Rejection and non-league journey fuels Pompey new boy’s hunger

Tom Davies, left, and Ben Close challenge for the ball during pre-season training Picture: Colin Famery
Tom Davies, left, and Ben Close challenge for the ball during pre-season training Picture: Colin Famery
Joe Hancott. Picture: Joe Pepler

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HE NEARLY turned his back on football.

The pain of rejection as a teenager was close to breaking Tom Davies.

Being told he was not good enough to make the grade at Blackburn sent Pompey’s latest new arrival into the football wilderness.

Studying and earning a few quid in a call centre and as a greenkeeper was the route Davies took alongside playing in the game’s northern backwaters.

It may not be the traditional path most players take these days as they emerge through academies.

But it’s one which the free signing from Accrington Stanley believes has been the making of him.

Davies’ 39 appearances for Accy last season were his first at league level.

Now he arrives at Fratton Park fuelled with hunger from his experiences.

‘I almost left the game completely at 16,’ Davies explained after sealing his two-year Blues deal

‘I got released from Blackburn before my YT finished.

‘But I’ve made my way back up. I went and played non-league and did my A-Levels.

‘Then I went up to Northumbria University for three years at 18 and graduated in Sports Management at 21.

‘Then I went and played non-league for FC United (of Manchester).

‘I got picked up by Fleetwood, had a year there and then a year at Accy.

‘Now I’m here. It’s not the usual way, but I think the time out of the game has made me appreciate what I’m doing now.

‘I was working in a call centre and as a greenkeeper at one stage.

‘When you’re doing what I’m doing now you appreciate it that much more. It’s not something you take for granted.

‘Now I have this incredible opportunity and I’m really grateful.’

Davies’ route into league football is something which hasn’t been lost on Pompey boss Paul Cook.

He is looking to utilise that steely edge the no-nonsense central defender from Warrington possesses.

The academy system is in the news at present after England’s latest failure at the European Championships.

Jamie Carragher has aired his view players who are ‘soft physically and soft mentally’ are being bred.

Davies believes there’s a place for his unorthodox journey into the league alongside the more structured path.

He said: ‘The gaffer’s said that with me coming from non-league he wants me to bring that edge to the squad.

‘It’s the only way I know how to play the game.

‘It’s in the news at the moment. Jamie Vardy was playing non-league not so long ago.

‘It’s does give you a hunger and an appetite for the game.

‘I guess you need a balance. If you had everyone coming out of non-league you’d have less technical players.

‘You need a blend of the Conor Chaplins who are really good on the ball and more committed players.

‘Playing at university was an enjoyable time but a lot different standard to where I’ll be this year with Portsmouth.

‘It’s not as structured, but being part-time does have an effect on how you play the game and the appreciation for what you have when you’re full-time.

‘I’ve not come through the academy system like some of the lads have.

‘I like a tackle and I like a battle.

‘I’m hoping that side of my game will show through and impress the gaffer enough to select me.’

Davies arrives at the Blues to bolster the squad’s central-defensive options, following Adam Webster’s departure for Ipswich.

He will be battling it out alongside Christian Burgess, Jack Whatmough, Adam Barton and the injured Matt Clarke for playing time.

The cente-half has noted the varied attributes the current crop of defenders at Pompey possess.

Davies is hoping he can add something to the blend ahead of the new campaign.

‘I am committed but I think I can play a bit as well,’ he said.

‘The centre-halves here seem to have a combination of everything. I’d like to think that’s something I have, too. Hopefully I’ll show that.

‘I’m not expecting to walk into the team with the quality of centre-halves here.

‘But if you get this far you have to back yourself.

‘So I’ll just keep working hard in training and hopefully reap the reward of that come August 6.’

Blues fans need little reminding that next season will be the club’s fourth at League Two level.

The ambitions go without saying, and Davies is fully aware of that demand.

It’s taken him little time to soak up his new surroundings after his move south and appreciate what kind of club he is now representing.

Davies added: ‘It’s a club that shouldn’t be where it is. Hopefully, this can be the season where we can take a step towards where we should be.

‘It’s a massive club. You see that from the fan base and around the town you see the shirts.

‘I went to the ground the other day and saw all the people queueing for season tickets before pay day.

‘It’s a football area. Everyone knows where this club has been and where it should be.

‘I like what I hear and I want to get the club to where it needs to be.

‘I’d love to be a part of the team who plays a part in getting it back to where it belongs.’