Byron Webster reckons Millwall’s week-long stay in Portugal will be vital in making the Lions a rocksolid unit as they prepare to enter Championship combat.
The Lions flew to Alcantarilha on Thursday and alongside the hard graft in hot climes there will also be plenty of practical jokes.
Webster, one of the most seasoned pros in Neil Harris’ squad, reckons that those lighter moments are crucial in terms of team-bonding.
The 30-year-old centre-back told one fan asking for Ben Thompson’s autograph at Dartford last weekend that the young midfielder had been released – before quickly clarifying he was only kidding.
“There are a few of us who are jokers,” he said. “I try to stay under cover. When you’ve got George Saville about, that guy goes to new levels. Him in Portugal for seven days will be a long seven days for some people.
“A lot of pranks go on. I think over the last couple of years it is partly why we have been successful. It’s a good club to work for but also a hard club, especially at times when things are not going well. If you have a good group then as a team we’re kind of bulletproof.
“It’s living together 24-7 for six days. You find out how to push people’s buttons. There is a lot of banter flying about, especially with the new lads coming in. They’ll know who the characters are, who not to mess with and who to mess with. It’s good, very good.
“When you are with your missus 24/7 you know what annoys her – the good points and the bad points. It’s the same with us. We’re like a family together.
“Going away is kind of intense. There is no hiding places. People who are a bit shy have to come out of their shell – because there is no-one else to speak to.
“The lads get you through pre-season. If we get the running out the way and start playing games I’m a lot happier.
“Pre-seasons have changed a lot now, especially when you’ve only had four weeks off. There is not as much long-distance running, like Mo Farah. It’s a lot of short, sharp stuff. Bloomy [Laurence Bloom] knows his stuff. It’s all tailored. We wear GPS and a heart-rate monitor. There is no hiding place, they know how hard we are working.”
Every club have their wind-up merchants, and they are not always the obvious candidates. Danny Butterfield was a poker-faced interviewee at Crystal Palace but was always up to high-jinks – one time covering Andrew Johnson’s car in oversized ladies’ knickers.
“The ones we’ve had so far .someone had some mackerel put in their car and he has just found out,” said Webster. “A lot goes on that people don’t realise until later on. I think that has been in his car for a week.
“Some bad things happen to clothing. George Saville has done something to someone’s socks. I think they know now, but might be a bit too scared to get back at him.
“I room with Gregs in Portugal. No-one is stupid enough to touch our room.”
The new recruits also have to sing a song as part of their initiation. It happens at nearly every club. John Terry’s one at Aston Villa was a social media hit as he confidently belted out Stand By Me.
“He must have been nervous – he’s been at Chelsea for 20-odd years,” said Webster. “I’m not having that he wasn’t – he had to get a guitarist. Mine has always been American Pie by Don McLean, because my dad used to sing it all the time. Thankfully I don’t need to worry about that here.
“Usually we go to a marina restaurant in Portugal, Moro [Steve Morison] sorts that out. We had the whole restaurant singing along last time. I get more nervous than they do. I hate watching people get up and sing. I’ve only met a couple who like to do it, but it has got to be done.”
This will be Webster’s fifth season at Championship level. His first couple at Doncaster saw him only feature 12 times. At Yeovil he was virtually an ever-present in 2013-14. He joined Millwall in the summer of 2014 but made 11 appearances before then boss Ian Holloway loaned him back to the Glovers the following February.
“It’s gone to a different animal since I was there with Yeovil,” he said. “Of the teams in there, maybe two or three haven’t been classed as Premier League clubs.
“It’s a mini-Premier League, a lot of big teams and big earners. Are they going to like coming to Millwall? Are they going to be bothered about coming to Millwall? That’s what we thought when I was at Yeovil. We didn’t have as talented a group there as we do here and still did ourselves proud.
“Someone like John Terry played for Chelsea and was used to having a lot of time on the ball and being alongside world-class players. Obviously he knows how to defend, but there is not the same hustle and bustle as in the Championship.
“Are some of those players dropping down going to be ready to play 50-60 games instead of 30-40? We’ll just worry about ourselves.
“I know the day-to-day running that goes on in the background here, the work the gaffer and Livers [David Livermore] have done to get players in early doors.
“I know we’re trying to get one or two more in, but the majority of the squad is together now. We’re equipped, the club is in a healthy position and we’ve got good players. So far we’re all confident.”