“Snakes,” the zooloogist begins nonchalantly, as two slither between his fingers and twine over his forearm, “are like a tube of toothpaste: squeeze them too tight and poo comes out.”
Under manager Casey Stoney this is a typical end to the month for the newly-formed Manchester United Women. True, it is rare they are joined by a cast as diverse as this one: giant African land snails, a burmese python, Madagascan hissing cockroaches that scurry across their faces. The players are warned to keep their eyes closed because those cockroaches, in the words of the expert, “like licking eyeballs”.
There is a tarantula that, if distressed, may fire needles into your eyes and cause temporary blindness; if it bites, your skin will blister. One player likens the texture of its legs to a “tiny carpet”. It is, in reality, more like being prodded by eight cotton buds.
Stoney is the first to volunteer but is visibly uncomfortable, her hands shaking, as the spider inches its way across her palms. By contrast, the snake, she says, “felt quite nice. The thing was, it wasn’t moving very quickly. If it was a mover, I wouldn’t have done it.”
The side’s acquaintance with this veritable zoo is merely the latest in a long list of unorthodox extra-curricular activities aimed at improving their mental steel under the programme Stoney has named ‘Team United’. Since their formation in May 2018, the first team have been locked in mazes, had boxing lessons at 6am, made a street dance video and completed the assault course from Ninja Warrior UK, the ITV game show, at a closed session.