Brilliant anecdote from Gordon Smith’s ‘And Smith Did Score’ autobiography, page 123:
The players look at each other and wonder if they should believe what they have just heard. Standing on the training ground, they look askance at the Brighton youth team coach, Brian Eastick, who is taking the first-team training for he first time.
‘Right lads,’ he has just told us, ‘We’re going to have a game of football, so pick two sides. But what’s different about this game – and if you take this seriously it will be a great help to you – is that we’ll be playing with an imaginary ball.’
‘It’s twenty minutes each way – a practice game with a pretend ball.’
He senses a reluctance from the players and nobody moves. ‘Look,’ says Brian, ‘the boss is watching and it’s either this or he’ll have you running all morning – what’s it to be?’
Since anything’s better than running round a track for a couple of hours, we decide to go along with this rather unconventional training method. We’re about to start the 1982-83 season and this is undoubtedly the weirdest training session I have ever taken part in and that would go for the rest of the Brighton players as well.
We get ourselves into teams and line up to kick off. The former Arsenal star, Charlie George, has joined Brighton on a month’s loan and he’s in my team. I kick off by touching the imaginary ball to Charlie who makes an imaginary pass to our winger, ex-Manchester United player, Mickey Thomas, Mickey then makes a 20-yard run at full pace, slides along the touchline and jumps up to shout, ‘For fuck’s sake, Charlie, play it to my feet, will you?’
The players can hardly stand up for laughing and that’s the end of the game. Brian Eastick is not happy and, since we’re not taking his game with the imaginary football seriously, it’s back to running round the track.
Brian had been on the continent looking at how the European teams train and noting their coaching methods. He must have seen some foreign team trying out this practice match with no football and decided to introduce it to the British game. Brian had persuaded Brighton’s then manager, Mike Bailey, to let him take the first-team training for a morning and try out these new methods. Unfortunately, the British footballers weren’t quite ready for such progress and diversity of coaching methods.