FOR many professional footballers returning after their summer break, the start of pre-season can conjure feelings of trepidation, rather than excitement.

The dreaded days of long hill climbs and running for miles are long gone but the weeks building up to a new campaign can often be something of a chore, as the hard graft is put on in readiness for another season.

Thankfully, that doesn’t seem the case at Colchester United.

The U’s new-look squad are in the midst of their first week of pre-season at Florence Park and are looking in good shape, as they prepare for the big kick-off on August 7.

Colchester head of sport science Kem Ismail is tasked with getting the club’s players through pre-season, up to match fitness and ready to go for their League Two opener at Carlisle United, next month.

Ismail has been at Colchester for the past two years and is currently in his seventh year working in football, having previously worked at Charlton Athletic and Enfield Town.

Ismail’s varied background in sports science and strength and conditioning has also seen him work for Rugby League club Bradford Bulls and in tennis, a variety he says has helped him in his role.


“When you’re trying to work with lots of different sports, you’re trying to individualize and when you come into a football team, you’ve got a 35-year-old pro compared to a 16 or 17-year-old lad like Junior (Tchamadeu) for example, then that’s all part of working within different remits,” said Ismail, who also has his full coaching badges.

“All of those past experiences really helped.

“Sports science is a lot of problem solving so I’ve tried to do as much as I can so that if a problem arises, I’m on my toes and ready to catch it.

“As a sports science and medicine department, we’re very data driven and data led.

“We don’t really want to be going off anecdotal evidence or guessing or hearsay.

“If we’ve got cold hard facts, that’s the best way to be going and working and the science shows that.”

Ismail experienced at close hand the ups and downs that Colchester went through last season, as they battled to preserve their Football League status.

He worked closely alongside Steve Ball and then Wayne Brown and Hayden Mullins in their interim spells in charge, in what was a testing campaign for the club.

“It was tough but pressure builds diamonds,” said Ismail.

“I’ve no doubt that a lot of the young lads especially from last season would have gained invaluable experience from that.

“It’s obviously not the direction that the club wants to be going or wanted to be in but I think the experience that some of those lads would have got from it will be tremendous.

“It’s stuff that we can really use this year to push on and really look at fulfilling our full potential, I believe.

“We work in football because it’s the best job in the world.

“I definitely enjoy it and even when it’s not going the way you want it to, it’s good experience built and experience that we’ll definitely use this season to make sure that we push on.”


This season represents a fresh start for Colchester, with Mullins now at the helm on a permanent basis following his appointment as head coach, in May.

Ismail says he is looking forward to working closely alongside the U’s boss again, during the coming months.

Ismail added: “Hayden was quite a big part of last year as well, especially towards the end.

“He was key and instrumental in the turnaround so there’s not really too much to change, to be honest.

“He was fantastic last year and I’ve no doubt that he’ll be fantastic this year as well.

“We’ve all really enjoyed working with him and now he’s been appointed on a permanent basis, he can bring in just a little bit more of some of the great stuff that he wants to do.

“As a department, we have our own philosophies but we all work together as one big club and I think it’s important to remember that we’re all cogs, in the same machine.

“We all work together for the goal of pushing this club forward.

“We just want to reach our full potential and I’ve no doubt that Hayden will be instrumental in doing that.”