PORTSMOUTH: THE SECOND HALF OF THE 2018 – 2019 SEASON
By Geoffrey Fry
Portsmouth were top of the League One table at the half way stage of the 2018-2019 season, but nobody with much sense thought that this necessarily meant that Pompey would be the Champions at the end of the season or even promoted. Anything less than the League One title would – of course – be a form of failure, but one notes that, to name several important football clubs, at least in terms of English football history, Nottingham Forest (2007-2008), Leeds United (2009-2010), and Sheffield Wednesday(2011-2012) have all failed to win the title at this level when competing there during this century. This was also true of Southampton in the 2010-2011 season, though there seems no need to overstate their importance in English football. They have – of course – only won one major honour ever.
So, the task ahead is onerous. Barnsley and, surprisingly, Luton Town look to be serious challengers, together with, of course, Sunderland, though, in their case, the loss of Josh Maja, their leading scorer, seems likely to adversely affect them, or we must at least hope so. That Sunderland are playing at this level at all must be a cause for bitterness on the part of their mass following, given that Sunderland have won no less than eight major honours in their history, though only one this side of World War Two. That was – of course – when they defeated Leeds United in the F.A. Cup Final of 1973. Sunderland certainly command admiration for their support base. On 26 December 2018, the attendance for their League One home game with Bradford City, which they won 1-0, was no less than 46,154. This was the third tier’s biggest attendance for 39 years, and it exceeded, for example, the attendance that Tottenham Hotspur attracted the same day at Wembley Stadium to watch their Premier League game against Bournemouth, which they won 5-0, with that crowd being 45,154. The attendance that Sunderland attracted on Boxing Day 2018 was remarkable, and to put it in perspective the last time that Portsmouth attracted a larger attendance than that one was when 46,815 turned up to watch Pompey defeat Spurs 2-0 on 24 November 1951, with the crowd including me. Of course, the ability to attract large attendances does not guarantee playing success – Newcastle averaged 51,992 last season despite not having won a domestic major honour since 1955 or a major honour of any kind since 1969. Whoever wins the League One title at the end of the 2018-2019 season will – of course – only have won a minor honour. Nonetheless, this will be well worth having. All I am striving to stress is that we face a serious challenge both in securing promotion and another minor title.
PORTSMOUTH’S LEAGUE ONE CAMPAIGN
4.8.2018 Luton Town [H] 1-0
11.8.2018 Blackpool [A] 2-1
18.8.2018 Oxford United [H] 4-1
21.8.2018 Bristol Rovers [A] 2-1
25.8.2018 Doncaster Rovers [A] 0-0
1.9.2018 Plymouth Argyle [H] 3-0
8.9.2018 Shrewsbury Town [H] 1-1
15.9.2018 Peterborough United [A] 1-0
22.9.2018 Wycombe Wanderers [H] 2-2
29.9.2018 Rochdale [A] 3-1
2.10.2018 Coventry City [A] 1-0
6.10.2018 Gillingham [H] 0-2
13.10.2018 AFC Wimbledon [A] 2-1
20.10.2018 Fleetwood Town [H] 1-0
23.10.2018 Burton Albion [H] 2-2
27.10.2018 Accrington Stanley [A] 1-1
3.11.2018 Bradford City [A] 1-0
24.11.2018 Scunthorpe United [A] 2-1
27.11.2018 Walsall [H] 2-0
8.12.2018 Southend United [H] 2-0
11.12,2018 Charlton Athletic [H] 0-2
15.12.2018 Barnsley [A] 1-1
22.12.2018 Sunderland [H] 3-1
Home P12 W7 D3 L2 Goals 22-11 Points 24
Away P11 W8 D3 L0 Goals 17-8 Points 27
Overall P23 W15 D6 L2 Goals 39-19 Points 51
League Position: 1st
26.12.2018 GILLINGHAM [A] 0-2 [6,940]
Though Portsmouth’s defeat in this match was treated as a shock result by the media, some of us remembered that Gillingham had won with some comfort at Fratton Park in early October, and, despite them being very much in the lower half of League One. I was one of those who anticipated another defeat for Pompey at Gillingham’s hands, especially as Portsmouth had an unbeaten away record that had to go sometime. It would have been better if it had been surrendered without Luton Town and Sunderland being so close behind Portsmouth at the top of League One, but there it is. According to Neil Allen, writing in The News, Portsmouth were very much in charge during the first half, but they were very wasteful when it came to converting a succession of chances, and they paid the price when Gillingham took the lead after 45 minutes with what looked to me to be a well taken header. Neil Allen thought that ‘there was little fear
the score would not be reversed, yet [scoring ] opportunities again were not taken.’ Three substitutions were made without making any difference to the scoreline, but their use meant that Pompey had to soldier on with ten men after 75 minutes when Nathan Thompson had to go off with a hamstring injury which will mean that he will be out of action for several weeks. Meanwhile, Gillingham had little difficulty in retaining their lead, and, indeed, increased their advantage to 2-0 by means of what on film looked to be a debatable penalty. Whether this was so or not, the hard reality was that Pompey had lost what should have been a straightforward game.
29.12.2018 FLEETWOOD TOWN [A] 5-2 [3,494]
Following a spell in which Portsmouth had only taken 4 points from 4 games, it was imperative that they won at Fleetwood, a club which had only lost twice at home this season. Things did not look too hopeful at half time. Pompey took the lead after 26 minutes through what Neil Allen in The News described as ‘a stunning right footed strike’ by Ben Thompson ‘from outside the area.’ Fleetwood responded after 39 minutes with the scorer being ‘criminally unmarked,’ and on 43 minutes they went ahead from a disputed penalty. The game turned in Pompey’s favour when on 51 minutes a Fleetwood player was sent off for a second bookable offence. Six minutes later, Pitman scored from a penalty, and a minute later Walkes put Portsmouth ahead with a spectacular left footed shot into the top corner. Jason Lowe made victory certain by scoring after 81 minutes and then again after 84 minutes. The account in The Football League Paper emphasised that this victory was not as easy as the scoreline suggested, and the fact that Fleetwood hit the woodwork twice when they were down to ten men bears this out. Neil Allen saw it differently, writing that ‘as demonstrated the previous Saturday against Sunderland, Pompey can ruthlessly operate when faced with ten men – and [they] tore the wilting Fleetwood apart.’ Opinions differ then, but the fact remains that Pompey have not won a match against a team with a full complement of players this side of early December, and quite how they are going to fare in midfield if and when Ben Thompson departs back to Millwall is a good question.
1.1.2019 AFC WIMBLEDON [H] 2-1 [18,732]
Portsmouth have a good record against Wimbledon over the years, but it was no surprise that my friends in the South Stand found this home game against these opponents to be a dreadful match because most games against that unlovable club have that character. It was not then very surprising that Neil Allen reported afterwards in The News that Pompey ‘made hard work’ of ‘grinding out a home victory against a club languishing second from bottom’ in League One, despite dominating the first half and taking the lead as early as the eighth minute. As Allen described this goal: ‘Curtis embarked on a run, cutting in from the left and firing a shot that [the visiting goalkeeper] was unable to hold. There was the lurking Lowe to pounce, calmly clipping the ball past the keeper.’ Portsmouth, though, were not able to add to their lead, and Curtis and Lowe were guilty of bad misses in a second half that witnessed Wimbledon asserting themselves, eventually being rewarded after 75 minutes with a memorable equalizer. This was ‘a blistering shot from thirty yards which gave MacGillivray no chance.’ Five minutes later, Pompey scored their winning goal when Ben Thompson crossed from the right and Curtis scored with a far post header. He was booked for his celebrations. Far from conceding defeat, Wimbledon continued the threaten, and the Portsmouth Manager brought on Burgess to provide extra cover in defence and thus to see out victory.
12.1.2019 BLACKPOOL [H] 0-1 [18,403]
Blackpool came into this game having failed to win for no less than seven games and not having even scored for nearly 400 minutes, but, surely, that Portsmouth contrived to lose this home game against them was not the shock result that Sky Sports and the rest of media described it as being. With Ben Thompson having gone back to Millwall, and with Hawkins injured, Pompey were short of inventiveness in midfield and lacking in the target man up front that is essential if the favoured formation of Manager Kenny Jackett is to function successfully. So, it was not that much of a surprise that, as Neil Allen wrote in The News, ‘the Fratton faithful were subjected to … a wretched apology of a display in which it took 85 minutes for Portsmouth to make their first attempt on goal [a header from Pitman] and Clarke’s 87th minute shot to draw the first proper save [from the visiting goalkeeper].’ Blackpool came for a point, and got three because of lax Pompey defensive covering. This was a predictable and dispiriting defeat. Tom Naylor, one of the few Pompey players who played well, told The Sun on Sunday that this defeat was ‘just a blip,’ but it was also Portsmouth’s third defeat in their last seven League One games.
