What Do Footballers Get Up To On Matchday?

IT’S MATCHDAY! The butterflies fill the stomach, the excitement starts to bubble but at the same time, anxious energy floods the body. Not a negative energy but a feeling of anticipation and eagerness for kick-off.

Arrival at the stadium

Teams arrive roughly 90 minutes before kick-off. As we approach the stadium the floodlights always stand out.

Night games under the lights can’t be beaten and there is something special about seeing those bright floodlights on the approach to the ground.

Seeing the stadium in all of its glory fills the body with those anxious butterflies mixed with an overriding feeling of excitement at what is fast approaching.

There is something special about midweek games under the lights. Image by Tom Mulholland

Preparation for the game is now complete and the eagerly-awaited moment is almost here.

At this point, I always turn off notifications on my phone to shut out all outside distractions which ensures my focus is on the game.

We get into the changing rooms and the kit is already hanging up. We then head straight back out onto the pitch to take in the surroundings and inspect the pitch.

This is more likely to happen when we’re the away team as we are not used to the pitch and surroundings but home players also inspect the pitch for their pre-match rituals and preparation.

I check the state of the pitch to see what type of studs I will wear. Sometimes I have music playing through my headphones that I find uplifting and motivating.

I think of this time as my ‘calm before the storm’ moment, because the next time I step back onto the pitch, my body will be filling with adrenaline and energy.

I always use this as a chance to get into my zone mentally

Although the game is on my mind from the moment I wake up, I try not to allow overthinking to consume me before I arrive as it’s only ever hampered my performances. Something I learned early on in my career.

So I tend to spend my matchday mornings:

  • Watching TV
  • Relaxing
  • Going for a light walk
  • Having an afternoon nap (if it is an evening kick-off)

This prevents me from thinking about the game in too much detail because I find it can be mentally draining and it impedes my preparations for the game, which then harms my performance.

Arriving at our play-off semi-final game away to Salford City in 2019. Image by Tom Mulholland

The build-up to the game

When we get back into the changing room, we will sit in our designated seat which is wherever the kitman has hung our kits. At this point, the manager will deliver their team talk and this is the moment some managers reveal their starting 11.

However, some prefer to announce the team in training the day before.

Once the manager has finished, it’s time to get into our kit.

The changing room DJ will get the music playing through the portable speaker and crank up the volume.

The time between the team talk and the warmup is our individual time to get ready, mentally and physically.

Some will:

  • Begin their warmup early with some activation and stretching
  • Choose to read the matchday programme to chill out
  • See the physio for a light massage and any medical strappings required

Everyone has a pre-match routine that works best for them.

Kit is hung in our places, ready to get changed into. Image by Tom Mulholland

Last bits of preparation before kick off

Warmups begin about 45 minutes before kick-off and will last about half an hour. They consist of drills and exercises that get our bodies and minds ready, whilst preserving energy levels for the game that is fast approaching.

A typical pre-match warmup may look like this:

  • A jog with dynamic movements
  • Stretching
  • Passing drill
  • A possession game
  • Position-specific exercises like shooting for the forwards and heading for the defenders
  • Fast feet drills and short sprints
The atmosphere in the ground starts to build as we go through our warmups. Image by Tom Mulholland

Warmup complete, it is back to the changing rooms to get into our match shirts and complete any last-minute prep before we start the game.

This is the last chance to make sure everything is right for when we step out onto the pitch:

  • Roles at set-pieces
  • Shinpads on
  • Any final information from staff
  • Final intake of energy from something like, a banana, a couple of sweets or an energy gel/drink

Although all of these can be done whilst the game is being played, it is best to sort them beforehand.

For example, we may not be aware of who we are marking at the first corner but we can’t get that message to the coaching staff on the sidelines in time. Gambling, we take a chance and pick up whoever isn’t being marked.

We might get away with it that time but the whole situation could have been avoided if we had known our responsibilities before leaving the changing room.

Messages and reminders from the coaching staff are given, individually and collectively. Well wishes and uplifting encouragement are shared amongst the group whilst the music blares out to send the adrenaline levels through the roof.

I use this time to calm myself and take a moment to come away from all of the hype in the changing room. I sit and visualise what I want to do in the game, whilst taking on my final sips of fluid for hydration.

We’re all different and some players need that noise and energy to get themselves in their zone, whereas I prefer to feel calm as we head out to the tunnel.

This is what works for ME and I only know this because throughout my career, I have tried different techniques before games to get the best out of myself. You have to find what works for YOU and that can only come from experiencing different techniques until you find what works.

Then the changing room bell rings.

The moment that we have been building up to all week has arrived.

A final trip to the toilet, one last check of the set-pieces and I’m ready to ROCK AND ROLL!

