The shy boy who became a man in Pompey’s glare

Adam Webster developed into a fantastic player during his time at Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler
Adam Webster developed into a fantastic player during his time at Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler
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In Spain it was the shorts which set Adam Webster apart.

Deckchair-striped and shapeless, yet a constant companion of the gawky-looking 17-year-old basking in his first pre-season tour.

Their regular presence had already been seized upon by then-boss Michael Appleton.

‘Hello sailor’, came the common cry across the dining room at the Gran Hotel Benahavis on each occasion Webster left his table seeking food.

The response was a nervous giggle and a little awkwardness, yet those shorts remained for the duration of those 10 days in Malaga.

Now Webster is on his way to Ipswich, the last of that playing squad from the summer of 2012 to depart.

The teenager who grew up in front of our eyes in the glare of Pompey’s first-team.

During those baby steps at Fratton Park there were tumbles to the floor, some almost career-changing, yet now he will stride confidently to the Championship.

And how we wish the immensely-likeable central defender well in this new challenge.

You see, Webster really was ‘One of our own’, even if rarely mentioned by the Fratton faithful. Although scoring against Cambridge United in February did provoke a rare rendition.

On Pompey’s books since the age of 10, a debut at 17 years and 11 days, hailing from West Wittering and 81 appearances and five goals before aged 21 – he will forever represent a home-grown success.

Andy Awford and Paul Hardyman in particular deserve immense praise for their crucial Academy influence, culminating in Gary Waddock and Paul Cook applying the finishing touches to this stage of his career.

Yet back in July 2012, Webster was among seven Academy products pressed into Pompey’s Spanish tour.

The senior contracted players had been left at the Wellington Sports Ground as joint-administrator Trevor Birch attempted to drag them off the wage bill.

Instead Appleton embarked on the pre-season trip flanked by teenagers and triallists, a willing bunch eager to clinch a future at a club newly-admitted into League One.

Webster had made three Championship appearances the preceding campaign, while Ashley Harris had accumulated five.

Sam Magri had been an unused substitute five times, while Jed Wallace reached his first Blues squad in the final fixture of the 2011-12 season, again not leaving the bench.

Completing their group were Dan Butler, midfielder George Colson and striker Dan Thompson.

The Academy septet were asked to prop up a squad of strangers consisting of Jon Harley, Brian Howard, David Preece, Simon Eastwood, Luke Rodgers, Mustapha Dumbuya, Simon Gillett and Izale McLeod.

Yet during subsequent matches against Gibraltar and Brighton, the amiable Webster was the youngsters’ sole representative in the starting line-up. And at centre half.

Unfortunately, Appleton’s side lost 4-0 on the Gibraltar Astroturf and then 5-1 to Brighton at the Barcelo Montecastillo Resort in Cadiz during a disappointing trip results-wise.

Towards the end of the tour, Pompey’s boss revealed Webster would be employed at full-back to get him first-team involvement, his inexperience in the centre of defence seeing him passed over for that role.

It would be a view shared by many Fratton managers until Waddock threw him into his favoured position in the final four matches of last term.

On that pre-season tour, however, the shy Webster was growing into the first-team environment he inhabited.

Admittedly, his table-tennis performances were more pong than ping as he languished at the bottom of the rankings among his peers in their ‘youth club’, as Appleton coined it.

Magri shrugged off a jellyfish bite while swimming to take top spot, Wallace, as ever, talked a good game.

Then came a Pompey X-Factor competition hosted by lively physio Steve Allen, resplendent in yellow dress and dark wig.

As a rite of passage into the first-team, the Academy gang were commanded to perform in front of whooping players and staff, many filming the grand event on iPads.

It was Webster who triumphed, his admirable version of The Script’s The Man Who Can’t Be Moved winning favour with a panel consisting of a girl some of the youngsters had earlier been ogling by the pool.

He beat off fellow finalist Dan Butler, whose performance of Eminem’s Lose Yourself was accompanied by sporting a green mankini.

Upon their return to England, Webster established himself in the squads of Appleton and then caretaker Guy Whittingham.

In that subsequent 2012/13 campaign, he made 21 Blues appearances, 13 of which were starts, as he missed out on just one squad.

Yet confidence in having achieved his breakthrough was misplaced.

Newly-appointed boss Whittingham sent him on loan to non-league Aldershot the following season for a 24-game stay where he played alongside Richie Barker’s brother, Chris.

Following a knock to Daniel Alfei, new caretaker boss Awford initiated a recall in April 2014, throwing him in at right-back against Hartlepool.

Webster was the matchwinner as the run which would keep the Blues in the Football League gathered pace.

However, the youngster again slipped out of favour the next season as his contract ticked down.

Before Waddock arrived as the latest caretaker incumbent in April 2015, Webster had started only twice in his favoured central defensive role.

He never looked back.

The shy, spindly, 17-year-old with awful stripy shorts has blossomed into an excellent ball-playing central defender dripping with class.

The Championship is the rightful stage for another fine Pompey home-grown talent.

The boy has returned a man.