19.1.2019 OXFORD UNITED [A] 1-2 [8,202]
Though Oxford United were fifth from the bottom of the League One table before this game with Portsmouth, given that Pompey had secured just one point from their previous five games, few among their faithful fans were surely surprised by this unforgivable 2-1 defeat. After Portsmouth lost for the fourth time in eight games, ‘the more hysterical among Pompey’s support are writing off the current league leaders to a play off fate – or even worse.’ So wrote Neil Allen in The News, adding: ‘Such is the consequence of two wretched displays culminating in two abject losses over an eight day period … at the Kassam Stadium they once again appeared a shadow of themselves as their hosts … collected a thoroughly deserved victory.’ Oxford scored after 24 minutes and then again in added time at the end of the first half. I thought that both goals were far too easily obtained. Portsmouth managed a reply after 64 minutes when Pitman scored with a brilliant overhead kick. They showed no sign of subsequently equalizing. Kenny Jackett seems to me to have done a good job as Manager since he took over, but, to state the obvious, given that the formation he favours requires a target man, and Pitman cannot play this role, why is it that the only such player that Pompey have is Hawkins? Now that a calf injury has ruled out Hawkins out it is said until Febrnary, then, to put the matter mildly, Portsmouth now have an attacking problem. To play Lowe in that position on Saturday was ludicrous. Then again, Jackett seems to have acted all along as if Ben Thompson is somehow going to magically return on loan again from Millwall to solve Pompey’s midfield problems. Given that Thompson played for Millwall in the Championship on Saturday, this seems unlikely. We were told that Bryn Morris signed from Shrewsbury was supposed to be his replacement. So why was he merely on the bench for this match? This result was an insult to the 1,803 Pompey supporters who made the trip.
29.1.2019 LUTON TOWN [A] 2-3 [10,078]
That Portsmouth lost this game against the team that has replaced them at the top of League One was surely not a surprise. Though Pompey defeated Luton Town on the opening day of the season, it was generally conceded that they were flattered by their single goal victory. Further than this, Pompey came into this return game in poor form, facing a team still unbeaten at home. The first half was ‘brutal to witness,’ Neil Allen reported in The News, as ‘Pompey were battered under wave after wave of Hatters attacks, struggling to keep [their] rampant hosts at bay in a painfully one sided contest.’ That said, though, Luton were restricted to a single goal lead scored after 39 minutes. At half time, the Portsmouth Manager, Kenny Jackett discarded the three at the back formation that he had begun with, and both Evans and Pitman were dispensed with too: Donohue and new signing Omar Bogle were brought on. Things seemed to improve when Curtis equalized after 52 minutes. Eventually, though, Luton prevailed. They scored from a penalty after 77 minutes, and, although Bogle levelled the score two minutes later when he capitalized on an opening made by Lowe, Luton scored again with four minutes to go from a well executed free kick to win the game. Portsmouth were then left no less than 5 points behind Luton, though with a game in hand, and with Barnsley, Charlton, and Sunderland breathing down their necks. Pompey have now lost three games in a row, and five games out of the last nine. There is time to recover, but the recovery must start soon.
2.2.2019 DONCASTER ROVERS [H] 1-1 [17,800]
Those of us who saw the away game at Doncaster and thought that Portsmouth made a meal of getting a draw were not very optimistic about Pompey winning this return fixture. ‘Since conquering Southend 2-0 at Fratton Park on December 8, Jackett’s troops have collected a mere 11 points from a possible 30 – and registered no clean sheets,’ the usually optimistic Neil Allen wrote in The News, adding: ‘Of the three league victories claimed during that period, two arrived against 10 men. The other was obtained against bottom of the table AFC Wimbledon.’ So, nobody could have been surprised when in this latest game Pompey went 1-0 down after half an hour. Burgess [on as a substitute for Whatmough, who has injured that knee again] misjudged a long clearance by a Doncaster defender and one of their attackers, declining to make the same mistake, scored. Portsmouth eventually equalized after 54 minutes: ‘Ronan Curtis’s cross from the left saw [the Doncaster keeper] collide with a defender, allowing [James] Vaughan [ a loan signing from Wigan] to pounce. His left foot shot ricocheted helpfully into the path of [Omar] Bogle [ a loan signing from Cardiff], whose finish landed high into the the roof of the net from four yards out.’ So, the game ended in a draw, though, as The Sun on Sunday reminded its readers, only because MacGillivray, the Portsmouth goalkeeper made a superb last minute save, thus atoning for being partly responsible for Doncaster’s earlier goal.
9.2.2019 PLYMOUTH ARGYLE [A] 1-1 [12,052]
So it was the so called Dockland Derby once more, and with Plymouth having won five of their last five games, and, by contrast, Portsmouth in poor form, the most that Pompey could reasonably expect was a draw. Sure enough, that was all they achieved, despite the encouragement of no less than 1,180 travelling fans. Reporting for The News, Jordan Cross wrote off the first half as more or less anonymous, but after 56 minutes Pompey did contrive to take the lead: Evans created the chance and Close duly scored his first ever league goal with a clinical finish. A mere eight minutes later, a similar finish was required of Bogle when put clean through for a one on one, but he bungled it, and soon departed with cramp. After 70 minutes Plymouth were awarded a debatable free kick from which they scored a superb equalizer. That proved to be Plymouth’s only shot on goal during the whole match, and also the end of the scoring. This was the fifth League One game in a row that Pompey had failed to register a win. Cross thought that there was evidence this time of the former stoic defensive work that had characterized Portsmouth’s game in the first half of the season, but also that there was little sign of the previous attacking penetration and counter attacking class, and Curtis and Lowe were not the force that they had been. When interviewed in The Guardian for 5 February 2019, Kenny Jackett recalled that ‘five years ago his Wolves team clambered out of a mid season rut to win 17 of their last 21 matches and top League One with a record points tally.’ He added: ‘We’ll need that type of run here. To win things you need a sprint finish. This club and these players are capable of that.’
16.2.2019 SOUTHEND UNITED [A] 3-3 [7,300]
Portsmouth have not won a League One game since New Year’s Day, and even when they were 3-0 ahead in this televised away game with modestly placed Southend, who had already contrived to lose no less than nine of their home fixtures, and who had won just once in their last seven fixtures, there was little cause for the 1,239 Pompey fans who travelled to the game to feel optimistic about the outcome. One reason for pessimism was that Pompey have not kept a clean sheet in the eleven League One games played since they defeated – yes, you’ve guessed it – Southend on 2 December 2018. Pompey took the field with a 4-4-2 formation, with Bogle up front with Hawkins and with Soloman – Otabor on the left in place of the rested Curtis. Bogle was impressive until he went off once more with cramp. Morris scored after 8 minutes. Close scored – spectacularly – after 20 minutes. Hawkins scored from a tap in after 31 minutes. Bogle had a legitimate goal wrongly ruled out for offside after 25 minutes. So, it was 3-0 to Portsmouth instead of 4-0, and then Pompey proceeded to throw the game away. To put it mildly, the defence is no longer reliable, and with Whatmaugh out for the rest of the season with a knee injury – and it is that knee again – and with no replacement yet in place, this seems unlikely to change. A Southend player proceeded to get a hat trick, scoring after 36, 78 and 87 minutes respectively. The second goal was a penalty, and, given the standard of officiating we have become used to, it had better be emphasized that the award was justified. After the match, when Manager Kenny Jackett had the unwelcome task of explaining how Pompey had thrown away a 3-0 lead to merely draw, he cited the loss of Ben Thompson meant that the midfield had been gravely weakened. Thompson always was a Millwall player and only with Pompey on loan. He was almost bound to depart, and in fact he went back to the Den some time ago now. Portsmouth’s owners seem to think that they can secure promotion without serious expenditure. I hope that they are right, but in my opinion struggling out of League One via the play offs – heroically assuming that Pompey prevail – is not the best preparation for the cut throat Championship.
19.2.2019 BRISTOL ROVERS [H] 1-1 [17,880]
Though Bristol Rovers are flirting with relegation, their away form is not too bad, and with Portsmouth at no stage of this season having been very convincing at home, there was good cause to fear that Pompey would fail to win for the seventh time in a row in a League One fixture. Indeed, it was Bristol Rovers who took the lead from a disputed penalty after 37 minutes. Portsmouth equalised through substitute Bogle after 58 minutes, though fortunately for them Rovers missed a penalty after that. ‘The anger from disgruntled fans is understandable [given that] an abject January has stretched into a woeful February,’ wrote Neil Allen in The News, adding that ‘Jackett’s men are short of confidence, robbed of form and looking anything but capable of breaking back into the division’s top two.’ Manager Kenny Jackett conceded afterwards that Pompey did not deserve to win, but thought too that one win would transform the situation.
23.2.2019 BARNSLEY [H] 0-0 [18,624]
Barnsley had been undefeated in their thirteen League One fixtures before this match, and, given that such runs have to come to an end sometime, there was a glimmer of hope that this would happen with this visit to Portsmouth. It was not to be, though after 61 minutes, Pompey were given a golden opportunity to win the game when they were awarded a penalty, but Bogle’s shot was only too easily saved by the Barnsley goalkeeper. Nine minutes from the end, the Portsmouth goalkeeper, MacGillivray, made a brilliant save from a header, somehow pushing the ball against a post to ensure that the game was drawn. Neil Allen writing in The News, was far from being unimpressed with Portsmouth’s display, commenting that ‘a Fratton Park sell out witnessed … the return of a Pompey rarely glimpsed since the turn of the year’ in terms of effectiveness. There was ‘a clean sheet too, the first registered since December 8.’ Manager Kenny Jackett ‘afterwards spoke of the green shoots of recovery.’ Maybe so, but this was nothing less than the eighth League One game in a row that Portsmouth had failed to win, and, compared to their main rivals – three of whom remain unbeaten at home – Pompey’s record at Fratton Park continues to be unimpressive.
