Players return for first day of pre-season
In many ways it was like the first day back at school.
Some have departed, others have arrived, everything’s freshly painted and the grass is newly mown and looks that much greener.
After weeks of solitude within the dressing rooms at Fratton Park, it once again buzzes to the sound of chatter, laughter and mild chaos.
Pompey’s players have returned to pre-season training and Andy Awford admits to a mild attack of butterflies as term-time begins in earnest.
“I had that little rumble in the stomach but it’s a nice feeling to have,” said the Blues boss. “It was lovely to get down and see training and watch the new players get integrated.
“There’s that social aspect – getting new players bedded in, finding out where their breakfast is, directions to the training ground, collecting their new training kit and meeting the staff.
“So yes it is very much like first day back at school and the work was very light, but that will increase as the pre-season goes on.
“For me it’s all about keeping the momentum we built at the end of last season. So I was delighted that the atmosphere was sky high – if I could bottle that I’d be a millionaire.
“Everybody was as high as a kite which is just what I want rather than people moping about. I wanted it vibrant, full of energy and that’s what we got.”
Awford is clear that the momentum he talks of is the spirit that he miraculously engineered with seven games to go last season, rather than winning every friendly encounter.
He said: “Pre-season games are all about fitness and you will see that from the teams picked at Havant & Waterlooville, Bognor and Thurrock.
“There won’t be any first team as such – it will be the squad that plays in these games. The longer the pre-season goes on, you more you get your pairings.
“Of course I want to win every game and if we can get results then that’s all well and good, but it won’t be the primary focus.”
Awford admits that, as a player, he was never the best trainer and his old bosses had different approaches to pre-season.
He said: “I was a right moaner. The grass was too long or the training wasn’t right and because the lads knew it, they used to load bullets into me which I then fired.
“I hated pre-season and all I wanted to do was play football. I got put in my place by the likes of Alan Ball and Jim Smith a few times, but it was simply my way of getting through the hard work.
“Of course the different people I played under had various methods. Under Tony Pulis we ran a marathon in three days!
“We went through the New Forest and along the side of the A31, but I think those days are now well and truly gone.
“I don’t know if Tony still does that and we would have a good laugh about it now, but generally I think times have moved on.
“Jim would never come down to the training ground for the first few days of pre-season, while Tony was very hands on and Harry Redknapp would watch intently.
“I did attend the first day, but let Paul Hardyman and Alan McLoughlin do most of the session while I just watched and checked everybody was okay and had a smile on their face.”
Awford was by his own definition one of the club’s practical jokers and one pre-season jape with Paul Hall landed him in hot water.
There is a team photo from the 1994/95 campaign which, if you look closely, reveals an oddity.
On the far left in the front row, Awford and Hall had surreptitiously crossed arms in a way where the Jamaican winger appears to have a white hand and Awford a black one.
Awford said: “We did feel the wrath of Jim Smith at the time because the gag probably went a little bit far, and that picture goes down in history because it was too late to change once discovered.
“John Durnin and I in particular were the practical jokers, but there is a time and a place.
“When working, you are doing just that, and if there is a gag to be had then it has to come at the right time.
“As long as gags are at the right time and don’t cross the line, then that will be okay by me.”
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