Partick Thistle is near the bottom of the Scottish second tier, sitting ninth of the 10-team table with 10 points through 14 matches to start the season. One manager has already lost his job in former Thistle player Alan Archibald, and the new boss Gary Caldwell – a former Scottish international – has suffered through five losses in his first five matches in charge.
Caldwell knew he had to light a fire under the squad, so he arranged for a team building exercise to make them tougher. He had them kidnapped by the British special forces.
According to players, Caldwell arranged for the players to spend a day with the British Army’s Parachute Regiment – a division of the SAS – a day which began with a tour of the facility and a look at some of the equipment. “We assumed that’s what the full day was going to be,” said striker Kris Doolan to BBC Scotland.
Narrator: that was, in fact, not what the full day was going to be.
“Bang, three buses turned up,” Doolan said, “dropped us off in three groups at separate destinations. We had checkpoints, and you had to run from one to the next. There were about three, four, five miles in between each one. And at each checkpoint there was a different activity and you had to do what you were told.”
“You were in groups with people you might not speak to a great deal. We were carrying logs together, up and down hills, through water, carrying 20 liter cans of water, stretchers with casualties on it. You didn’t want to give up because you’d be letting your team down.”
It didn’t end there. Far from it. When the original military group told them their day was done, there was another surprise in store.
“I could hardly pick my head up I was so tired,” Doolan said. “They told us to take our stuff off and jump in the van. The guys were shouting, ‘we’ll take you for some food.’ Five minutes later, bang bang, doors open, guys with masks rag-dolled us out, head-locked us, flipped on the floor. We were blindfolded with ear muffs on. They were rough with us – it was a whole new level. They were dragging us about rooms bouncing us off walls in total darkness.”
Some of the squad broke. Doolan said former Belgian youth international Brice Ntambwe ran away, and “it took four SAS to bring him down.” 20-year-old English striker Jack Storer “was crying at one point.”
Eventually, when the mayhem was over, Doolan says Caldwell explained what the entire day was all about. “The manager’s got a saying – ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable.’ You have to find ways of coping and dealing with pressures that come along. The army base was certainly uncomfortable but we all found a way to get through every exercise they gave us and we finished it very strongly.”
Certainly a new way of bringing a squad together, and it may have already paid dividends. The club drew last time out, two weeks ago against last-placed Falkirk, the club’s first point gained since late September.