2.3.2019 BRADFORD CITY [H] 5-1 [17,657]
Given that Portsmouth were fortunate to win the corresponding game at Valley Parade last November, the only cause for optimism in relation to this return fixture was that Pompey’s losing run had to come to an end sometime. According to Neil Allen writing in The News, Bradford City, currently without a Manager, this time proved to be very poor defensively, though ‘this should not detract from one of Pompey’s finest displays of the season.’ Allen interestingly added that, ‘What’s more it was a convincing display which lasted the duration of the match, along with the ten minutes of added time … Rarely have Jackett’s men mustered up a satisfactory showing beyond a single half for much of the campaign. Against Bradford they maintained excellence.’ Portsmouth took the lead after 22 minutes with Evans scoring decisively from the penalty spot after Hawkins was deemed to have been fouled. Assistant Manager Joe Gallen told The Football League Paper that ‘maybe we were slightly fortunate with that decision.’ Pompey scored again after 41 minutes when a shot from Curtis was deflected on to the crossbar, and Naylor followed up to score. After 65 minutes, Bradford replied with a goal that I thought should have been prevented. Two minutes later, Curtis found Brown whose cross was chested home by Lowe to restore Pompey’s two goal lead, After 70 minutes, Portsmouth scored again, when a Curtis shot followed by an Evans shot was steered home by Close, and then after 87 minutes after a Curtis shot was headed out Close scored again with a left foot drive. Pompey actually finished the game which included ten minutes of added time followed from a drone deemed to be interfering with play] with ten men. No less than four Portsmouth players were injured and at various times having to go off (Hawkins, Nathan Thompson, Clarke, and, in added time, Curtis). Neil Allen declared Hawkins to have been unplayable at times when he was on the field, and that ‘Pompey suggest they are back.’ We shall have to wait and see on that one.
9.3.2019 CHARLTON ATHLETIC [A] 1-2 [14,451]
The 3,000 Pompey fans who travelled to this televised away game with Charlton had to be admired for the intense and noisy support they gave a Portsmouth team that did not really deserve it. For it has to be faced that, aside from Curtis and substitute Pitman – who came on for the final quarter of an hour or so – Portsmouth were unimpressive, and that Charlton were by far the better team throughout the game. They took the lead after 41 minutes when Burgess allowed a Charlton striker to turn in the box and he put the ball away clinically. Given the balance of play, it as a pleasant surprise when Pompey equalised after 45 minutes. Brown took a right wing corner and Curtis leapt determinedly to head a spectacular goal. Charlton won the match (and, thus, achieved a double at Portsmouth’s expense) with a soft goal after 54 minutes. Though it was difficult to detect, there seemed to be a Charlton handball in the build up, and the goal should have been disallowed, and, thus, Pompey might have secured a point that, given their overall performance, would have flattered them, but it was not to be. I found Pompey’s defensive work to be persistently unconvincing, especially that of Burgess. The midfield too was second best throughout, and those up front were denied the service they needed. The late introduction of Pitman in a withdrawn role did add some much needed spice. He made an opening for Lowe, whose cross unfortunately just eluded Curtis. Pitman also sent a dangerous curling shot that only narrowly cleared the crossbar. All told though, this well merited defeat led me to fear that ensured that the ceiling of Portsmouth’s hopes now has to be a place of some kind in the play offs, always providing, of course, the likes of Doncaster and Peterborough cooperate.
13.3.2019 WALSALL [A] 3-2 [4,097]
Portsmouth secured their first away win of 2019 in League One with this 3-2 victory at Walsall. Pompey had to make do without Curtis, who had badly injured himself when trapping his finger in a door, but they did have the benefit of the return of Pitman, who had not started in the previous ten games, and in this one played in what it is fashionable to describe as a number ten role. He proved to be very impressive, not least in converting a penalty after 13 minutes to give Pompey the lead. After 25 minutes, Pompey were 2-0 ahead through what Neil Allen in The News described as ‘a classy finish from Bogle.’ A ‘booming kick’ from MacGillivray reached Bogle ‘who lobbed the [Walsall] goalkeeper with a first time left foot shot which found the net via the inside of the far post.’ Pompey took a 3-0 lead after 68 minutes when Pitman won possession on the halfway line and then sent the ball out to Lowe who squared it for Soloman- Otabor to score. Given Portsmouth’s defensive frailties nobody could have been surprised that Walsall then proceeded to score a couple of times – after 75 minutes and in added time as a matter of fact – but Pompey still contrived to hold on for a win. The attendance was pitiful, but there was inevitably a Portsmouth presence, and Neil Allen recorded that Bogle ran the length of the field to milk the applause from these admirable fans after he scored, a moment he thought wonderful.
16.3.2019 SCUNTHORPE [H] 2-0 [17, 308]
For those of us with long memories, Scunthorpe have only too often in the past proved to be difficult opponents for Portsmouth, but not on this occasion because Pompey proceeded to win this home game, thus recording a double over the Irons, and for the first time in 2019 successive League One victories. As Neil Allen recorded in The News, the visitors were so shot shy that, aside from one first half stop, Portsmouth’s goalkeeper MacGillivray had nothing to do. That said, though, Pompey themselves did not score until Bogle gave them the lead after 71 minutes, with Lowe adding what Allen described as ‘a wonderful goal three minutes from time’ to clinch victory. Of Bogle, Allen wrote that ‘his mobility and pace has added a new dimension to [the team’s] attacking capabilities, which permits Brett Pitman to operate behind. Aerially and in terms of hold up play, Oli Hawkins remains the better option, yet Bogle’s differing attributes are continuing to have a massive impact on the side.’ It should be noted that, as a late substitute, Hawkins played a part in the second goal.
23.3.2019 SHREWSBURY TOWN [A] 2-0 [8,028]
After Portsmouth’s well deserved defeat at Charlton, Manager Kenny Jackett declared that Pompey needed eight or nine wins for their remaining ten games to secure automatic promotion. Those of us well aware of Portsmouth’s unimpressive record at Shrewsbury in the past did not count on Pompey winning at New Meadow this time around, but Portsmouth proceeded to record their third successive victory this side of that drab display at The Valley. Early on, Shrewbury ran the match, but after about 25 minutes of this, Manager Jackett discarded his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, which was not working against the host’s 3-4-3 system, and adopted a 4-3-3 formation which did, or, at least that was the interpretation that Neil Allen offered in The News. After 40 minutes, Portsmouth took the lead when Pitman provided an opening for Brown, and his angled shot was merely parried by the Shrewsbury goalkeeper, and Close scored with a left foot shot. Another change that Jackett made was to replace the subdued Bogle with Hawkins after 55 minutes, and he certainly made an impact. One of his shots hit the crossbar, and he played an important role in assisting Pitman to score Portsmouth’s second goal after 79 minutes, which clinched victory. This win was very welcome, but the hard reality remains that the current leaders show no sign of waning. The Football League Paper reminded us that Luton Town were now unbeaten in their last 26 League One games (19 wins and 7 draws) and that only Bristol Rovers have ever gone longer without defeat in a single third tier season (27 games in both the 1952-53 and 1973-74 seasons). Barnsley have also had a long run of undefeated games.
6.4.2019 WYCOMBE WANDERERS [A] 3-2 [6,978]
Those Portsmouth supporters who recalled that relegation candidates Wycombe Wanderers had got a draw in the game at Fratton Park in September were looking for revenge in the form of an away victory over the Choirboys in this return fixture. They were not to be disappointed. As Neil Weld wrote in The News, ‘there was no Wembley hangover for Pompey as they kept themselves in the automatic promotion hunt with victory at Wycombe. He thought that Portsmouth ‘dominated most of the contest.’ Kenny Jackett made two changes from the team that began the EF.L Cup Final the previous Sunday with, predictably, Hawkins and Evans replacing Bogle and Curtis. Pompey took the lead after 17 minutes: a free kick from Evans was not properly cleared and when Clarke lifted the ball back into the box Lowe was there to drill it through a sea of bodies and into the net. Following two very impressive saves by MacGillvray, Pompey went into the interval still 1-0 up. A second goal for Portsmouth arrived almost immediately after the restart. Evans played a dangerous ball down the middle, which Pitman converted opportunistically. After 56 minutes, and thus ten minutes later, Wycombe reduced the deficit with what looked like an offside goal. Four minutes later, Portsmouth, though, scored again. Evans was fouled and Pitman scored with a curling free kick. That third goal from Pompey did not, however, settle the outcome of the game because Wycombe scored once more after 82 minutes with a stunning long range goal. In the time that remained, McGillivray brought off yet another fine save to ensure that Portsmouth secured their twelfth away win in League One this season.
13.4.2019 ROCHDALE [H] 4-1 [18,197]
Portsmouth had to win this game against relegation candidates Rochdale to stay in contention for automatic promotion, and they duly did so, though the general opinion was that they made a meal of it. Though guilty of several missed chances, Hawkins gave Pompey the lead after 21 minutes with a near post header from a Lowe cross. Portsmouth scored a second goal after 45 minutes when Thompson was fouled in the penalty area, and Pitman converted the penalty. After 54 minutes, though, Rochdale, who had not lacked earlier opportunities, pulled a goal back from a breakaway. Eight minutes later, Pompey got a third goal when Evans (who had replaced a quiet Curtis) scored with a header from a Lowe cross. Then, after 79 minutes, Lowe himself scored, collecting a long pass from Clarke and slotting the ball home. Brown missed a good chance to make the score line even better. This victory took Portsmouth level on points with Sunderland, who sustained their first home defeat of the season (and only their third defeat overall in this League One campaign) by losing 5-4 to Coventry. Barnsley (who lost last week, thus bringing to an end an admirable twenty game unbeaten run) won and remain two points clear of Pompey, having played a game more. Luton established a record for the third level of English football by going 29 games without defeat last week, but lost to Charlton, who are becoming a nuisance. Luton remain seven points ahead of Portsmouth, but the others are within reach, and automatic promotion is a possibility.