Kick off: Crunch time

The adrenaline in our bodies intensifies as we enter the pitch from the tunnel before kick-off. Image by Richard Blaxall

One of the best feelings on a matchday is when I am stood in the tunnel and I can hear the crowd noise. The atmosphere has changed since the warmup, with kick-off now moments away.

As we walk out, the excitement within the ground is bubbling over and we are greeted with cheers of support.

Adrenaline surges through the body.

It can be overwhelming and hard to concentrate on the job at hand if we allow our focus to drift to the noise around us.

As both teams are awaiting the coin toss between the captains, I go back into that calm zone and say a prayer for guidance and to give thanks for the opportunity I have been given.

As soon as that first whistle blows and the game commences, everything is drowned out by the focus on the game.

It is crazy, sometimes there are thousands of fans cheering and shouting, but for 90 minutes it is tunnel vision and just making sure I perform to the best of my ability and ENJOY the game.

Stoppages in the game briefly make me aware of the atmosphere, but for the most part, my focus is on what is happening on the pitch.

At halftime, managers voice their opinions and give out instructions for the second half. It can get heated or can be chilled, normally depending on how the game is unfolding.

We replenish our energy levels with energy drinks, water and some sugary snacks:

  • Bananas
  • Wine gums or jelly babies
  • Jaffa cakes
  • Energy drinks
  • Electrolyte tablets
Some sugary snacks and fluids to provide us with energy throughout the game. Image by David Loveday

The second half of games are always mentally and physically draining as the body suffers from the intense demands it is placed under. This is when mistakes are more likely and when the preparation for the game can be the difference between finishing a game or having to be substituted.

A well-fuelled and looked after body is more likely to last the full game, compared to a body that wasn’t hydrated sufficiently or had not got enough energy supplies from food and sleep in the buildup to the game.

A few signs of bad preparation and a players condition deteriorating include:

  • Cramp
  • Continuous mistakes
  • Slow reactions to things
  • Bad decision making

All of these can result in being substituted to protect the team’s chances and more importantly to avoid injuries.

It is important to ensure our bodies are well prepared for the intensity of a match, failure to do so will only hamper our contribution to the game.

After the full-time whistle

At the full-time whistle, we can experience a mix of emotions depending on the result and our own personal performance.

Emotions I normally tend to feel at the end of a game are:

  • Joy
  • Pride
  • Anger
  • Relief
  • Frustration
Losing a game of football never gets easier. Image by Unknown

We get back to the changing rooms exhausted, both mentally and physically. Team talks can drag on if there is an inquest into a bad performance but tend to be shorter when the game has been won.

The substitutes then go back out and do some running to maintain their fitness whilst the rest shower and get changed. Some have ice baths to aid recovery whilst some of us like to check the other results on our phones and catch up with the outside world.

This is when selected players are requested to carry out any post-match interviews for the club and any other media outlets that are covering the game.

Sometimes players are also required to complete a urine sample for ‘Doping Control’, who are testing for any performance-enhancing drugs. As you are leaving the pitch, you are informed and from that moment until you provide the urine sample, you can’t leave the presence of the officer assigned to you.

However, this is more common in the higher leagues of the football pyramid.

I remember when I made my debut for Crystal Palace away to Sheffield Wednesday, we had to LEAVE a couple of players at the ground to get the train home because they were taking so long to pass urine for ‘Doping Control’.

After 90 minutes of football, dehydration makes it very difficult to provide urine for the authorities!!

Once showered and ready, it’s back to the cars or the team coach and time to head home.

Some clubs provide food for both teams to eat after games, whilst after an away game, there is always food provided by the club for on the coach. This can vary from takeaway pizzas to pasta dishes cooked by the club chef and is normally down to the preference of the team and staff.

Diet is important, but after a gruelling game, it is more important to get some food and fluid into the body as quickly as possible, to begin the recovery process hence the Dominos pizza!

Not many things in football can beat the joy of leaving the pitch with 3 points in the bag. Image by Steve Terrell

The aftermath of 90 minutes

We arrive home exhausted and with a sore and aching body. The demands of the game have hit our bodies like a train and the body has stiffened up.

Some struggle to sleep after games due to the adrenaline still in the body (win or lose), on top of all of the energy gels and drinks that have been consumed to get us through the game!

Saturday and Tuesday nights are always better with a win under our belts, making the week of preparation in training and the sacrifices throughout the week worth it. When we arrive home is when we can FINALLY relax and unwind after a very long and taxing day, hopefully with 3 points in the bag!

Instagram: @flyontheball_

Twitter: alexwynter_

2 thoughts on “What Do Footballers Get Up To On Matchday?

  1. That’s a great read Alex. Really good insight in to what it’s like on a match day for a professional footballer. Loved it. 👍🏻
    Darren – Liverpool FC & Eastleigh FC

    Liked by 1 person

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