Bad dressing rooms is the topic of discussion for this week’s football news. José Mourinho and Neil Warnock have, for a change, been complaining, this time about Stoke City’s away facilities. It comes after Stoke thrashed Middlesbrough 1-0 two weeks ago. Mourinho was asked about the (supposedly) coronavirus-safe dressing rooms in the pre-match press conference ahead of their Carabao Cup match against Stoke. Mourinho said that ‘all the authorities’ should be fixing the problem. Warnock declared it to be ‘pigtsy’ and an ‘absolute disgrace’: ‘I want to put animals in it’.
Away dressing room facilities are just one of the various problems that teams face in match preparation when they are on the road. It is also a problem for which no solutions can be found. Certain clubs are known to deliberately handicap visiting sides by charmingly making their away dressing rooms look strange. Not too often does it make the news. Surely, Stoke would have known that clogging up toilets and letting off toxic gases into the changing rooms would not be a great idea. It was never going to please the bulldog-manager Neil Warnock, let alone special Mourinho. Back to the drawing board for Stoke.
However, they might not need to look far for inspiration. Middlesbrough, Stoke’s counterparts, [in]famously have unwelcoming dressing rooms. The dressing room there is reportedly L-shaped. If you are of the superstitious kind, you might say that the L-shape is symbolic of the word “lose”. Less cynical people might try to imagine what an L-shaped dressing room looks like. They might realise that a manager might struggle navigating through it, and not be able to effectively give his team pre-match instructions.
Chelsea are one of the masters of devilish dressing room tricks. Before the Ranieri years, their dressing rooms could be described just as Warnock described Stoke’s: ‘the pigs would’ve run away if they’d been there’. After renovation, as the Chelsea FC Stamford Bridge Museum tour guide once told me, Chelsea ensured they did not make the visitors feel all too welcome. Kit hooks were put high up, and lockers low, forcing giants like Crouchy to hopefully pull a back muscle as they bend over. The tactics board is also awkwardly positioned a next to the door, whereas the mirror is smaller than usual, trying to expose players’ mental fragilities. Can all that at least partially explain for Mourinho’s long, home unbeaten run at the Bridge?
Other secrets have come out in the recent years on away dressing rooms. Jeff Hendrick, while playing for Burnley, admitted the away dressing room’s door was fairly ‘smaller’. Anzhi Makhachkala welcomed Spurs with strange leather chairs in 2013, and Gerrard blamed a hot dressing room for only beating West Ham 2-1 in 2014. Other tactics have been used, from adding in pictures of angry fans at Benfica, to painting the walls in disturbing colours at Norwich. Yet, perhaps most effective of all is not the tricks used in dressing rooms, but the dramatically terrifying experience of walking down a prison-like tunnel to the pitch, like at former Champions League winners Red Star Belgrade’s stadium. Liverpool are but one team to have lost at the stadium (in 2018). Others to have struggled at the Rajko Mitić Stadium in the 21st century (i.e. lost or drawn) are Roma, Napoli and PSV.
It might not be the central determinant in the outcome of a match. Yet, bizarre dressing rooms tactics or hostile pre-match experiences, as in Belgrade, are a sign of what football truly is, or at the very least something managers like Mourinho and Warnock point to as a reason for when their team loses. After complaints were made, Mourinho’s men will reportedly have star-treatment in the changing rooms when facing Stoke. The only way Mourinho’s night can be spoilt now is if it is a cold, rainy night.