19.4.2019 BURTON ALBION [A] 2-1 [4,034]
Portsmouth were the better team in the first half of this televised game with Burton without ever suggesting that they were dominant. Pompey scored at last after 31 minutes when Close impressively converted a Jamal Lowe cross form the edge of the penalty box. The pundits for no good reason seemed to think that the game was over as a contest, but almost immediately following the break, after 47 minutes in fact, the Brewers equalized with a headed goal that surely a well organized defence would have prevented. After that, if there was to be a winning team in this game, it looked like being Burton, but in added time Portsmouth won the match. Substitute Curtis put in a cross that the Burton Manager, Nigel Clough insisted afterwards that Thompson had then deliberately controlled the ball with his hand. Given that Thompson was forcefully pushed in the back at the time by a Burton defender, it was unsurprising that the referee did not concur with this interpretation. Clough also maintained that Clarke was offside when he slotted what became a loose ball into the net, which was not the case. The well placed assistant referee called that one correctly. Anyway, at the end of an uninteresting match, Pompey recorded their sixth League One win in a row, even if, on the balance of play, it has to be conceded that this latest victory was undeserved.
22.4.2019 COVENTRY CITY [H] 2-1 [18,884]
This Easter Monday match at Fratton Park was also televised, and, given that Coventry City, the visitors, had an outside chance of reaching the play offs, and that in their previous away fixture they had destroyed Sunderland’s unbeaten record in League One home games, it was obvious that Portsmouth were facing a challenging task. Indeed, Coventry not only took the lead after 8 minutes with a beautifully worked goal, they ran the first half, and but for a remarkable goal line clearance by Thompson they would have been farther ahead than their single goal lead. Manager Kenny Jackett maintained afterwards that his half time substitutions, involving bringing on James Vaughan and Ronan Curtis, were instrumental in Portsmouth taking charge of the match. This they did around the hour mark. After 66 minutes a Brown corner was emphatically headed home by Naylor, and from then on, if there was going to be a winning team it was going to be Portsmouth, and those given to cynicism would have placed a bet on Pitman scoring the winning goal. One South Stand season ticket holder, and a great friend, told me afterwards that as the match wore on he had become fed up with Pitman – who is of course, if for no obvious reason, the Pompey captain – urging Lowe to keep coming inside to do work that he thought Pitman should have been doing. Well, maybe so, but after 83 minutes, following another Brown corner, a cross from Curtis was only cleared to the edge of the penalty area. Pitman, almost inevitably, was lurking there, and drove a superb and unstoppable left footed half volley into the Coventry net, and, thus, scored the winning goal. Pitman said afterwards: ‘Promotion would mean everything to the lads and I’m sure it would be the same for the gaffer. I don’t know how he keeps so calm.’ Perhaps Kenny Jackett is demonstrating enviable emotional restraint for two reasons. One is that the future is uncertain in that Pompey have rivals who are proving to be only too consistent. The second is that he would no doubt like to see his team do their stuff properly in both halves of their matches and not just one.
27.4.2019 SUNDERLAND [A] 1-1 [41,129]
Two forecasts could safely be made about this fixture in advance of it being played. One was that it would attract the biggest attendance outside the Premier League on the day; and, in fact, the crowd was the biggest anywhere in England that Saturday. The second forecast was that, given that Sunderland had drawn more games than any other club in League One this season, the outcome would be another draw. Both teams badly needed to win to have any chance of automatic promotion, and Sunderland went ahead after only 9 minutes with a well worked goal. Portsmouth equalized after 24 minutes when a cross from Pitman was headed against the bar by Brown, and Lowe slotted the rebound home. That proved to be the end of the scoring, and according to the the account in The Football League Paper this was primarily due to some fine goalkeeping on the part of Pompey’s MacGillivray. Neil Weld of The News described the game as a cagey encounter, but its physicality was also well worth noting: this was probably a consequence of memories of the E.F.L. Cup Final, and the pushing and shoving certainly continued after the final whistle. Anyway, to their credit, the Portsmouth players did not wilt. This result would seem to have sentenced Sunderland to the play offs. A similar fate now threatens Portsmouth who needed to win this game if they wished to keep their fate in their own hands and, while a draw at such a difficult venue was a respectable result, Pompey now need others to fail to win if they are to automatically progress. I add that no less than 3,222 Portsmouth fans attended the match.
30.4.2019 PETERBOROUGH UNITED [H] 2-3 [18,396]
Though Peterborough had lost 3-0 to relegation candidates Walsall the previous Saturday, their overall away record was still impressive, and it was obvious that Portsmouth were facing a difficult task in securing the victory that was essential if they were to remain serious contenders for automatic promotion. Pompey began brightly enough, but Peterborough scored with their first attack after 13 minutes, and, following a corner, the visitors went 2-0 ahead after 27 minutes, with the scorer being described by Neil Allen of The News as being ‘criminally unmarked.’ Portsmouth were displaying the defensive failings that Allen thought had characterized the second half of their season. That said, though, Close did manage to pull a goal back for Pompey after 38 minutes, and Burgess scored an equalizer after 59 minutes. Portsmouth could have won the game with 17 minutes to go, but Pitman elected to pass to Soloman-Obator instead of taking the opportunity himself. Far from being better placed, as Pitman seemed to think, the winger was (rightly or not) deemed to be offside. Two minutes later, Peterborough broke away and scored their third and decisive goal, and thus sentenced Pompey to seeking promotion by the play off route. Nevertheless, the Fratton Park crowd gave the Portsmouth team an ovation as they left the field.
4.5.2019 ACCRINGTON STANLEY [H] 1-1 [18,439]
As usual, I was present at Fratton Park for the last home game of the season,and I have to report that it was a poor match. The Accrington Manager, John Coleman, told The Football League Paper afterwards that ‘we have to be pleased with the performance … We dominated for long periods and created some good chances.’ Accrington certainly ran the first half, and throughout the game played a pressing game that a lack lustre Portsmouth team found hard to deal with. Accrington hit the crossbar early on, and bettered this after 46 minutes with a well taken goal following an incisive move. As always, the Fratton Park crowd did its stuff, and Close scored for Pompey after 59 minutes with a fine left footed drive when put through following an interchange with Hawkins. Ten minutes from time, Close almost won the game with a 25 yard shot that hit the crossbar. It has to be recognized that victory would have flattered Pompey. Had Portsmouth won their last two home games instead of taking just one barely merited point from them, they would have secured automatic promotion. As it was, merely drawing with mid table Accrington ensured that Pompey conceded third place to Charlton, and that in the play offs they initially face Sunderland once more. At the end of the Accrington match, I had to catch a particular train, which did not actually turn up. Meanwhile, the players did a lap of appreciation, which Neil Allen reported in The News turned out to be as ‘flat and uninspiring’ as the Accrington game itself. I was told that, for no obvious reason, the mother of Ronan Curtis joined the players on the pitch to share in such applause as they attracted. I have no idea whether or not this actually happened.
PORTSMOUTH’S LEAGUE ONE RECORD FOR THE
Home: P23 W12 D7 L4 Goals 42-22 Points 43
Away: P23 W13 D6 L4 Goals 41-29 Points 45
Total: P46 W25 D13 L8 Goals 83-51 Points 88
Even though, like Paul Cook before him, I am not an admirer of the tactics that the current Portsmouth Manager, Kenny Jackett, employs, I thought that he did well to guide the Pompey team to eighth position last season, and the most that I expected from Portsmouth this season was to finish fourth or fifth, and thus in a play off position. This Pompey achieved, of course, but as they were in first place and five points clear of their rivals, and they had only suffered two defeats at the half way stage, automatic promotion and even the League One title seemed a possibility, even if when you saw Portsmouth play they only seemed to perform convincingly for about half the game. In other words, the results flattered them. Plainly, there was a need for the squad to be strengthened in the January transfer window, and though players were brought in collectively they added little. So, it was not surprising that results in the second half of the season suffered. Indeed in January and February, Portsmouth suffered five defeats and secured only three draws in a wretched run which eventually, despite an impressive rally near the end of the season, cost them not just the title but automatic promotion. Though Portsmouth scored more goals in the second half of the season than in its first half – and, overall, only the Champions, Luton Town, actually scored more goals than them – Pompey conceded the unimpressive total of 32 goals in the latter half of the season compared with just 19 in the first half. Neil Allen in The News for 6 May 2019 correctly stated that Portsmouth’s away record was the best in their 98 year history. This did not offset the reality that for the second time in the last four seasons, and only the third time in Portsmouth’s long history, Pompey secured more points from their away games than they did from their home games. Luton Town and Barnsley were unbeaten at home, and secured automatic promotion. Indeed, of the six clubs who either obtained automatic promotion or play off places, Portsmouth had the poorest home record, and this plainly cost Pompey dearly. Portsmouth were only four points better off at home than last season. This was not good enough.
