When Pompey were great
Everyone remembers the old classic games from the past, the cup final itself being the most recent, but to slighter older yet still youthful looking members like myself, other games churn up fondness when my mind wonders to them. There was Stockport on a Tuesday night back in February 1998, Pompey were skint, out on their feet at the foot of what was then Division 1, when a rumbling came from the Fratton end that reverberated around all 4 sides of the ground, the noise of 'Alan Ball's blue and white army' built to a crescendo around the old girl, the chant went on for a good 20 minutes without pause, and Steve Claridge rose to the occasion to notch a famous win and start another great escape from relegation, this match was watched by 8,622 die-hards, but about 30,000 claim to have been present now!
Adversity like this was common place during my years as a young Pompey fan, it is what makes the Premiership years all that much sweeter, but i am going to kick off this feature with a match from another Alan Ball era, and when things were a little brighter.
The date was 11th May 1985, it was a Saturday, a day pompey used to regularly play on, and it was in deepest Yorkshire at Huddersfield, Leeds road to be precise, a now demolished ground where I truly discovered how great it was to be a Pompey fan, and also hit the highs and lows of the experience, and yet get a sobering finish to the day.
Pompey had had a great campaign under Bally, we had already won 19 games that season, we had scored 67 goals and notched up 71 points in the process, the division was called division 2 at the time, the Premiership was still an idea not to be in motion yet, and Division 1 was where it was at.
Pompey were on the very cusp of returning to the top flight for the first time in 26 long years, and the charts were filled by The Smiths and The Style council, the only girl band being Bananarama.
Trouble is Manchester City were filled with the same ideas as us, our points tally was the same, goal difference was to close to call, and only one spot was available to the promised land where Liverpool reigned supreme.
Looking back now, I seem to think this may have been my first ever away game, I was 14, about 5'2' and had persuaded my Mum and Dad that the time was right to make the move to travelling fan as well as just a season ticket holder. My Mum and Dad were both holders themselves back then, we were all regulars in the family section and the decision was made to travel on one of the Pompey specials up to Yorkshire along with about 9,000 other fans to see if Pompey could pull it off.
We picked up a train at Pompey harbour and off we went, fans seemed to flood in at Havant, Petersfield and even Liphook, 2 trains were filled exclusively with Pompey and the atmosphere blew me away, the train was the main source of transport for such games 25 years ago and it certainly added to the occasion to a young Pompey fan.
I don't remember too much of the journey besides the singing and Lager flowing, 1 pit-stop somewhere near Birmingham and then onwards to Yorkshire, a place I had only seen on tea-bag packets.
Arriving in Huddersfield I can remember the Pompey fand been herded off the trains by police and almost frogmarched on-masse straight to the ground, cobbled streets complememted the Yorkshire cliche, and twitching curtains made me feel I truly was in another World.
Pompey fans were obviously a bit vocal in their roughhouse police cordon, one fan taking particular umbridge at a Police horse sneezing snot all over his Sergio Tacchini tracksuit top and Lois jeans, in fact I have never seen anyone actually try and knock a horse out before!
To those that remember Leeds road, it was more ramshackle than Fratton is now, it had an end called the Cowshed, which just about summed it up really, more to the point though, in days when fans used to try and "take" the home end, Yorkshire police in their wisdom decided to give Pompey 3 sides of the ground, we had the equivalent of the Fratton end, Milton end and South stands, something I have never witnessed since.
Pompey in these days were built on the rocks of Blake and Gilbert at the back with Kevin Dillon pulling the strings in midfield with Micky Kennedy who had famously written in the News of the World "I like hurting people" doing the destruction work with Bobby Doyle.
On the wings were two players who always mentioned in the same breath, "VincenCally" they were, Vince Hilaire was on the right, and the Irishman from Dagenham, O'Callaghan who still rates as one of my all time favourites. Yosser Tait ws still a mainstay of the side and Neil Webb had still to move on to bigger things.
Pompey in my mind were all over Huddersfield from the off, my memeories are obviously blurred of the game, I know Hilaire gave us a half-time lead, and eruptions went up all around the ground as "news" of Man City getting "beat" at Charlton filtered through. Alan Knight spent more time listening to the crowd than concentrating on the match, I can still see him clenching his fist with delight as Man City went 2-0 down according to the man with the hot-line in the crowd.
What made this match special though was O'Callaghan, he scored one of the most special goals I can remember, he picked the ball up in his own half and just set off, I'm sure he went around at least 15 players as he burst towards us fans behind the goal and then slotted home and set off on another mazy run to escape his team-mates! Bon-fires were burning in both ends of the ground as I recall, and Pompey were dis-embarking at San-Grilla, the promised land awaits!
Thing is though, the history books tell a different story, yes pompey won 2-0, but Man city had romped home 5-0, firng home at will against a rookie 19 year old goalie making his debut.
The journey home was somewhat more sub-dued, I can remember sharing a carriage with a fat bloke eating the biggest bucket of chicken I have ever seen, his constant arse eruptions proving the main attraction for the journey home. News was filtering through of "something happening" further over in Yorkshire, somewhere in Bradford, Valley Parade there had been a fire or something, news that was not to hit home until we turned the telly on back home.
11/5/85 will always stick in my memory, it highlights Pompey into a complete nutshell for me, Ecstacy, Frustation and Despair in equal measures, but what a goal from O'Callaghan!
For the record, the match was watched by 13,290 of which I'm sure 9,000 were Pompey!