Inside The Changing Room Of Professional Football

The changing rooms are not just the place where us footballers get changed into our kit. We spend large chunks of our day there. The ‘changing room’ is also the team. It is the heart of the training ground. So what makes a changing room and what would the outside world see if they were a fly on the ball? Sorry I mean wall!

The first time in any changing room can give the most confident of players nerves. Our first day at a club or our first day of pre-season as a first-year pro and we have to walk into that room full of our new teammates. No matter how cool we play it, there is always a little bit of apprehension.

We’ve gone from the comforts of a previous changing room, full of players we know and now we’re about to enter a new one, potentially without knowing anyone within it.

Entering a new changing room can be a nerve-wracking experience. Image by Tom Mulholland

Football family

Changing rooms are full of egos no matter the level, everyone wants to play and everyone wants to be the best! These egos aren’t necessarily a bad thing and not every player with an ego is cocky or arrogant, it is just in our DNA from being involved in competitive sport for most of our lives.

Regardless of egos, everyone within the changing room shares the same common goal of success, yet we are all so different in so many ways:

  • Different ages
  • Different nationalities
  • Different personalities
  • Different hobbies
  • Different beliefs

Players are always coming and going and that level of respect and appreciation we have for each other as teammates, remains wherever football takes us. On the other hand, the next player that comes into the changing room is going to become a part of the big football family, regardless of any prior conflict or rivalry on the pitch.

This doesn’t mean that everyone in the changing room always sees eye to eye but there is always mutual respect and a will to succeed as a team that has to be put before personal agendas and relationships.

More often than not, there will always be someone in that changing room that has been through something that another player is now struggling with- injuries, lack of form or even problems away from football. So we often find comfort within a changing room knowing that we are around those who we can relate to.

It is often said that ‘teammates become extended family.

We spend so many hours of our lives in each other’s company, on the pitch and off of it:

  • Training
  • Playing matches
  • Travelling the country
  • Rooming with each other in hotels
  • Eating meals together
  • Gym sessions
  • Social activities

Although there can be up to 20+ different players in the changing room, these are the people who are with us through the highs and lows of the journey we are all on together.

The changing room I was welcomed into at Eastleigh in 2018. I am fortunate in that I can say most of the changing rooms I have been in have been great, with this one being right up there. Image by Graham Scambler

The changing room can influence results

A united changing room can be the difference between success and failure.

Everything is easy when things are going well but the strength of a changing room is shown when things aren’t going so well on the pitch.

When results and performances aren’t coming and doubt starts to creep in.

I’ve been in changing rooms where things have started to get tough as a team performance-wise, but we had 2 or 3 players who took it upon themselves to get us into a better place. I’m not talking about on the pitch, but off of it.

So they organised things for us to do like:

  • Go-karting
  • Paintballing
  • Team meal
  • Nights out
  • Golf days

We call these team bonding sessions.

They may look like nothing more than a fun day out on the surface, but through these activities, we are able to build stronger bonds with each other and also release some of the tension that is present.

I have also been in changing rooms where things have got heated and after a bad performance or run of form, the players have taken it upon themselves to call a meeting to air their frustrations and voice their opinions, sometimes resulting in confrontations.

Although the confrontations can be uncomfortable and a shock, we must accept that it is never personal and is only for the good of the team.

The benefits of these bonding sessions and clear-the-air talks were then evident on the pitch.

For when we faced adversity or someone was having a difficult time, instead of allowing it to divide us as a team, we were able to drag each other through it and come out on the other side fighting together.

This is the sign of a united changing room!

Emotions run high in football and things consequently boil over at times. As long as it is done in the correct manner, it can be beneficial for everybody.

This can be hard to handle when we feel as if a teammate is personally attacking us in front of everyone, especially if we’re not a confrontational player, but again, this is done with the intention of making us a better team and better individuals.

Team bonding days are important to keep morale and team spirit high, whilst they are also a way to spend some downtime with teammates.

Banter in the changing room

Banter is rife in football, amongst fans and also in the changing rooms.

That can be difficult to manage when we are on the receiving end, especially as a young player.

As a younger player in the first-team environment I wouldn’t say any more than I needed to and kept myself to myself to avoid being on the receiving end of any banter.

I think the reason I kept myself to myself in the changing room was because I wasn’t the most outgoing and I hated attention. I wanted to go under the radar and not give anyone an opportunity to banter me. I can assure you though, that plan didn’t work!

It isn’t exclusive to just the youngsters though, everyone is a target and that includes club staff outside of the changing room.