The Play Offs
12.5.2019 SUNDERLAND [A] 0-1 [26,210]
Six weeks after Portsmouth had beaten Sunderland to win the latest version of the Football League Trophy, and a fortnight after they had drawn at the Stadium of Light in an away game with them in League One, they were facing them once more in the play offs because poor form on the part of the se two well supported teams had ensured that they had both failed to secure automatic promotion. This latest contest was on television and the commentary team announced at once that Sunderland would be without McGeady, who had scored both their goals in the Wembley Final, and who was their best player. Less was made of the fact that Portsmouth were without Pitman, their captain, and, as importantly, Brown, whose absence was bound to affect Pompey’s ability to attack down the left. This was bad news for those of us who were apprehensive anyway about this game because if you added in Portsmouth’s League One victory three days before Christmas 2018, Sunderland had failed to win all three previous meetings between the clubs and were, thus, overdue for a victory. These fears proved to be well grounded, though there was no sign of this happening early on with Pompey running the first twenty minutes of the game though without showing the slightest sign of scoring. After that, though unimpressive, crude, and over physical, Sunderland had the better of the game, and they proceeded to run the second half too. Indeed, but for a brilliant save from MacGillivray they would have have taken the lead. Three minutes later, and, thus after 62 minutes, Sunderland contrived to score when, to everybody’s surprise, a clearance header from Clarke was superbly volleyed into the net from the edge of the penalty area by a substitute Maguire. It was much the same sort of goal as Pitman recently scored for Pompey against Coventry. Maguire later hit a post with a snap shot. Portsmouth were offered a much needed lifeline when a Sunderland defender was sent off after 69 minutes. Evans hit the bar with the free kick, which was Pompey’s first serious shot on target, and Bogle was shortly afterwards crowded out when an opportunity presented itself. As in the Doncaster away game last August, Portsmouth sadly never showed much further sign of their one man advantage paying off, and the game just petered out. The hard truth had to be faced: a very ordinary Sunderland team deserved their win. I add that for no good reason, at least in my opinion, the red card was subsequently rescinded.
16.5.2019 SUNDERLAND [H] 0-0 [18,077]
The Sunderland Manager, Jack Ross, declared in advance of this return game that his team would come to attack at Fratton Park, and not simply try to defend their 1-0 lead. Predictably, he did not live up to this commitment, and Sunderland pursued a policy of containment allied to physicality that worked only too well. The visitors only threatened to score once, and there were no prizes for guessing that the threat came from Maguire. He did lift the ball over the advancing MacGillivray, but, luckily for Pompey, he lost his footing and, thus, missed this first half opportunity. Portsmouth missed first half openings too. McLaughlin, the Sunderland goalkeeper brought off a fine save from Evans, and shortly afterwards Hawkins was unlucky when he headed the ball down in the penalty area only for it to clip the bar on the way on to the Fratton End. In the second half, a superb Brown cross gave Hawkins a clear headed chance but he could not steer the ball beyond the capable McLaughlin. His eventual replacement, Vaughan, drew another save from McLaughlin. Generally, though, Sunderland held out comfortably enough for the draw that they had plainly come for, as their former player and member of the television commentary team, Kevin Phillips, predicted that they would. As for Pompey, it was no less than the club’s sixty second competitive match of a long season, and it showed in this performance.
One of the most interesting comments on League One in the 2018-2019 season was made by the Bristol Rovers Manager, Graham Coughlan, who said to The Times on 25 March 2019 that ‘Let’s be honest, and I don’t mean this disrespectfully to any of the clubs outside the top six, we can’t compete with Sunderland, we can’t compete with Charlton, and we can’t compete with Pompey budget wise. All the rest of us are competing with each other. But if you look around England, Europe, and anywhere in football, I think you’re finding that in most divisions.’ Gregor Robertson, The Times journalist to whom he made these observations commented that ‘where the Premier League has the big six, League One has a big five, who have been unusually dominant this season.’
These were comments well worth considering, but there is nothing very ‘big’ financially about Luton Town, Barnsley, or Charlton, and Sunderland are crippled by debt. That said, though, my information is that no less than eleven other clubs in League One – that’s about half of them – had much the same transfer budget as Portsmouth, which is ridiculous given the difference in the scale of support that Pompey have. The hard reality remains, though, that the failure to successfully take advantage of the January 2019 transfer window cost Pompey dearly. Given that Cannon, the midfielder signed from Rochdale, came to be ruled out by injury, no comment can be made about him, but the other recruits were (let’s be kind here) unimpressive, and this was an important reason why Portsmouth slid from first to fourth in the League One table, and eventually missed out on promotion altogether. In the aftermath of what in The News for 6 May 2019 he rightly described as the ‘flat and uninspiring’ Accrington home game, Neil Allen commented that ‘there are those inhabiting the Fratton Park corridors convinced [that] the team overachieved during the first half of a campaign which saw [a] three and a half month residency as leaders. It is hard to disagree. Jackett’s troops were a play off team hauling themselves beyond their natural environment through an admirable combination of spirit and heart. Grinding out results, digging deep for victory, scrapping back from perilous positions – a gutsy second half team blessed with resilience and streetwise strength. Certainly never the customary swagger associated with successful sides. As Paul Cook would often preach, the league table at the season’s end doesn’t lie. Pompey are fourth and in the play offs’ and Allen thought this was ‘entirely warranted.’
It seemed to me that fourth place in League One was as good as could be expected in what was only the second season back at that level following Pompey’s fortuitous League Two title win, and – as I have written before – I thought that eighth place last season was flattering too. Two things worry me about Portsmouth’s immediate future . One is the memory that a club like Sheffield United had to endure no less that six seasons at League One level (2011-2017) before being promoted out of it as title holders. Related to this is the prospective loss of Clarke and Lowe among possibly others. I have to record that in the immediate aftermath of the final game of the season, there were those whose judgement I respect who were less than impressed with (a) several of Clarke’s performances in the second half of the season; and (b) Kenny Jackett’s selections and tactics in the final games of the season. There are those who think that Clarke could fetch as much as £5M in the transfer market, and the money would be welcome. My response is to say that, judging by Pompey’s inept conduct in the January transfer market, there is little cause for optimism about there being worthwhile replacements for our better players should they depart. As for Jackett, of course, results will determine his future at the club. A good start next season is an imperative.
Pompey’s budget may impress the Manager of Bristol Rovers, but when the chips were down in the January transfer window the money was not there to recruit the players to take us to the League One title, and an ambitious club should be aiming for nothing less than that. Winning the Checkatrade Trophy was always seen by me as a consolation prize, and, indeed, one well worth having, but it is the League One title that is what needs to be pursued and with a team and a budget that will do better upon promotion than return Pompey to the second level relegation zone that it has inhabited for so much of its modern history, and which has always been very boring to experience.
PORTSMOUTH’S RECORD IN CUP COMPETITIONS
THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE CHECKATRADE TROPHY
8.1.2019 SOUTHEND [A] 2-0 [1,649]
To my relief, Kenny Jackett played effectively a reserve team in this game in the unloved Checkatrade Trophy with Evans being the sole survivor from the starting team at Norwich the previous Saturday. As Neil Allen reported in The News, Pompey were a goal up in just 90 seconds. Dan Smith, a home grown striker with 12 goals on loan at Bognor this season was pressed into an unfamiliar role at Southend when he played right back. The 19 year old floated a right footed cross into the penalty area and Louis Dennis put a header into the top corner. Portsmouth got a second goal in added time at the end of the first half when Dennis cutting in from the right nudged the ball to Evans who crashed home a right footed first time shot. That was the end of the scoring. This tournament now moves out of its regional format, and this win booked Portsmouth a quarter final spot.
22.1.2019 PETERBOROUGH [H]1-0 [3,313]
After losing badly in two important League One games, Portsmouth ideally needed to win this home tie in this much maligned tournament, and duly did so. For a game that for some reason kicked off as early as 7 o’clock, Peterborough fielded a surprisingly strong team. whereas Pompey continued with their policy especially at the outset of playing several young players, notably Dan Smith at central striker, Haji Mioga at right back, and Matt Casey in central defence alongside the experienced Burgess. Of the usual players, MacGillivray, Evans and Lowe were present all the time. Other changes were made as the game progressed. Peterborough made a game of it, and came close to winning the match after 81 minutes, but Burgess cleared off the line twice. Four minutes later, as Neil Allen recorded in The News, ‘Evans delivered a corner from the left and there was Wheeler to steer a lovely left footed finish which struck the underside of the bar before entering the net.’ This victory ensured that Pompey reached the semi final stage of this tournament, together with Bury, Bristol Rovers, and – the favourites to win it – Sunderland.
26.2.2019 BURY [A] 3-0 [3,900]
Portsmouth reached the semi final stage of this little admired tournament using their back up and young players, but for this game at Bury, with the possibility of a Wembley appearance on offer, Manager Kenny Jackett put out his first team. It was just as well that he did because Bury, second in League Two and known to have attacking quality at least at that level, ran the first half anyway. Fortunately, the second half of this televised match was a different story, especially after Pompey took the lead after 61 minutes. Portsmouth supporters have been vocal this season about the low standards of refereeing in their games and about decisions going against them. In this game, though, it was Pompey’s Close who fooled the referee into giving a free kick by wrapping his foot around his opponent’s leg. Evans took the free kick and scored with a clever shot. A second goal for Portsmouth came after 64 minutes. It was well worked, with Brown’s cross being headed back by Nathan Thompson for Hawkins to score decisively. After 81 minutes, Curtis scored a third following a clever run. MacGillivray made a fine save near the end to ensure that Pompey had a clean sheet. One low note was that central defender Burgess had to go off injured near the end. The 452 Pompey supporters present sang ‘we’re off to Wembley,’ and, indeed, we are, though, surely, the trip will only be worth it in a tournament of this kind if the final is won.
