WHETHER you’re a Sunday morning specialist or a seasoned pro with Cherries, few things send shudders down the spine more than the mere mention of pre-season training.
For many, the notion of preparing for another campaign creates an unparalleled feeling of dread. But then there are the select few who just cannot wait, buzzing with boundless enthusiasm for the necessary evil that is the July shape-up.
And even at the start of his 53rd consecutive pre-season, no one is happier to be out there than Hamworthy United’s first-team coach and goalkeeping specialist John Macey.
At 67, the former Football League stopper sets about working his Wessex League charges with the gusto you would expect from a newcomer.
“Wherever I have played or managed, I have always gone back a couple of weeks early to get fitter or be prepared,” said Macey. “I look forward to it all, it is never a chore and never will be.
“Even on the management side, it gives me a buzz trying to get things together and see that run through into what you do on the pitch. Whether pre-season results are good, bad or indifferent, your preparation dictates what you’ll do when it all starts.”
Having left school at 14, part one of the Bristol-born and raised stopper’s remarkable service started with hometown club City in 1962.
That first season remains his favourite to this day following a call-up for England schoolboys which saw him play in front of 97,000 at Wembley Stadium.
Chelsea, Arsenal, Ipswich Town and Cardiff City were among his club options but he elected to join the Robins, where he became one of the first keepers to be named as a substitute.
“There was only one place on the bench back then and Mike Gibson was goalkeeper at the time. He played 350-odd consecutive matches so there wasn’t much chance of me getting in,” said Macey.
“Mike had broken his finger and seeing as I could play outfield as well, I was named for the match at Charlton Athletic and the following week against Manchester City.”
A loan stint with Shrewsbury Town followed before Macey transferred to Grimsby Town, where he scored an own goal in his only outfield appearance in the Football League, against arch-rivals Lincoln City.
But it was Macey’s transfer to Newport County in 1970 which proved the start of a love affair with his “home club”, where he really began to enjoy the trappings of the footballer’s lifestyle.
“It was old school,” said Macey. “Whether you were in the fourth division or the first division, you were out on the town after a game and it made the team spirit.
“My first wife married into it and I used to abuse it a bit with the late nights, because that was a big part of football back then – I’d bring in the milk sometimes.”
As well as making 194 appearances, Macey opened a sports shop in 1971 which remains in business today.
He went on to join Minehead in 1976 and helped them to finish second in the Southern League – then one of non-league’s top flights – and took his first step into management with the Somerset club as player-boss over the next three years.
He returned to played for several clubs, a spell punctuated by briefly helping Tony Pulis at Cherries where he coached the emerging talent of Neil Moss.
Macey then went back to Newport as reserve and youth team coach under Colin Addison before one last playing spell at Forest Green Rovers but injury forced him to hang up his gloves at the age of 43.
He stayed on for a further 18 months as assistant-manager in Gloucestershire prior to his move to the Bournemouth area, where he still couldn’t bear to leave football alone.
Spells as assistant boss at Christchurch, Wimborne Town and Bournemouth Poppies came full circle when he linked up with Graham Kemp back at Priory, where his focus on youth development guided many into the professional ranks, most recently Cherries prospect Harry Cornick.
That established relationship saw Macey switch to Hamworthy with Kemp midway through the last campaign.
But even now, in the midst of yet another pre-season coupled with tireless work on United’s playing surface, he has yet to lose his appetite for the game.
Asked whether he ever grew tired of it all, Macey replied: “No, never, and I don’t think it will ever happen. Football is my life, my soapbox if you like.
“I have seen football change so much. Dieticians, fitness people and greater professionalism all play their part now and I’m undecided whether those are good or bad things.
“But the young lads coming through will always be the bonus for me because it reminds me of when I was young. If they can pick up just one or two things that might make the difference for them, then it’s all worthwhile.
“It’s great when they’re willing and show the passion. If I can do it, why can’t they?”