DCSIMG

The sole senior survivor of Pompey’s pre-season tour

The Pompey team which lined up against Gibraltar last summer

The Pompey team which lined up against Gibraltar last summer

 

Milling around Gatwick Airport check-in, they represented Pompey’s new era.

The slate had almost been scrubbed clean, except for the stubborn stains of Tal Ben Haim and Dave Kitson.

Even they had been left at home on death row along with several others, overseen by development coach Guy Whittingham.

Nonetheless, those booking into the pre-season tour to Spain early on that July 2012 morning were Michael Appleton’s choices.

Guns for hire; have horse,will travel – free agents keen to saddle up and carry out the then-manager’s vision.

Plenty of recognisable names and some familiar faces joined the Academy graduates on that 10-day training camp.

Bankrolled by local businessman Dave Ellis and the Gibraltar tourist board, Appleton saw the time away as crucial in the squad’s development.

It was a chance for his hand-picked playing staff to gel both on and off the field in a relaxed environment equipped with excellent facilities.

The new-look Pompey, constructed from scratch, had entered the world.

Except today, just one of those senior players remains at Fratton Park.

The squad Appleton had such high hopes for as they embarked for the Benahavis sunshine has frittered away to leave only Simon Eastwood.

Brian Howard, Jon Harley and Mustapha Dumbuya were this week informed their contracts would not be renewed due to cost-cutting.

They have been the latest exits from those who attended that training camp and featured in two friendlies in Spain.

Incidentally, Lee Williamson joined after Pompey returned, although did turn up for 24 hours to hold talks over a meal one evening with his agent, Appleton and Westwood. Of course, home-grown kids Ashley Harris, Adam Webster, Jed Wallace, Dan Thompson, George Colson and Dan Butler also remain, having been present in that merry band.

Liam Walker was effectively bumped into over there, as he got himself a chance at Pompey after impressing against them whilst playing for Gibraltar.

In terms of senior players chosen to attend that tour, Eastwood stands alone in an empty room.

Scrutinising the group of players assembled at Gatwick with passports in hand, there were some encouraging presences.

Izale McLeod, the worst-kept secret in Portsmouth, was inevitably there, alongside Lloyd Sam.

The pair were inseparable, an acquaintance which began from playing at Charlton.

Alas, it was obvious Sam would not be staying around much longer.

On the second day the winger approached me and enquired why I had mentioned in The News he was on the training camp.

It was no secret, Appleton had talked on the record about those on the trip. Surely it wasn’t a problem, I replied.

Sam laughed before explaining he was trying to keep it hush, hush as he didn’t want other interested clubs to know.

Before the trip came to an end, both he and David Preece had been discarded.

The veteran Preece, something of a character, was not on that Gatwick flight, having been an emergency call-up.

Another keeper had been targeted, only for a death in his family to prompt a withdrawal.

Another not in that travelling party was Luke Rodgers, who was already at the Gran Hotel Benahavis waiting.

He was on a family holiday over there, hence having to scuttle off to see his nearest and dearest between every training session and most meals.

Despite several niggling injuries, he did enough to stay – until November when packed off to Shrewsbury.

Dumbuya’s room-mate was Simon Gillett, the pair having been at Doncaster.

While Dumbuya was definitely going to sign, Gillett needed convincing and had undertaken plenty of internet research on the Pompey ownership saga.

On that first night in Benahavis he quizzed me extensively on the club, displaying impressive knowledge, including the issue of Tesco’s interest in the Fratton end car park.

Clearly too clued up, within days of returning to England, he departed for a trial at Barnsley before joining Nottingham Forest.

Another on that trip was Sam Magri, the resident table-tennis champion – the most popular past-time on the tour – and skipper for the opening friendly in Gibraltar.

The following month he was dragged kicking and screaming to QPR, with Appleton deeming other youngsters in the squad were more talented.

Finally, triallists Jordan Perez and Julien Lopez joined Sam and Pearce in being told “thank you and goodbye”.

Then, first-team coach Ashley Westwood – who played against Brighton out there – left with Appleton in November for Blackpool.

On the final night, the senior players were given permission to go out and enjoy themselves.

Under Howard’s insistence, the youngsters were asked to join them.

This was, after all, the finale to a 10-day bonding session.

The next day Pompey’s squad departed Spain in high-spirits, gloriously united and relishing the season ahead.

Less than six months later, the only voice to be heard is Eastwood’s.

 

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