31.3.2019 SUNDERLAND [Cup Final] 2-2 [85,201]
Portsmouth won 5-4 on penalties
‘You can tell from its constant name changes that the Football League Trophy for lower division teams is not big on tradition,’ Brian Oliver of The Sunday Times wrote in advance of this Final on 31 March 2019, adding that ‘what started as the Associate Members Cup in 1984 has been sponsored by four van companies, two windscreen companies, a paint company, and now Checkatrade, the tradesmen’s directory. For a while, non league sides joined in, and three years ago 16 academy teams from Premier League and Championship sides were added to the draw by the rebranded E.F.L. But they were not welcomed by resentful fans.’ To put the matter mildly, this was reflected in very low attendances for some of the games. Bill Edgar in The Times for 1 April 2019, recalled that the worst attendance this season was that of 202 for a game between Burton Albion and Middlesbrough Under 21. A Wembley Final, though, commonly encourages a good turnout, and, according to Edgar that for this Final was no less than 13,449 more than the combined attendance for the entire 48 game Northern Section of the Group Stage. When it became clear that the 2019 Final would be contested by Portsmouth and Sunderland, two clubs with a distinguished football history and an impressive support base, a Wembley full house was anticipated for the first time, and rightly so. The highest attendance for the Final of this tournament was previously that of 80,841 for Wolves win over Burnley in 1980. The attendance for the 2019 Final was nothing less than 85,021, which in European football generally that weekend was only bettered by Barcelona in its game with Espanyol, which attracted 92,795 into their scruffy stadium. The atmosphere was extraordinary, and let us pay tribute to Sunderland’s contribution on that score, and the quality of the game was a tribute to this level of English football. Frankly, though, in the first half, Pompey were outplayed. Sunderland ran the game, and they could consider themselves to be unfortunate to be only 1-0 ahead at the break, thanks to a McGeady free kick after 38 minutes. MacGillivray deserves credit for a brilliant save earlier than this. At half time, according to Jamal Lowe, the Portsmouth Manager, Kenny Jackett, said that ‘we needed to get a bit closer to them, higher up the pitch. They had a lot of possession so it was up to us to press a bit higher and once we did we were on top of them.’ Portsmouth were in charge for the rest of the match, and when Evans came on for the sadly ineffective Curtis (who, predictably, got himself booked) he was one of those leading the way. That said, though, Pompey, of course, needed to score, and the closest they came to doing so was when Pitman hit a post. Then, after 82 minutes, Evans got in a telling cross and Nathan Thompson spectacularly headed home an equaliser. From then on,
I thought that Portsmouth would win the game, and, indeed, Pompey continued to be the better team in extra time. Then, after 114 minutes, a searching ball from defence from Clarke reached Lowe, who got the better of his marker and superbly lobbed the ball over the Sunderland goalkeeper to seemingly secure victory. ‘I thought it was [the] winner,’ Lowe said afterwards. So did we all, but no such luck. With 119 minutes on the clock, McGeady struck again for Sunderland to make it 2-2. Clarke very nearly cleared the shot off the line, but there proved to be no escape from the Final being decided by penalties. Only one of the ten penalties was missed, with MacGillvray brilliantly saving from Sunderland’s Cattermole. Evans, Pitman (of course), Brown, Lowe, and, last but not least, Hawkins scored for Portsmouth. Kenny Jackett said afterwards that Pompey ‘showed a lot of character to get five out of five.’ The Pompey Chimes rang out. Pitman collected the Cup. Clarke was rightly declared to have been the man of the match. The Pompey Chimes rang out in triumph. ‘Portsmouth revive the glory days’ ran the headline in The Times the next day. We can but hope that, like winning the League Two title in 2017, this victory marks another positive stage on the long road back. Let us not forget that Brian Clough once said that Nottingham Forest winning the now forgotten Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1977 was important to him as a sign that Forest were on their way up.
THE F.A. CUP
5.1.2019 NORWICH CITY [A]1-0 [23,201]
The priorities of both clubs contesting this Third Round F. A. Cup tie lay elsewhere with Norwich making a serious bid to return to the Premier League, and with Portsmouth striving to secure promotion from League One. Not surprisingly, Norwich made no less than eight changes from their normal team, though, for some reason, Pompey made just two. To be fair to Norwich, they were placed at a disadvantage after 15 minutes when one of their central defenders was sent off for fouling Curtis to deny him a clear goalscoring opportunity. Pitman should have scored a minute later, heading over a cross from Lowe, but, according to The Sunday Telegraph, Norwich had the better of the first half, though the second half was a tighter affair. Then well into added time, with Norwich desperately pressing for a winner, Aston Villa loanee, Andre Green scored for the third time in his Pompey career, replicating his very late winning goal at Rochdale. As The Times said, it was Groundhog Day for Green. ‘A clearing header from Ben Thompson initiated the decisive move,’ Neil Allen reported in The News, ‘The ball [was] then passed to Brett Pitman, who fed Dion Donohue down Pompey’s left and deep in his own half … he broke towards Norwich’s half before pinpointing a deep left footed cross field delivery into the feet of Green [who was] breaking down the right. As the winger surged into the box, his first shot was blocked, yet a kindly ricochet allowed a second opportunity.’ Green then produced a right footed finish that went into the Norwich net off a post. Green forgivably raced towards the 2,493 Pompey supporters behind that goal in triumph. Winning is a habit to cherish, especially an unexpected one like this, and we must hope one rewarded by a lucrative away draw in the next round. The promotion drive comes first, of course, and one notes with dismay that both Lowe and Curtis, two of our better players, were booked again. Norwich merit praise for the size of the crowd.
26.1.2019 QUEENS PARK RANGERS (H) 1-1 [19,378]
The result of this Fourth Round F.A. Cup tie was less of a surprise than that the game drew Portsmouth’s second best attendance of the season and one only bettered twice among other Fourth Round games on the day. There was rain and wind and plenty of enthusiasm from a crowd that has rightly become very anxious about Pompey’s recent League One form. Manager Kenny Jackett played a strong team once more in this tournament, and – according to Neil Allen in The News – Portsmouth came up with a display that was both ‘bold and adventurous’ especially in the second half. Pompey did go ahead after 63 minutes when a cross from Brown was turned into his own net by a visiting player, but eleven minutes later Q.P.R. equalized, thus ensuring that Portsmouth have yet another fixture to fulfil. The visiting Manager, Steve McClaren told The Sunday Telegraph that ‘I would have settled for a replay before the game,’ adding that Portsmouth ‘will get promoted, no problem. They have got good players and showed that today.’ Well, we all hope so, but Pompey currently lack a cutting edge, as Kenny Jackett was honest enough to concede afterwards. Curtis was booked again and so will miss the replay.
5.2.2019 QUEEN’S PARK RANGERS (A) 0-2 [13,115]
When Portsmouth drew their Fourth Round game with Queen’s Park Rangers at Fratton Park two days previously, The Game section of The Times on 28 January 2019 recorded that this meant that Steve McClaren had failed to beat the south coast club in seven meetings as a Manager. His teams had drawn four and lost three of those matches and Pompey were the English team that he had faced most times without winning. Well, if this was a hoodoo, it is over now because Pompey lost the replay. Though they took the game relatively seriously, Jordan Cross in The News thought that only six of the Portsmouth team that started the game would make it into their strongest side. In the opinion of Cross, it was an interestingly contested game, and, at the end the 2,941 travelling fans gave the Portsmouth team an ovation. That said, though, Q.P.R. won the match, scoring as the result of set pieces after 70 and then 77 minutes to earn a home tie with Watford. I should think that they will be able to contain their excitement at the prospect.
Those who supported Portsmouth in the 1980s will always remember Mick Kennedy, who died at the age of 57 on 10 February 2019. Though he only got two caps for the Republic of Ireland, he was in my opinion one of the best players to appear in a Portsmouth shirt in the long years of often undiluted misery between the end of the 1955-1956 season and the Harry Redknapp/Milan Mandaric era at the beginning of this century. He made 149 appearances for Pompey and scored 5 goals in the three and a half seasons that he played in Portsmouth’s midfield. The seasons concerned were those of 1984-85, 1985-86, 1986-87, and 1987-88. To describe Kennedy as a ball winning central midfield player would be an understatement. He was ruthless, and, quite frankly, under the rules prevailing now I doubt if he would be allowed to stay on the field for more than ten minutes before being banished by the referee. That said, though, he was two footed, and his skills should not be underrated. Mick Quinn, who played with him in Portsmouth’s promotion team of 1986-87, said that as skipper he was the link between Manager Alan Ball and the team. Quinn described him as ‘the glue that held the promotion team together.’ Of course, we all know now that Portsmouth were immediately relegated, but this was by no means certain before the then Portsmouth Chairman, John Deacon, insisted on selling Kennedy to Bradford City for £250,000 almost immediately after Pompey had won 2-0 at Southampton with Kennedy having run the game. The Pompey fans were outraged, and Kennedy made no secret of the fact that he did not want to go, but he was given no alternative. Let us be clear: Mick Kennedy certainly did his best for Portsmouth and I am sure that I am not alone in saluting his memory. As for Chairman John Deacon, many thought that the sale of Kennedy was an act of revenge for the fans chanting ‘Deacon out’ as Portsmouth struggled in the top flight. Others though that Deacon had gone mad or contracted senile dementia. Whatever the explanation, the departure of Kennedy ensured that Pompey went back to the Wilderness where they have spent so much of their post war history, and, of course, where we are are located now.
