squad being put through their paces is not the caretaker manager, Neale Marmon, nor any of his staff, but a handful of locals: avid season-ticket holders and inquisitive passers-by.

Put the pliers down; Marcelo Bielsa or his backroom team need not go incognito here, for everybody is welcome to watch Yeovil’s preparations to try to beat the League Two drop. Marmon opted to make every session available to supporters after being appointed in March, following Darren Way’s sacking.

Behind barriers in a designated viewing area fans can witness how Yeovil – two points from safety with four games to play – are planning to escape relegation. It is blowing a gale, but last week one couple brought deckchairs to watch a training game and bask in the sun.

Marmon’s inspiration for throwing open the doors stems from spending the majority of the past 50 years in northern Germany. He played for VfL Osnabrück and Hannover before a season’s sojourn at Colchester (during which he faced Yeovil in the inaugural game at Huish Park) and then moved to FC Homburg, where Miroslav Klose started his career.

When Marmon moved into coaching at SV Elversberg, he tried to sign the striker, now Germany’s all-time leading scorer. “I had him at the president’s house and we offered him a contract but he was already going to Kaiserslautern’s second team,” he says.

Making training accessible, the 57-year-old says, was a no-brainer. “In Germany we were used to always being watched by anyone who wanted to watch. In England most training grounds are away from the stadium, very enclosed and nobody has the chance to meet players in friendlier surroundings, outside the stress situation of a game.

“I know Bayern Munich do open training to all of the public, apart from one session a week where they put curtains round the pitch. There was a big kerfuffle with Bielsa and his staff going to training grounds or encroaching to watch his next opponents, but we do not do that much secretive stuff here. I have stripped it all back.

“The fans can see how players train; they can also maybe identify why a manager puts a certain XI out and the thought process behind it. They can have autographs, chats with the players, the staff. It’s just interaction, that’s all it is, and I think you get a better relationship all round. For me, it was just natural for people to come and watch training. It was nothing big, but as soon as I mentioned it here, everyone thought: ‘What’s going on?’”

At Homburg, Marmon was part of a memorable DFB-Pokal upset, defeating Jupp Heynckes’s Bayern Munich 4-2 in 1991 at the Olympiastadion. “I was breathing out of everything in the first half; I could not believe how they were pinging it around. They had [Roland] Grahammer, [Hans] Pflügler, [Thomas] Strunz, [Stefan] Effenberg, Brian Laudrup, Bruno Labbadia, Mazinho. But we started banging in some tackles and Effenberg was going mad. My German wasn’t as good as it is now and he was having a go at me. They called the English ‘Inselaffe’ – island ape. Bayern were the holders, so it was a big win.”

For Marmon, who joined Yeovil in January to assist Way as an “extra pair of hands on the shop floor”, in some ways a return to Somerset means going full circle given he earned a scholarship at nearby Millfield school. Born in Bournemouth, he spent eight years of his childhood in Malaysia, where his father was a teacher at the Terendak military camp near Malacca. There, the Sultan of Brunei gave his family a holiday home on the coast.

But until the turn of the year Marmon was living in Merzig, 10 minutes from the Luxembourg border and even closer to France. It is no wonder then that Marmon, who holds a German passport, instinctively slips into his adopted tongue as he recalls how those from East Germany would cross into West Germany in Trabants to collect their “welcome money” and the day the Berlin Wall came down.

“I reckon I can do a better team talk in German than I do in English – more forceful,” he says, laughing. “The boys joke because I say some German sayings in English. My English is getting better but if you speak a language like I do, you think and dream in that language. I speak German every day at home with my wife.”

The Guardian Sport

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