No-one left to tell the tale of craziest pre-season ever

The Pompey players celebrate their Edmonton Cup triumph over FC Edmonton at the Commonwealth Stadium in Canada in the summer of 2010  Picture: Joe Pepler
The Pompey players celebrate their Edmonton Cup triumph over FC Edmonton at the Commonwealth Stadium in Canada in the summer of 2010 Picture: Joe Pepler
Nicke Kabamba. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey loan watch – weekend report

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It was a moment of triumph during the craziest pre-season in Pompey’s history.

Now, less than two years on from the Blues’ Edmonton Cup victory, not a single player remains from that side.

The penalty shoot-out win over FC Edmonton at the Commonwealth Stadium in July 2010 was a beacon of positivity among the turmoil of an ill-fated traversal across North America.

But following Joel Ward’s departure to Crystal Palace last week, there is now not a single player left at Fratton Park to tell the tale.

The statistics of that tour made for gob-smacking reading.

In a fortnight, Pompey clocked up nearly 100 hours of travel – including an opening 42-hour effort to get to San Diego, California.

That came as the team took in eight flights, six hotels, six airports, four different time zones, two delays and two cancelled flights.

It was all enough to send then boss Steve Cotterill, who has also since departed, apoplectic with rage – as an employee of United Airlines found to his cost on one marathon journey.

Among the chaos, though, came one night to savour as the patched-up squad somehow managed to dig out a win to cherish on July 21.

And it was a success many of those who took part in the game will not forget.

With a host of young first-year professionals propping up the depleted options at Cotterill’s disposal, they went on to play a big role in what actually was a gutsy performance.

The likes of Ellis Martin, Peter Gregory and Perry Ryan all played a part in the game, with the ink still drying on their pro forms.

Other largely untried talents like Tom Kilbey, Nadir Ciftci, Marlon Pack, Matt Ritchie and Ward were also involved.

The fear was, with such inexperience in the side, Pompey would be handed a thrashing.

And that was the way it looked when Chris Lemire gave Edmonton an early opener.

Things then went from bad to worse when keeper Jon Stewart was taken to hospital following a collision with Ward.

He was then followed by Kilbey, who now stars in The Only Way is Essex, after he picked up a knee injury.

That left just one player on the bench – Ryan – who had to warm up by himself on the pitch at half-time.

Pompey did manage to level before the break through Ciftci, who turned in Ritchie’s cross, and then have the better of the second-half.

With the score 1-1 at the final whistle, the game went straight to penalties.

And then came the drama in this corner of the Canadian state of Alberta as David Nugent, Marc Wilson, Michael Brown and Ritchie all stuck away their spot-kicks.

Keeper Liam O’Brien then made himself an unlikely hero by saving Antonio Raga’s effort, before Ciftci belied his young years by nonchalantly tucking away the decisive penalty.

A crowd of nearly 9,000, with a healthy contingent of Pompey fans in face paints and fancy dress, saw Wilson lift the trophy – which was later revealed to be plastic.

But it did mean the side followed in the footsteps of Argentinian giants River Plate, who won the tournament the previous year by beating Everton.

Little did anyone know, though, as the players lined up for a picture in the wake of success, what would lie in wait for that team.

Of the 14 players involved that night, one (Kilbey) doesn’t play football anymore, while three (Ryan, Martin and Gregory) are turning out at non-league level.

Shoot-out hero O’Brien managed to secure a contract with League Two side Barnet after being told he was not wanted, while Stewart is third-choice keeper at Burnley.

Stephen Jordan, to Cotterill’s anger, decided to move to Sheffield United instead of Pompey that same summer, but is now turning out for Rochdale who were relegated to League Two last season.

Ciftci looked to have a bright future at Fratton Park but opted for a move to Turkish side Kayserispor last year.

Of the remainders, local talents Ritchie and Pack have enjoyed fine seasons in League Two for Swindon and Cheltenham respectively after leaving.

Brown and Nugent were both playing at Championship level last season as they turned out for Leeds and Leicester, while Wilson has enjoyed regular Premier League football at Stoke.

That leaves Emsworth boy Ward, whose departure for Crystal Palace severs the last remaining current link with the Edmonton Cup champs.