GEOFFREY K FRY 11 February 2019
‘As England’s greatest goalkeeper lay in a hospital bed after a car crash ended his international career in 1972, he had ample time to replay in his mind what became known as the “save of the century.” England, the world champions were playing Brazil in the searing heat and thin mountain air of Guadalajara, Mexico, in the group stage of the World Cup. “I hit my toes as soon as I saw Jarzinho bearing down our left flank,” recalled Banks. The cross sailed over his head to the far post. “I turned my head and saw Pele. He’d made ground so fast and he’d already launched himself into the air.” The world’s best footballer connected with a perfect downward header towards the corner of the England net and was already shouting “Gol.” Banks had been on the other side of the goal but flung himself across not only to get his hand as it was bouncing towards the net, but also to scoop it over the bar. As Banks reached himself for the resulting corner, Pele smiled and said, “I thought that was a goal.” Banks replied: “You and me both.” Bobby Moore, the England captain, interjected: “You’re getting old, Banksy, you used to hold on to them’
That paragraph was quoted from the obituary for Gordon Banks in The Times for 13 February 2019, Banks having died of cancer two days before.
According to an account in The Metro for 13 February 2019, Pele was quoted as saying that Banks was ‘a goalkeeper with magic,’ and that ‘I scored so many goals in my life but many people when they meet me always ask about that save.’ Sadly, Banks could not play in the quarter final of the 1970 World Cup, which England lost to Germany 3-2, because he had contracted food poisoning. There were those who believed that this had been deliberately inflicted, and Banks himself later came to think this. His replacement, Peter Bonetti, was deemed to have been at fault for two of Germany’s goals. Banks was then 32, and he would have carried on playing for many years but for a car accident in 1972 which meant that he lost an eye. In his England career, which comprised 73 games for the national team, his country only lost 9 times. Of course, as everybody should remember, he was in goal when England won the World Cup in 1966, being, in my opinion one of the four world class players in that winning team (the others being Moore, Wilson, and Bobby Charlton). At club level, he started with Chesterfield, before later playing for Leicester City, and then for Stoke City with whom he won the League Cup in 1972, the only major honour that Stoke have ever won. They certainly did well to beat a very gifted Chelsea team. Football has given me much pleasure and – it has to be faced – a great deal of disappointment, but from time to time you do have the opportunity to see a master craftsman at work, and I count it as a privilege that I saw Gordon Banks play many times. Banks was voted the best goalkeeper at the 1966 World Cup and then again at the 1970 World Cup. He must be a candidate for the title of the best goalkeeper of all time.
GEOFFREY K FRY 13 February 2019
THE FINANCIAL CLOUT OF THE PREMIER LEAGUE
When Brendan Rodgers suddenly decamped from Glasgow Celtic to take up the job of Manager of Leicester City, his move emphasized the decline in importance of Scottish football. As Steven Halliday wrote in The Independent, Celtic were a bigger club than Leicester City nineteen years ago when they tempted Martin O’Neill away from Filbert Street to become their Manager. In terms of stature, size, and history, Celtic remain a bigger club than one currently sitting twelfth in the English Premier League … but almost two decades on from O’Neill’s move north of the border, Celtic are simply dwarfed financially by Leicester City … The staggering financial growth of the English Premier League is underlined by the £118M Leicester City received in prize money and TV rights for finishing ninth in the table last season. Celtic picked up a cheque for just £3.18M for winning the Scottish Premiership … In their most recent financial accounts, Leicester City showed a turnover of £233M and made a profit after tax of £80M for the 12 months to June 2017. In the same period, which was a highly successful one under Rodgers, Celtic posted [a] turnover of £90M and a profit of just under £7M.’
GEOFFREY K FRY 27 February 2019
When Portsmouth were promoted from the Fourth Division in 1980, despite the fact that they only secured that advancement by the narrowest of margins, they were hot favourites with the bookmakers to secure another and immediate promotion from the Third Division. Not surprisingly, things did not work out like that, and the team soon had to be reshaped. In November 1980, Pompey recruited a Scottish central midfielder called Bobby Doyle from Blackpool, and he was later a leading player making 44 appearances in the team that won the Third Division title in the 1982-83 season, in which Portsmouth played the stylish football that the then Manager Bobby Campbell favoured. In the next season with Portsmouth in the Second Division, Doyle made 37 appearances in a team that contrived to finish sixteenth. This was not good enough for the then Chairman, John Deacon, who sacked Campbell, replacing him with Alan Ball. Doyle only made 19 appearances (plus 8 as a substitute) in the 1984-85 season in which Pompey narrowly failed to win promotion to the top flight, in my opinion this failure owed something to Ball’s limitations as a Manager. Doyle had worked with Ball at Blackpool, and was well aware that he did not rate him highly as a player. He moved to Hull City in 1985, with his career brought to an end when he broke his leg in a pre season friendly. Doyle made 178 league appearances for Portsmouth and I thought him to be a stylish player who made a contribution at what wrongly seemed to be a time of promise for the club. The reason for this note about him is that Doyle died on 26 February 2019 at 65. All I really know about him after he was effectively thrown out by Pompey was that he eventually became a lorry driver, telling Mick Tait that it was a tough way of life compared to being a footballer, which I don’t doubt.
GEOFFREY K FRY 28 February 2019
FRATTON PARK UPGRADE
Though Portsmouth’s supporters still await the definitive overall blueprint about the future of Fratton Park, Neil Allen was able to report in The News for 5 March 2019 that repair work has begun on the 120 year old South Stand. Chief Executive Mark Catlin said : ‘Before we embark on any main project, the priority is to bring existing areas of the stadium up to scratch. The work now taking place on the South Stand ticks one of those boxes. The whole of the South Stand [will be] getting a complete new shell. There’s work going on which will be continuing for a four or five month period, it’s a huge project in its own right. It’s going to mean the replacement of the South Stand roof, all the cladding on the back and all the roofing structures that protect the changing rooms, the corridors and the Chimes area which flood every time it rains.’ Catlin went out of his way to ‘thank the residents of Carisbrooke Road … For six months we’ve been getting permission for workers to go into residents’ gardens and put up scaffolding there for a period of time – they have been absolutely fantastic.’
Though we all love Fratton Park, nobody in their right mind would deny that it needs to be radically reconstructed or would wish to share with Portsmouth’s American owners the cost of doing this. The present state of Fratton Park was there for all to see on 26 January 2019 when the B.B.C.’s Football Focus was shown from within the ground. Forgivably, the presenters of the programme found it difficult to contain their amusement at the state of the place, added to by the appearance of several Portsmouth supporters who ludicrously lived up to their popular stereotype. Sylvain Distin also made an appearance as a guest, not being pleased to have been omitted from the rolls of honour on display. Like most events involving Pompey this side of the Golden Age, it was an odd occasion.
GEOFFREY K FRY 5 March 2019
THOUGHTS ON CLUB MYTHOLOGY
‘Spurs look like they are going to finish fifth in a three horse race,’ or so Matthew Seyd reported in The Times on 11 March 2019 that was ‘the latest joke doing the rounds after the implosion of the north London club. They lost to Southampton on Saturday and the barbs were inevitable. Typical Spurs, bunch of bottlers. You get the picture. This characterisation is, of course, unfair in the specific in [this] specific instance given that Tottenham Hotspur are operating on a smaller budget than their main competitors and have not signed a player all season. But what about the more general point about clubs having particular characteristics, or tendencies, whether good or bad? Can we legitimately talk about this club’s DNA or that club’s temperament? The problem with this concept is relatively easy to state: the people who populate a club change through time. Spurs today, for example, haven’t got a single player or member of
the coaching staff who was involved with the first team ten years ago, let alone farther back. Hell, they are even playing in a different stadium. One can understand how a player or a team can be flaky, but how can this apply to a club, effectively an abstract legal entity, albeit one of great emotional significance?’
‘When stated like this, it feels as if we should ditch this way of talking, one and for all,’ Seyd commented, but then observed that ‘Sir Matt Busby, [Alex] Ferguson, Jock Stein, Johan Cruyff and others [did spend] much managerial force on defining and refining the mythology of their clubs. They realized that even young players, fresh out of school, yearn for a sense of how they fit into a story, and not only a club. They took seriously the idea that the way that people negotiate meaning and values, and they interpret an institution’s history, has implications for the way they behave and perform in the here and now.’ I would add that in many ways Matt Busby invented the Manchester United that has characterized modern English football. It should not be forgotten that, though Manchester United won the F.A. Cup in 1909 and they were English Champions in 1908 and 1911, when they famously won the F.A. Cup in 1948, they had not won a major honour in the long years in between, and in the 1930s they experienced relegation and I am told very nearly went out of business altogether. Manchester City were the superior club in that intervening period, and Busby was one of their players, notably in the 1934 F.A. Cup final success against Portsmouth. In my opinion Matt Busby invented the Manchester United that we now know. When he became the United Manager after the war as a consequence of Old Trafford having been bombed they had to play for a time at Maine Road which was in those days Manchester City’s ground. Yet Busby swiftly built a very entertaining team, with United winning the F.A. Cup spectacularly in 1948 and then becoming English Champions in 1952. He then built the legendary Busby Babes, and after the Munich tragedy another great team. All Busby’s teams had style and their emphasis was on entertainment. That was the tradition handed down to what is now known as the class of 1992.
