The story of the season - Coventry (a)
2010/11 season v Coventry at The Ricoh Arena, Saturday 8th August 2010.
In all honesty, and maybe because my personal circumstance changed over the summer and that meant I had 'something else' besides football - which family and friends aside, even if footie often dominated that too, was all I had, although mostly because of the past 18-months or so of what has gone on with Portsmouth Football Club and had left me so mentally and physically drained, the enthusiasm for the beginning of the season was not really something I had ahead of the season opener against Coventry as the 2010/11 no power championship season got underway.
Anticipating this with much optimism or enthusiasm was not there at all, that said Linvoy's testimonial the week before brought some of that back, but it was not until I lay in bed on the Friday night (7th August), but especially more so on the Saturday (8th August) before I got up that the 'buzz' was back nicely and I could not wait.
Washing was the first order of the day.
That done, it was time to don 'the lucky shirt' that was laid out ready the night before - we all have 'rituals' or 'traditions' that we follow prior to games, right?
We have items of clothing we think are 'lucky', even though we wear them and we lose more than we win! We have to take certain routes to where we are going, eat certain foods or drink certain drinks and at certain places.
My 'lucky shirt' - which does not get washed if defeat is avoided until we do lose, it is then washed and a different one tried, clearly last season my shirts got washed a lot! - for the day was the 'Benjani no.25' one from the cup-winning season. I often contemplate not wearing a shirt to football but I cannot recall, pre-season friendlies aside, a Pompey game that I have ever been to when I have not warn a replica shirt! The 'luck boxers' were also put on, I thought that perhaps trying a new ritual of 'shaving on the day of the game' could make a difference...well that does not work either!
Perhaps it is time I gave up my compulsive traditions?
With it typically, as so often happens where I live (Ivybridge, near Plymouth in Devon) raining, and this expected it had already been pre-arranged with Rob the night before that if this was the case he would call me when he got at the top of the road, just around the corner from me, where we would meet - when that call came at 9.15am Trina, who had stopped over for the night, was left behind and the excitement that the season 'really' was here kicked-in!
The journey to Exeter saw us catch up with the summer goings on, what we had been up to and the shambles of the world cup - both England and, in general, how disappointing this had been. Of course, it goes without saying, we talking about the more recent Pompey news until we arrived at the meeting point, where we awaited the arrival of our driver Ken, and he arrived a little after 10am.
We knew that Richie and Betsy were going, although Rob and I, as we discussed on the way up, were not entirely sure if Betsy would be travelling with us so it was a pleasant surprise when they turned up and he was - I would say the last time that I travelled to a game with Betsy would have been the final game of the 1999/2000 season when we lost to QPR! I had seen him a couple of times since though, quite literally only a couple of times and only briefly in passing each time...
Having all jumped into Ken's car, the driver who serves us so well, Rob the co-pilot sat up front, meaning 3 of us in the back, which is not something we have seen much of in recent years really, was a bit of a squeeze, especially as Betsy is a tall guy, couple that with Richie and I hardly being short it was a bit cramped, with some 'moaning' taking place, and this was just a 'short journey' really! As usual we had a laugh on the journey, which was an eventful one with plenty of traffic causing frustrating delays at times so it was decided to go off road and across country in the end to eventually find the pre-arranged 'Golden Eagle' pub at around 2pm - this was a bit out of the way, then again there are not that many pubs that are really within a shot distance of The Ricoh. Tony and Gill, who we had tickets for, were waiting for us just outside so we said our hello's and tickets were passed on as they were moving on for the '30 minute walk' to the ground.
A couple of swift pints later, they did not touch the sides, it ws decided that we would move onto another pub which was within walking distance - half a mile - where we would park up, but this was packed so we had to move on to find parking elsewhere, which we did at a working mans club, £5 fee involved, just across the motorway from The Ricoh. A brief shower later we were in the ground, time for a quick one was not there so we went in search of the seats, not that they were used - in the 1st half anyway - block 8 row KK seats 17-23 I think for our lot.
The game started brightly enough, and 'on paper' we fielded a 'strong side', no Kevin-Prince Boateng though, which either meant he was closing in on a move away or he had 'refused to play' and had been fined for doing so, well as far as other rumours went? Marc Wilson, installed as the captain, started like a man possessed in his midfield role - in what 'could' prove to be one of his final games though with West Brom 'said' to be sniffing around. It was Coventry that struck the early first blow though. It seemed as though we were dealing with the danger of a corner, somehow the ball managed to come back around the 6-yard box though and Freddy 'Clint' Eastwood scrambled it home, squeezing the ball through Jamie Ashdown's legs - I felt Paddy could have done better myself, and he did not overly impress me all afternoon.
