England's eagerly-anticipated open session offers few insights


GROUP D ENGLAND:THE LOCALS had started drifting into the Hutnik Stadium well over an hour before the scheduled start, thumping their inflatable spirit sticks and whooping in delight at any glimpse of officials clad in red training kit.

Yet any hopes they entertained that England’s eagerly-anticipated open session might offer an insight into how Roy Hodgson intends to ruffle the French were dashed within the opening 10 minutes. Some plans are best not laid bare in public.

Having emerged into the oppressive humidity and bugled rendition of the Heynal chorus, a Krakovian hymn delivered by a lone trumpeter, just before 11am, England’s 22-man squad had hoisted a banner – “Thank you for your warm welcome” – before embarking on a gentle jog around the perimeter of the pitch led by the fitness coach, Chris Neville.

Then came the split, with Theo Walcott, Joleon Lescott, Glen Johnson, Scott Parker, James Milner and Joe Hart first to plod from the pristine turf back down the tunnel.

John Terry and Ashley Cole followed soon afterwards and, by 11.10am, so too had Steven Gerrard, whose presence had prompted the most excitement among those crammed in the small covered stand on the opposite side.

Gym work and massages, all undertaken underneath the small main stand and out of the public glare, would represent the extent of their involvement.

Where the Dutch and Italians had played quick-paced eight-a-side games in front of crowds of around 20,000 in Krakow’s elite arenas, Hodgson’s preferred programme of intensive workout followed by gentle warm-down routines the following day had scuppered any chance of a similar showpiece.

Those not involved were feeling the effects of the 80-minute session undertaken behind closed doors 24 hours previously. Their absence, the Football Association stressed, had been anticipated and was merely part of the individual players’ rehabilitation programmes.

The flip-side was that the 3,000 fans present – tickets had been selling for around €50 on the black market outside the arena – were only treated to 11 outfield players, one of whom is suspended for the first two group games and only three considered likely starters in Donetsk, pinging their possession routines and shooting drills among themselves out on a turf devoid of penalty spots.

Not that the locals appeared too dismayed. There were cheers as chances were taken by the striking combinations, Andy Carroll operating with Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney alongside Danny Welbeck, and jeers when efforts ballooned over the protective netting to bounce out of the tiny Hutnik Stadium ground, reminiscent of Brighton Hove Albion’s former home at Withdean.

None of the club’s officials attended England’s session, though the visitors did have to deal with one unwelcome guest. After all the players had returned to the turf to sign autographs for local schoolchildren and take their leave, an ex-pat fan wearing an England replica shirt and homemade lanyard ID marched down the tunnel and into the dressingroom area.

There he was busy lining up Cole for a photograph when local law enforcement belatedly intervened, the FA’s in-house security man eventually administering a stern ticking off.

The last time a fan infiltrated the England changing rooms was back in Cape Town in 2010, the disgruntled supporter berating those present for an anaemic performance in the goalless draw.

It is to be hoped their efforts at Euro 2012 in the weeks to come do not prompt a repeat.

Guardian Service