Marshman’s punishing pre-season with the Hawks

Hawks boss Lee Bradbury

Early starts for Hawks and Moneys

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Butser Hill – difficult to locate, harder to navigate.

How can the highest point on the South Downs, conveniently situated on the side of a major routeway between Portsmouth and the capital provide any possible complication in reaching, you may ask?

The News sports reporter Jeff Marshman joined in with the Hawks' pre-season training at Butser Hill   Picture: Mark McMahon

The News sports reporter Jeff Marshman joined in with the Hawks' pre-season training at Butser Hill Picture: Mark McMahon

A temperamental Sat Nav (which I still blame for leading me to Wales on a Pompey trip to Torquay last season), a lack of common sense and a communication breakdown all played their part.

I suppose it goes to figure, though, that the picnic area at the top of a hill, is not the place to congregate for a run up it.

With my apologies made to patient Hawks manager Lee Bradbury, who had kindly invited me along to sample the Conference South club’s pre-season training regime, I joined the squad at the bottom of the hill 10 minutes later than scheduled.

I was relieved to learn that others had also fallen victim to Butser Hill’s many different meeting points.

One of them, experienced defender Warren Cummings, soon stood out as the joker of the pack as he cracked one-liners, questioned the intended route and amusingly felled team-mates in the warm-up.

With assistant Shaun Gale aiding Bradbury in putting the players through their paces, I thought it wise to ask the duo to inform the players that I was a journalist and not a triallist – not that they wouldn’t all be able to work that out for themselves in due course.

It was upon this announcement that my choice of attire came into question.

Without thought, I had dug out an old t-shirt and short combination I used to wear to university futsal practice – adorned with the self-titled logo of Brazilian legend Pele.

I had forgotten, though, that was also a name Hawks player-coach Pedro Monteiro was commonly known by.

Suggestions of trying to win sympathy and ‘buying a mate’ were levelled at me in good humour.

When we had finished a light warm-up at the base of the hill and were told to partner up for stretching, the banter continued as the former Southampton and West Brom defender was the man closest to me.

The jovial mood of the camp was curtailed, though, when Bradbury announced the daunting task of scaling the impressive hill was to begin.

As a man who favours the lift over the stairs at work and has a gym membership card gathering dust, to say I was apprehensive about what lay ahead would be an understatement.

The fear of being left behind or failing to reach the summit was all too real as the group began the climb at a decent pace, led by former Pompey Academy midfielder Perry Ryan.

I soon found myself, as expected, separated from the main body of the squad.

Pele, at 36, seemed to be running alongside me out of pity rather than fatigue as I noticed the noise of my own breath growing steadily louder.

With my legs growing heavier with every stride, I was delighted to grind my way to a gate signifying what I believed to be the finishing point on our ascent.

With the Hawks players busy stretching their legs, I gave myself a mental pat on the back for surviving the Butser Hill challenge – only to then discover that I had been premature.

The run wasn’t over – we were going all the way to the top.

Before I could catch my breath the pack were off once more led by Bradbury.

Assistant Gale, meanwhile, had the enviable task of guarding players keys and water bottles at the base.

As I willed my legs to work once more, I found myself in a group of three with Pele and fellow newcomer Enoch Showunmi.

The former Nigeria international had featured for Plymouth in a 3-3 draw against Pompey on the final day of the 2013-14 season.

But without a club, the 6ft 5in striker was joining in with the Hawks purely for fitness reasons.

He was certainly getting a workout.

With the end in sight, Pele encouraged me to dig deep and despite being absolutely spent, I managed to grind out the final few yards.

But while the Hawks squad took in great views of the South Downs and Isle of Wight from their vantage point, I was enjoying a close-up view of the grass after collapsing to the floor.

Former Army infantryman Bradbury quickly advised that I return to my feet, otherwise I would never get up – I wasn’t going to argue.

Thankfully, help was on hand as the Hawks entourage including chairman Derek Pope were on hand to offer support and refreshment.

Physio Claire Alexander was also able to shake out tiring limbs as we prepared for the far more enjoyable descent.

Covered in sweat, I had rather hoped that would be the end of the session.

But it wouldn’t be pre-season if players weren’t tested, and road running was next on the agenda.

Split into two groups, I was pleased to find (and no disrespect!) myself in with what appeared to be mostly goalkeepers and defenders.

With assistant Gale back in the mix, we set off on another climb around Queen Elizabeth Country Park.

Hanging back – through a lack of fitness not pre-race tactics – I was relieved to turn a corner at the midway point and find that the group who had been long out of sight were not as distant as first feared.

Summoning all I had left in the tank I limped home in a victorious second-to-last place having managed to catch up to big Enoch.

A seemingly impromptu series of small sprint races in the middle of the road threatened to turn me into liquid as the sweat poured down my face.

Midfielder Nic Ciardini then suggested an amusing if unprintable idea for a headline for my article (along the lines of me being exhausted).

It was only at the end of the gruelling experience that I was truly able to take stock of my lack of fitness, though, when Bradbury thanked me for coming along to the ‘light session’ designed with the friendly against Horndean in mind.

The Hawks cruelly missed out on a play-off place on goal difference last season, but if they fail to reach their aims this coming campaign, one thing is for certain – it won’t be for a lack of preparation or fitness.

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