I am a self-confessed Wilson fan, but the guy continued to impress me, his range of passing was fantastic and some of the cross field balls were simple superb - although as Coventry cottoned onto his importance they closed him down far more, which lessened his influence on the game, the movement, or inability to be that mobile, of some of those around him did little to help at times either. Matty Ritchie, again a guy I cannot hide my admiration for, also did well. Clearly he is not a left back but he again proved, ok maybe because we literally had 'no one else' that he is willing to play wherever he is asked to play and this commitment and determination to want to do this shone through - I suspect he would walk over broken glass for that Pompey shirt, and that is exactly the commitment I want, although sadly I feel certain that as soon as Steve Cotterill can find someone to fill in at left back he will, maybe not a bad thing but I feel this will then mean Ritchie will be out of the side, and that would be wrongly for me as I feel the guy has quality about him too and would offer good supply from the left in a more advanced role.
One man that was criminally poor, pretty much as always, was John Utaka! The guy was a disgrace, an absolutely disgrace.
He is not fit to pull on our shirt, and nowhere near a patch on the likes of Ritchie, who given his determination and effort should be a shoe-in over Utaka, who needs a good shoeing, any day of the week - Utaka for all his 'class', 'experience' and 'international pedigree' is not fit to lace the likes of Ritchie's boots! It is just a shame that we cannot let him rot away in the reserves, or simple not pick him at all...ever! As we have no reserves and he is on bloody good money I suspect that this money he is on will dictate that he will play I guess...
I can honestly say, and I am NOT a fan of his anyway, that any lingering ounce of respect I might have had for him was lost. I have never seen a player, I include the England prima donnas we saw in South Africa, as disinterested as he was. Without a doubt I have never ever, including Jermain Defoe, seen one as disinterested when wearing a Pompey shirt. Anyone that was at the game will have lost count of the number of times he quite visibly, and unashamedly, 'gave up'. I hate booing players, or the team, but he deserved this, and the 'get him off' treatment that he got before this. I assume he heard the boos, but if not he will think that he was getting a standing ovation when he came off...
His ability has never been in doubt, I know, you know and he knows that he has this but without the desire to apply yourself, which he does not, you have nothing apart from a player costing a bloody fortune! I do not care that he does not score goals, or at least I would not so much if he actually put in the effort - the fact that he scored a few last season never won me over, nor will it this season unless he applies himself, surely it is in his best interests to do that to try and get the move he wants, and based on that showing any scouts 'watching him' would think 'sod that!'
Anyway, back to the game...
We had lots of huff but not a lot of puff with Dave Nugent often in a huff as he was getting the hump quite a lot, but put in some effort to be fair - and really, and I mean really, came over to the fans at the end, which I liked - but spent too much time 'moaning' for my liking, especially at him own teammates. You, well I, felt we could have played all night and not scored, and when Eastwood got his second on 70 minutes, scoring only his 5th and 6th goals I was later told by a friend via text in the last 30-months, this ensured that was that. In all honesty they were the side that wanted it more, we have a team that, on the whole, looks committed and that will do me but we need to increase numbers, that much is blatantly obvious.
The fans though, some 2,000 or so of us, were not beaten though, as always. We were top class from start to finish, especially at the end, even in defeat we never gave up and that buzz of excitement that you get, the one that sends a tingle down your spine when everyone is involved in this special atmosphere produced by Pompey fans, still remains as strong for me as its ever been, with it just as magical now as ever, arguably more so!
Despite having to wait sometime to get away from the car park we had opted for, which understandably took some time given the fact we were coming onto a motorway we probably got on the road properly around 6pm I would say - the traditional stop off for food on the way home saw us go to a regular chippy in Worcester that we use, when possible, and of course the needed toilet break at a service station, but we were back in Exeter for around 8.45pm. This left just the final leg of the journey, Rob dropping me home on his way back through to Plymouth - it must have been about 9.20pm when I walked through the door having undertaken a 12-hours shift, although as always, and as is most often the case even if the football was not up to much, this was worth it!
The season was back, we started with defeat, but as a fan I was not beaten and thoughts soon shifted to Monday night and the game at Stevenage - the first 'midweek', albeit on a Monday, game of the season is going to prove an all-nighter, and a long day and night at that, but again it will be worth it...
PLAY UP POMPEY!