IT wouldn’t be a pre-season friendly without a half-remembered face to set tongues wagging during the pre-match the warm-up, or a mystery man with no name to keep a stadium announcer on their toes.

The much derided ‘A Trialist’ will be keeping busy this weekend, appearing on team-sheets up and down the land to confuse fans and add a sense of intrigue to what is otherwise an extended training session.

Wanderers once billed 10 of their 11 players as ‘Trialist’ in a pre-season game against Marine, much to the joy of social media. And more often than not these enigmatic guest stars leave as quickly as they arrived.

Every once in a while, though, one sticks around. And in 2003, as Phil Brown took a squad of Premier League players up to the Italian alpine resort of Bormio, one late arrival turned out to be one of the best free transfers the club ever made.

Kevin Davies was not the only trialist heading into the mountains for an intensive training camp a month before the new season. In fact, it was actually Poland international full-back Tomasz Klos who grabbed the headlines when the tour party was announced.

Davies’s star had faded somewhat since a £7.5million move to Blackburn Rovers a few years earlier. His form and fitness had been under constant scrutiny at his previous club Southampton and he suddenly found himself out of work.

“I remember getting a call from my agent to ask if I was interested in going to Bolton on trial,” he told The Bolton News. “And at the time I wasn’t in a good spot. I was 25 or 26, things hadn’t gone well at Southampton for one reason or another and I knew I had to knuckle down.

“It wasn’t like I was in the last chance saloon or anything but I definitely wanted to prove a few people wrong at Southampton. I didn’t get a fair crack of the whip there.

“I had a proper chat with Phil (Brown) and he told me what they wanted from me.

“They were going away for 10 days of intense training and I’d not been playing for about 18 months, so I was about a stone overweight. But to have a Premier League club interested in taking me on made me want to do it.”

The solution to Davies’s weight issue was drastic, given modern sensibilities. The ‘Fat Camp’ was established by Sam Allardyce to cajole some of the players who had over-enjoyed their summer vacation into getting back into shape.

“It was an experience,” said the former England international. “They put me on the Atkins Diet for two weeks and got me up every morning at 6.30am on the bike into the mountains for a couple of hours.

“You’d get a little break and then it would be back into intense training, football in the afternoon, then gym and cardio in the evening. I think it was the year we discovered the cryotherapy chamber as well.

“It was horrible but the worst bit was no carbs because of the diet. It worked in the end, though, because they invited me back to play a couple of games in Ireland.”

Davies wasn’t alone in the group given extra work, although the help came too late for another player who would pull on a Wanderers shirt that season, the Brazilian striker Jardel.

“Ivan Campo was definitely there,” Davies laughed. “Ivan’s motto was ‘enjoy the summer and then work as hard as you can once you get back,’ he said.

“I think Kevin Nolan was with us as well that year – although he always tried to tell us he was volunteering for the extra work and didn’t need to do it.”

Davies did indeed impress and after starring in a two-game trip in Ireland he came back to the Reebok to score against Royal Antwerp on the same day he penned a one-year contract.

"It's always interesting to take someone who tells you he has something to prove," Sam Allardyce said after the game.

"At his age he should be in full flow and maturing into a top football player, which was suggested early in his career.

"He's drifted by the wayside over the last couple of years but now he's got a great opportunity to come back with a bang. Hopefully, we can give him the ammunition to be as good, if not better than he has ever been in the Premiership."

Davies is not the only trialist made good for Wanderers. Jason McAteer impressed in a midweek friendly to earn a deal under Phil Neal and went on to play at the World Cup finals as a Bolton player.

Eidur Gudjohnsen trialled twice at Bolton – first after his release at PSV as a teenager and the second time well into his thirties.

Richard Sneekes was another famous example, the Dutchman brought into a pre-season tour of Scotland by Bruce Rioch in 1994.

“I was on loan at FC Locarno in Switzerland at the time,” he said. “I’d had a really good season and there were two clubs — one in England and one in Spain (Santiago) — who were really keen on signing me.

“I said to my agent ‘I’ll go to Spain then – it’s nice and warm there’, but my agent said ‘No, you’re going to Bolton’.

“The first team went to Scotland, a place called Invergordon, on a pre-season tour and I was on a week’s trial.

“Everybody in Holland was saying ‘Richard’s going to England — he’ll be back in three months’. They didn’t think English football would suit me and neither did I to be honest. I’d never made a tackle in my life and was more a passing, technical player.

“I remember my first game was against Dunfermline and it was 100mph — I hardly got a touch.

“The chief scout at the time, Ian McNeil, came up to me and said ‘We know you’re a good player but you need to start showing us otherwise you’ll be back on that plane’.

“In my next game we beat Ross County 5-0 and I scored twice and was man of the match. Then I scored again against Inverness and when Ian dropped me back at the airport he said ‘We’ll see you soon’. The week after I signed for £175,000.”

Maybe the greatest trialist Wanderers ever signed, however, was at a Crystal Palace game – as a watching Rioch spotted Gudni Bergsson trying to earn a deal at Selhurst Park and managed to convince him to come to the North West instead.

While the onus is on the manager to spot the talent, Davies admits there is a massive amount of pressure on players to make an impression at this time of year.

“It can be tough but it depends on your personality,” he said. “Some lads will walk straight into a dressing room full of confidence and have no problem.

“Personally, I’m more of a shy unassuming type. I remember going into Preston at 35 or 36 years old and finding it difficult changing clubs. I’d wanted to stay with Bolton but all of a sudden I was going into a group of players who knew about my reputation, maybe, but not a lot else.

“You want to make that good impression, be at the front of the running, volunteer for all the extra stuff but it soon settles down if you get that break.”

Once the takeover is completed, Wanderers could be throwing the doors open to free agents to see who is still on the market.

Davies believes that despite recent problems, there is still an appeal about Bolton Wanderers which should ensure players are looking to join this summer.

“If I was a player out of contract and Bolton asked me to come in, I’d at least be considering it, giving them a chance,” he said.

“Who wouldn’t’ want to play in front of decent crowds, in a good stadium for a club with the history and traditions that Bolton have?

“I’d imagine the manager or the owner – whoever is looking to bring those players in over the next few weeks – will have to go strong on that and show the club in a decent light.

“It’s a fresh start. That’s the way it has to be billed. We can’t mope around forever talking about the negative things and what went wrong.”