One of the most farcical pre-seasons football's ever seen proves things aren't too bad as Portsmouth get set to return

Pompey will return to pre-season training on Monday with 15 players.

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 6:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 6:23 pm
Michael Brown, David Nugent and Marc Wilson are joined by Pompey youngsters including Matt Ritchie, Joel Ward and Marlon Pack after winning the Edmonton Cup - part of their farcical pre-season tour of North America in 2010. Picture: Joe Pepler
Michael Brown, David Nugent and Marc Wilson are joined by Pompey youngsters including Matt Ritchie, Joel Ward and Marlon Pack after winning the Edmonton Cup - part of their farcical pre-season tour of North America in 2010. Picture: Joe Pepler

It’s not an ideal situation, with so much surgery yet required on Danny Cowley’s squad this summer.

But the Blues’ head coach will no doubt supplement his number with some triallists and maybe a promising academy youngster or two, and begin conveying the messages to his men which will shape his team for the season ahead.

The oft-stated line from managers is they’d like the majority of their squad in place by the return date, the dynamics of the summer transfer window usually dictates otherwise.

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Still for all of the work which lies ahead, Cowley still finds the conditions he’s facing a world away from the most chaotic pre-season in Pompey’s history. The man who somehow came through the disarray with his blood pressure barely in range was Steve Cotterill.

The former Blues boss oversaw summer preparations so farcical it was as if the pre-season had been scheduled by National Lampoon.

Yet, this was no vacation but plans inherited by Cotterill, as he was forced to embark on a tour of North America with the club in administration - eight weeks after falling out of the Premier League in 2010.

With any players not nailed down being sold off, a rag-bag group of six senior pros and a host of then very raw and untried youngsters embarked on a bungling odyssey, which saw the squad zig-zag across the continent in seemingly random fashion.

An epic 42-hour opening journey to reach the first stop-off in San Diego was enough to get the alarm bells ringing in the ears of a weary and eventually broken group.

That effort contributed to approaching 100 hours of travel time which took in eight flights, six hotels and airports, four different time zones, two delays and two cancellations.

It was after being stranded in Chicago airport on their maiden leg that Cotterill’s combustible temper exploded for the first time, with a United Airlines check-in attendant on the receiving end of his ire.

With his players scattered across airport floor with back packs for pillows, the sight of Manchester United being slickly escorted through to a chartered flight was the 56-year-old’s tipping point.

It prompted the kind of barrage which had players and coaches alike looking on with blinking bemusement at their new manager, who’d been in situ for a matter of weeks. Eventually a cry of ‘who’s with me?’ led to Cotts heading away from a bizarre scene, as his players fell into a skulking formation behind their boss.

Pompey did eventually get some football under their belt, but perhaps taking on Mexico’s most successful outfit, Club America, was a step or 10 too far on a night at the 70,000-capacity San Diego Stadium remembered mainly for young Tom Kilbey, was was later to find fame on The Only Way is Essex, nearly sparking a full-scale riot with sometimes overexuberant tackling.

A trip three hours up the American west coast saw a stint in Ventura follow, along with a 2-1 win over County Fusion - a US fourth-tier side who were in and around the Portsmouth Sunday League level.

Then came the success story of the trip and probably a highlight in the careers of many of the young players present, as a spell in Canada saw victory in the Edmonton Cup against the host club at the Commonwealth Stadium.

The Champions League-style trophy may have been made of plastic but that mattered little to a team which included youngsters Joel Ward, Matt Ritchie and Joel Ward, along with less celebrated names such at Pete Gregory, Ellis Martin and Perry Ryan.

A picture of that success captures the strange days of that tour for posterity, as Michael Brown’s default setting of irritation permeates while some of his more youthful team-mates enjoy the moment brought on by Liam O’Brien’s penalty-saving prowess.

Perhaps less remembered is the downtime ahead of that leg, with an injured Hermann Hreidarsson joining the group and leading an impromptu evening through Los Angeles nightspots, which served as an eye-opener to the less worldly members of the travelling party.

Normal service was resumed, however, for the final leg of the tour in the most farcical fashion imaginable.

The pre-cursor to a meeting with MLS outfit DC United, who were bottom of their conference at the time, was a meagre 27-hour journey with a cancelled flight in Chicago, thanks to an electrical storm. This culminated in arriving in Washington on the hottest day of the year minus 14 bags including the team’s kit, hours before kick-off.

The player’s exhausted bodies were now well beyond breaking point on a tour which head of strength and conditioning, Chris Neville, admitted had nailed every single thing a footballer shouldn’t be doing to prepare for a season.

But there was still the small matter of negotiating a fixture played in 46-degree heat and 90 per cent humidity, as players lost up to 4kg in weight and an angry Pompey side on its knees were handed a 4-0 tonking at the RFK Stadium.

What unfolded across that fortnight is unlikely to be repeated in a Blues pre-season or, in all honesty, at any other football club ever again. It certainly won’t be forgotten by the people present, nor those who can recount the wealth of cautionary tales and very Pompey-esque anecdotes which unfolded.

So as Cowley’s men return next week we realise things aren’t quite as advanced as a diligent management team would’ve liked. But compared to how it was in the summer of 2010, we’re light years ahead of the curve.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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