Team-bonding was one of my big things. Everyone who was at the club understood what they were there for, and that was to be successful footballers, but having the right atmosphere was a big deal too. I think the manager always made sure he knew the personality of the players he was signing as well as their football ability, and while he did his research on the kind of person joining the group, I think he was always very secure in the fact that anyone he brought would be made to feel at home straight away.
I’d found that to be the case in my own career, when I first came into the seniors. I’d already bonded with the lads in my youth teams as I was growing up, and you get to that age where you’re turning 17, 18, 19 and you’re going out to bars, clubs and restaurants with the United lads, in my case even before I was doing it with my own mates.
When I started getting a sniff of the first team, even if it was just the odd training session at first, the older lads all made me feel totally comfortable about being there with them. For my part, I understood that hard work was required and appreciated, so I’d get stuck in without a second thought. There wasn’t any other option.
My first full season in the first team was the Treble season, and team-bonding was a big part of that success. I absolutely hated paintballing – there were no rules, it was just madness – but I quite enjoyed clay pigeon shooting at the team hotel before the FA Cup final. Being part of that squad showed me how important team-bonding was, and everyone in that dressing room understood how important it was to keep that going through different age groups as the squad grew up and evolved.
It’s all about staying together, no matter what. We all have personal lives, but when events were put on, it was important that everyone understood that it we had to go to it. At first, I did it without probably realising what it was all about, but as I got older I realised just how important it was. I liked it anyway, it was good to get out, good to have a bit of fun together, but what you probably don’t understand when you’re a kid is that this is what it’s like on the pitch as well. It’s all about sticking together, helping each other, having a laugh and staying together. But when you’ve been having fun games like that, you might have an occasion on the pitch, without thinking about it, where you do something extra for your mate rather than not.