It is part and parcel of the football world but it is not as ruthless as it was when I was a young pro. I remember:

  • Players cars being moved from their parking spot and driven out of the training ground by other players
  • Mannequins dressed in the outfit someone had worn into training that day and placed in the middle of the training pitch so everyone at the club could see at lunch
  • Players clothes or trainers going missing
  • Brand new trainers being worn out to training by teammates in the middle of winter
  • Getting put into the running showers whilst fully clothed
  • Hotel rooms literally turned upside down whilst you and your roommate were downstairs eating dinner

The list could go on and on with all of the banter that I have witnessed. All of this is done for a few laughs and yes, it is hilarious but it’s not so funny when the joke is on you and you can’t find your car, or you walked into training feeling a million dollars, only to have the whole changing room laughing at your outfit!

For the younger player, it can be quite daunting when you are the subject of the banter but I can assure you that it is all done in good spirit and is never done maliciously. Any banter that oversteps the mark is now quickly stopped in its tracks by the rest of the group, who understand where the line has been crossed.

Football has changed over the years and there is a lot of things that players wouldn’t be allowed to get away with now!

The banter amongst players creates a great camaraderie within a changing room and is vital to a strong, united team. It has a way of bringing everyone closer together which improves performances on the pitch.

Richard Brindley and myself enjoying a laugh before the team photoshoot at Colchester United. Image by Richard Blaxall

Every changing room has one of these

Although it’s full of different characters, you’ll always find the following in any changing room across the football world:

  • The Skipper- The captain! The most important role. Often the link between the coaching staff and the players. The go-to person and the voice of the changing room if we have any problems but would rather not speak with the club directly. They have to be reliable and trustworthy!
  • The Joker(s)- Full of life from the minute they arrive. We always have the loud and bubbly players who are constantly looking to get under someone’s skin or have the whole place in hysterics with their banter.
  • The Fines Man- The most ‘disliked person‘ in the changing room because they are in charge of collecting the money owed from fines accumulated through lack of discipline. We do like them really, they just take our money which is never nice! They never miss a piece of training kit left out on the training pitch or players sneaking in 2 minutes late. Fines can be as little as a fiver for forgetting to put our cup in the bin at lunch, to a percentage of our weekly wage for being late on a matchday!
  • The DJ- Not someone who is employed by the club to play music! It is a player who backs their taste in music and controls the music that plays on match days, in the gym and in the changing room. Usually played from their phone through a portable speaker. No matter what they play, there is always someone moaning about the choice of song.
  • The Manager’s Son- Not literally! Also known as the teacher’s pet. This player can do no wrong in the eyes of the staff and is always on the receiving end of banter about it.

From time to time, you will come across another type of character within a changing room…

  • The Bad Egg- Exactly what you don’t need if you’re trying to build a strong togetherness. They are players who feel mistreated and aren’t in the manager’s plans, who then drag morale down with their negativity.

This can link back to egos within the changing room. Not everyone can start games, so there are always going to be players unhappy with not starting games. That is to be expected and if someone isn’t annoyed at the lack of game time it would raise serious question marks as to their ambitions.

The situation becomes a problem though when players feel unfairly treated and start to become disinterested and no longer want what is best for the team.

Every player has their own agenda and aims but to succeed we must all be pulling in the same direction!

The best managers can deal with unhappy players and keep them motivated and appreciated, whereas some don’t handle them the right way and this can have a detrimental effect on the changing room, with the player becoming disruptive through their lack of effort and care.

These players don’t tend to last very long at a club though. They either get pulled up by fellow players, released from the club or sold to another club.

I have been in situations where I haven’t been playing and I didn’t want anything to do with that manager because my pride was dented from being left out of the team. Although I was angry and disappointed, I didn’t allow my frustrations to affect my attitude towards training and the success of those playing ahead of me. The respect I had for my teammates and the clubs didn’t allow me to be seen as a hindrance to team morale.

Sulking and not giving my all wouldn’t have got me anywhere and would have been unfair to not only my teammates but also to myself!

A united changing room win and lose together. After our penalty shootout loss to Salford in the play-off semi final. Image by Graham Scambler

A changing room is the place where the foundations for success as a team are built. You can’t expect success, individually or as a team if there is no unity amongst the squad. Sometimes the most talented of changing rooms don’t reach their potential as a team due to the lack of togetherness, however, with a strong team spirit, the greater the chance of enjoying your football and achieving on the pitch.

I have played with players who no matter how old or inexperienced they may be, aren’t overawed by their surroundings when they first enter a new changing room. They thrive off of the attention and can’t wait to be a part of the banter. Whereas some, like myself, who aren’t as outgoing, take a while to come out of their shells and become a voice within the changing room.

You must remember that everyone is different, so every player that enters a changing room will perceive it differently. No matter how tough or easy you find walking into the new changing room, embrace it all and be yourself, it’s a unique place!

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