IF I were to rank my favourite modes of transport in order of which make me most comfortable, planes would be right down the bottom, alongside the Penny Farthing or inline roller skates.

Whether I watched too much A Team as a kid, or just clung on to an inbuilt logic that something that heavy isn’t meant to fly, it took me a very long time to step foot on an aircraft without the aid of several glasses of wine and a stress ball.

Nowadays I am more chilled. In fact, I was more concerned about the horror stories of snaking queues and missed flights emanating from every airport in the country over the last few weeks than anything that involved gravity when I booked my trip to Portugal to cover Wandererstraining camp.

Determined not to be one of those people who turned up six hours before my flight and exacerbated the problem, I jumped out at Leeds-Bradford airport expecting the worst. But in truth, an hour-long crawl through check-in and security wasn’t bad at all, even though it was largely spent watching two young people in front of me hold a conversation with the end of their phone and their caller on loudspeaker. In case anyone was wondering, Nick is just ‘basic’ and Estelle can do better.

I can hear you all saying ‘get to the football, Ilesy’ – well, give me a minute.

Safely on board the plane, I wedged myself beside a couple who really did not look pleased to see a fella of my size in the seat next door. Had they known what was coming, they might have been pleased of the extra cushioning.

Mainland Europe has been having somewhat of a heatwave of late. We have seen France hit 40deg C and Spain endure wildfires, clear evidence of global warming which made Jet2’s conciliatory boast that they were the most carbon-neutral airline in the world feel a might redundant.

Any meteorologists out there will know that thunderstorms will follow when a colder front of air finally shows up – and that is precisely what is passengers on flight LS251 learned as we rolled across the Bay of Biscay like a drunk on his way home from the chippy.

The young woman to my left (the eye-roller) was scrabbling around for a sick bag an hour into the trip. Children cried. Grown men grabbed the seat rest with each stomach-churning dip. All I could think about was that it couldn’t end here: I haven’t done Harrogate, Sutton United or Brentford’s new ground.

Somewhere over Spain things settled. The Eye-Roller accepted my offer of some Tic-Tacs, and then relented our battle over the middle arm rest. Result!

On to Alvor, the town not far away from the club’s base, and one that instantly ingratiated itself to me with the rows of shops selling local wines at less than two Euros a pop.

I should add, I haven’t picked his town at random. It also happened to be the place that BBC Radio Manchester’s Jack Dearden has been staying for the previous week, and I write this diary piece an hour before meeting him for a meal – and what he promises will be the best grouper I have ever had in my life (spoiler: I am not sure I’ve ever eaten it!).

Of course, the real reason for being out here is to get a first glimpse of Wanderers as they build towards the new season.

It is just over six weeks since we last saw the Whites out on the pitch, and plenty has happened since then. There have been signings, missed targets, upcoming deals, a change in course with the B Team, the speculation over Ian Evatt and Blackpool… So if braving a bumpy three-hour flight and watching Jacko destroy a fish dinner is what I have to do to get answers, so be it.

All joking aside, the tone of a pre-season – and particularly one spent in close proximity like this – can be a telling factor for a football club.

I have been lucky enough to sample quite a few, travel all around the world to get an inkling on how preparations are going, the mood of the squad, what still needs to be added in the manager’s opinion.

So, in the spirit of giving our premium subscribers the best possible deal from this trip – I’ll also include a postscript to each of my daily diaries, a tale from pre-seasons past that might not have hit the headlines. My first comes from Athens and involves a young goalkeeper.


Blister in the Sun


WE really didn’t know much about Adam Bogdan.

He was hard to miss, of course, that flame-red hair and lolloping gait which earned him the nickname ‘Shaggy’ in the Wanderers camp – but he had barely made a dent on Wanderers when we went off to Greece for pre-season in the summer of 2008.

Gary Megson was still moderately popular in those days among Bolton fans, who had watched him instigate a rather miraculous escape from relegation the season before, when all had looked doomed at one stage.

The ‘Ginger Mourinho’ – as it was still possible to call him – had to rush a pre-season trip through as Wanderers had no way of booking anything in advance. After that 4-0 defeat at Aston Villa, is was looking like the Isle of Wight at best.

Nevertheless, the club managed to secure a couple of friendlies in Greece, one a mad smoke-filled trip to Thessaloniki, the other a meeting with Rivaldo’s AEK Athens.

The trouble was, it was red hot. And I mean boiling.

Totally inconducive to football training, Wanderers were trying to get themselves into shape in soaring temperatures. And poor Shaggy did not take well to the heat.

While Megson barked orders from the middle of the park wearing a self-fashioned hat which made him look a little like a French Legionnaire (or the old Mirror cartoon, Beau Peep, for older readers), Adam was beetroot red by 11am.

To make matters worse, he was being trained by Fred Barber – without question the hardest taskmaster I have ever laid eyes on.

I often joked to Fred and Taff (Neil Edwards) that I could breeze through their goalkeeper training sessions without a care. I was, after all, a young man back then.

But I changed my mind when Rob Urbani – the club’s junior press officer – tried to match Jussi Jaaskelainen and Co for about half an hour. Let’s just say he didn’t anticipate seeing his breakfast that quickly again.

Somehow, Shaggy survived that training session and went for a well-deserved ice bath. Fast forward several years and he was wearing red and keeping goal for Liverpool… Go figure.