New day at school for class of 2012

Izale McLeod is welcomed to the Pompey team hotel, along with the rest of his new Pompey team-mates  Picture: Neil Weld
Izale McLeod is welcomed to the Pompey team hotel, along with the rest of his new Pompey team-mates Picture: Neil Weld
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Complete strangers thrown together at Gatwick Airport, except there was no need for carnations in the buttonhole to prompt recognition.

New Kappa tracksuits and crisp white polo shirts sufficed in uniting the eclectic mix milling around check-in desk K.

For some, it was the first day of school. For others, they had not long left school.

Yet there they were – a hotch potch of triallists and teenagers representing Portsmouth Football Club and down on the 14-strong register for the first day of their Spanish training camp.

Players with 10 days in Benahavis to convince Blues boss Michael Appleton they should be part of his first-team plans.

A genuine boot camp, both in terms of training and an audition platform.

Of course, the seven youngsters in attendance were familiar with one another, having climbed through the Academy set-up side by side.

Others such as Mustapha Dumbuya, Jon Harley and Simon Eastwood had spent the past week training with Appleton’s men in the hope of winning deals.

Then there were the newcomers, shifting uncomfortably on the outskirts of things, nervously biding their time to become involved.

Among them was Izale McLeod, the striker afforded so much attention from Appleton during the close season in an attempt to bring him to Fratton Park.

The prolific former Barnet striker has long been linked with Pompey, his wife having well and truly let that cat out of the bag courtesy of social media at the start of the summer.

However, the Blues boss remained fearful of being gazumped by a club who could at least offer McLeod a contract within the clicking of the fingers.

There he was, though, cumbersome headphones draped around his neck and soon befriending another new boy in Lloyd Sam.

A free agent himself, the former Charlton and Leeds man was a surprise entrant, with not so much of a whisper having served as a premonition of his arrival.

Another in attendance was Simon Gillett, former Doncaster team-mate of Dumbuya and a midfielder the fellow League One newcomers had been desperate to retain.

Earlier in the day, Dean Saunders claimed Rovers couldn’t match the wages offered elsewhere to the diminutive midfielder, who had opted for pastures new.

It was an allegation scoffed at by the Pompey camp.

Arguably, most eye-catching of all was the presence of free-agent Brian Howard, who had been training with the Blues since at the end of last week.

The former Southampton trainee was even pencilled in for a debut against the Hawks on Saturday – only for the weather to intervene.

Elsewhere, six first-year professionals, plus Adam Webster, were surprisingly at ease in the first-team scenario they currently find themselves in.

Their familiarity with each other had unquestionably helped settle the nerves, although Sam Magri still did manage to enter the ladies’ toilets by accident at the airport.

Herded together to sit at the back of the flight, he was joined by Webster, Jed Wallace, Dan Thompson, Ashley Harris, George Colson and Dan Butler.

However, Elliot Wheeler, Andy Higgins and Alex Grant remained at Eastleigh, along with the seven senior professionals who appeared for the club last season.

There was also a newcomer to the coaching ranks in the name of Ashley Westwood, who was flanked by fellow recent appointee – head of recruitment Luke Dowling.

Westwood displayed a heart of gold by lending his iPad to a persistently-crying toddler during the flight, whose grateful parents used it to show a host of cartoons which, thankfully, captivated the youngster.

Sat directly behind the child, Appleton must have been congratulating himself on making the decision to bring Westwood to the club in the first place.

After a two-and-a-half hour flight, a coach was awaiting the travelling party at Malaga airport to take them the 15 miles to their home for the next 10 days.

Already there was Luke Rodgers – a former Crewe team-mate of Westwood.

The pair instantly greeted each other warmly in the foyer.

Another triallist, taking the grand tally to eight on the tour at present – with still the possibility of a goalkeeper arriving in the coming days.

School has started – now it’s up to the Class of 2012 to make an impression on Appleton if they want to remain.