Ron Atkinson takes training for Man United

How United used to train: The 1980s

With the Manchester United first team recently returning to the Aon Training Complex, we've been speaking to former United heroes about how training has changed in recent decades.

For Arthur Albiston, pre-seasons with United were a regular thing, with the Scotsman spending 16 years with the Reds, including two years in the youth academy. The left back made over 300 appearances in that time and helped secure our top flight status by winning the Second Division in 1974.

Mentioning pre-season training can elicit groans of despair from seasoned pros, but talk about it to Arthur, and his eyes light up...

“I can only liken it to going back to school after the summer holidays,” the ever-reliable left-back recalled. “You haven't seen some people you associate with all year, so you want to catch up and hear what everyone's been up to. I looked forward to getting back and having some banter around the dressing room.”

But what of the stories you hear about players not even seeing a football for two weeks during pre-season?

“That's a bit of a myth,” Arthur added. You have to do some sort of distance running to get your stamina levels up, but a lot of it involved activities with a ball. You're still doing a lot of running but, psychologically, because there's a ball involved, it doesn't feel as bad.

Albiston, who went on to earn 14 Scottish caps, arrived at Old Trafford as a trainee in 1972 and some of his earliest United recollections are of pre-season trips to Heaton Park for strenuous cross-country training.

“I can remember those hills;' he recalled with a chuckle.

”We did a few runs up there. But distance running didn't bother me that much - I was quite good at it during my school days. We also did some work wearing running spikes with a sprint coach in Wythenshawe Park. I can't see the current squad heading out there! But people like Denis Law and Bobby Charlton were still at the club then, so you had real superstars down there.

During his spell under Ron Atkinson in the 1980s, Albiston said one player often stood head and shoulders above the rest when it came to pre-season work.

”Bryan Robson was incredibly fit and could run all day,“ he remembered. ”He seemed to really enjoy it and he'd always go up the front and lead the running. The bigger lads and the goalkeepers would tend to lag at the back.

Arthur Albiston portrait photograph from the early 1980s
Arthur Albiston made his United debut in 1974 and remained at the club until 1988.

Albiston was almost always among the front-runners, not least because he kept active during the close season.

He ran “two or three times a week;' when many team-mates were relaxing on a beach.

”Some lads just wanted to put their feet up for four or five weeks, and it always took them longer to get back into shape;' he said. “We'd reconvene at The Cliff and do intensive running for about 10 days before heading off to a training camp somewhere in Europe. During those camps we'd start to incorporate a lot more ball-work and sometimes have morning, afternoon and evening sessions.

”It wasn't hard to get motivated. Once the fixtures came out, I couldn't wait to get started again and everyone was working towards the same aim: being fit for the first day of the season.

This article first appeared in Inside United, our official monthly magazine.

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