So there is something in this mythology thing, and Seyd may well have a point when he wondered about present day Tottenham ‘if the players and staff at Spurs find it difficult to ignore the pervasive insinuation of flakiness and mental frailty entirely. It can’t be easy.’ In early 2016, with it being clear that the main obstacle to Leicester winning the Premier League was Tottenham, I immediately awarded the title to them, sadly too late to make any money from the prediction. Like my beloved Portsmouth, Spurs have only won the title twice, and the second and last time was in 1961. I did not think that they would deny Leicester. Against that, and casting my mind back to the 1960s, it was a common belief among both Portsmouth and Southampton supporters that the people running the Saints did not want to win promotion to the top flight, although quite why remained unclear. Whatever those running the Saints wanted, two of their better players in Martin Chivers and Terry Paine most certainly did want such a promotion, and Southampton achieved this in 1966 nearly forty years after Pompey had done so.
GEOFFREY K FRY 10 March 2019
When Tottenham reached the European Champions League Cup Final on 1 June 2019, they will have hoped to kill off for ever this belief that they are perpetual under achievers. Though on the day Spurs were the better of the two English clubs competing for the trophy, Liverpool won a dreadful game by 2-0, helped by what it would be kind to call a controversial penalty in their favour after only a minute of play. The only forecast that I made – which proved to be correct – was that Origi would score for Liverpool. Only two clubs have now won either the European Cup or its successor the European Champions League more times than Liverpool’s total of six. They are, of course, A.C Milan with seven successes and Real Madrid with no less than thirteen. As for Tottenham, their failure will have delighted the supporters of Arsenal, who were humiliated in the Europa Cup Final by Chelsea the previous Wednesday, losing 4-1. I have no idea what the future holds for Spurs – my concerns are centred on Portsmouth – but they must fear that they will end up much like Arsenal, who have been handicapped for years by paying off the cost of the large stadium which replaced Highbury. Tottenham have a £600M debt to deal with. There are those who think that the new Tottenham stadium will revivify what has become a very depressed area of London. It is hard to see why.
GEOFFREY K FRY 2 June 2019
THE ROT AT FOOTBALL’S CORE
With four English teams in the quarter finals of the European Champions League, Rio Ferdinand, no less, declared that ‘it seems like the cycle is turning in England’s favour.’ Jonathan Liew in The Independent for 16 March 2019 pointed out though that this achievement had been attained with only 18 of the 71 players involved being English, with none out of the Managers being English, and owners from Abu Dhabi, the United States, and a Bahamas based investment vehicle.
Liew chose to look at the broader picture as it relates to English football in general, and found it to be both worrying and distasteful. Not surprisingly he started with Blackpool, where the regime of Owen Oyston had recently been ended by the High Court. He commented: ‘While the game’s authorities looked on with indifference, the only real resistance to the misrule of the Oyston family came from the support base and their long standing stadium boycott.’ He continued: ‘Up the road at Bolton, Ken Anderson is looking to sell up after a turbulent tenure. Wages have gone unpaid. Games have been threatened with cancellation in a dispute over safety costs. The club’s training ground has been closed.’ Liew than turned his attention to Charlton Athletic where ‘there is no end in sight to the disastrous tenure of Roland Duchatelet, after 11 Managers in 5 years.’ Still, ‘at least Charlton fans can be reasonably confident of having a team to watch and a stadium to visit next season. No such guarantees exist at Coventry, whose future is in the balance as a result of a legal battle over the ownership of the Ricoh Stadium. An extraordinary general meeting of the E.F.L. next week could yet decide to kick Coventry out of the League.’ The determined Liew then turned to Notts County – the oldest professional football club in the world – which under the Chairmanship of Alan Hardy is in danger of being relegated from the Football League. Massive debts have led to a winding up order being issued by H.M.R.C. Liew added that ‘Hardy’s frequent social media broadsides were abruptly curtailed earlier this year when he deleted his Twitter account after accidentally posting a photo of his genitalia.’
‘In many ways, it is stories like these – and not the success of a very few clubs at the pinnacle – that are the prevailing mood music of English football,’ Liew maintained, with it being ‘insecurity, disenfranchisement [and] disillusionment.’ He added that ‘it’s worth reading last summer’s Deloitte Report on English football finances which observes that many Championship clubs are running on Premier League budgets – with wage bills often well in excess of 100 per cent of revenues – in an attempt to crack the big time.’ Liew concluded that ‘the thing is [that] if you want to know how healthy an organization is you don’t look at the foliage. You look at the roots.’
There was more about the situation at Charlton in an earlier article by Oliver Kay in The Times for 2 March 2019. He wrote: In five years as owner of Charlton Athletic, Roland Duchatelet has shown no understanding of the football industry, no empathy with supporters, and no sign of learning from his countless grave mistakes. Now he has issued a “demand” that the E.F.L. Buys the club from him. There really should be some mechanism for the F.A. or an independent arbitrator to intervene in cases such as Charlton’s or Coventry City’s – but for the good of the club, not for the sake of snake oil salesmen who, having fancied their chances of
making a fast buck, have been left with a distressed asset on their hands. E.F.L regulations do not allow for them to interfere in the running of clubs, which they rightly point out would create conflicts of interest. The great pity is that they cannot stop people such as Duchatelet getting involved in the first place.’
As for Bolton, one notes that in The Times for 9 March 2019, the very same Oliver Kay, having slagged off their current Chairman, Ken Anderson, did express admiration for that club’s former Chairman, Eddie Davies, on the basis that ‘one of Davies’s final acts, prior to his death last September at the age of 72, was to write off the £197.9M debt that Bolton owed him. Another, in the final week of his life, was a £5M loan to help the club avoid the threat of administration.’ To put the matter mildly, this seems to me to be behaviour of a selfless kind. The current Manager, Phil Parkinson says that ‘everyone in football knows what a great club Bolton Wanderers is.’ Certainly, this is true of people like me who know a great deal about the history of football. Bolton have won the F.A. Cup no less than four times, but the last time was in 1958, and one could add that no club has spent as much time in the top flight as Bolton have and failed to become English Champions. The hard truth about Bolton and the other clubs like Burney and Blackburn is that they were creatures of the era of the maximum wage, which was abolished as long ago as 1961, and the only way that they can be serious once that took effect was to have a rich Chairman, which explained Blackburn’s Premier League title win in 1995. Jack Walker bought the title for them. Eddie Davies bought Bolton eleven seasons in the Premier League. Frankly, I have no idea why anybody of sound mind takes financial responsibility for the vast majority of football clubs unless the individual concerned wants to severely damage himself financially. One reason for saying this is that the expectations of football fans are almost always ridiculous, and only often border on lunacy. They are just like socialists. They will always freely spend other people’s money.
GEOFFREY K FRY 17 March 2019
There was soon to be more evidence that the financial state of much of English football was mad, with the owner of Derby County, somebody called Mel Morris, described by The Times on 20 March 2019 as being the Candy Crush tycoon
[whatever that means]
, going on record as saying he would sell the club for £1 to anybody who would take on its debts. Derby were said to be losing between £1m and £2M a month. All told, Morris has put £161M into Derby County. Meanwhile Coventry City could do with somebody with this financial clout because it was reported that they were facing having no ground to play on next season and possible expulsion from the Football League. Further than this, The Times reported on 21 March 2019 that ‘Bolton Wanderers have been given two weeks to settle their debts, but any subsequent administration order will result in the club having 12 points deducted next season rather than during this campaign. The Championship club were given a stay of execution by the High Court [the previous day] after a winding up petition from the H.M.R.C. over £1.2M in unpaid taxes and action from other creditors. Bolton’s barrister Hilary Stonefrost told the court that there was a new potential buyer with “a major stake in a high level football club,” who would take over from the owner Ken Anderson and cover the debts. Judge Clive Jones, in the Insolvency and Companies Court in London, adjourned the case until 3 April 2019.’
GEOFFREY K FRY 21 March 2019
Birmingham City proved to be another Championship club in financial difficulties, and not surprisingly so since from January 2017 onwards, successive Managers Gianfranco Zola and – you’ve guessed it – Harry Redknapp spent £31M on new players. Harry was with the club from April to September of that year, or so The Independent reminded us. Birmingham had breached the Profitability and Sustainability Rules of the E.F.L., which, it seems were aligned with the Premier League, becoming effective in the 2015-2016 season. The season 2017-2018 season was the end of the first full reporting period, and Birmingham City were the only club found to have breached these Rules, incurring losses of £48.79M, which was £9.89M in excess of the permitted losses. It seems that Birmingham lost £37.5M in the 12 months to the end of June 2018. The punishment dished out by the E.F.L. was feared by the club to be 12 points, but it proved to be 9 points, with the penalty to be imposed in the current season. I have no particular feelings regarding Birmingham City one way or the other, but I do wonder how Portsmouth are going to fare financially should they advance to the Championship with such a small ground.
GEOFFREY K FRY 23 March 2019
‘Port Vale will go into administration at the end of the season if a buyer is not found, according to Norman Smurthwaite,’ The Metro reported on 25 March 2019, adding: ‘Smurthwaite [who is presumably the owner], a focus of fan protests this season said “The club has to trade down through to May 5 and it will. I’ll pay all the bills up to that point. After May 5, I will not put one cent more into the club.” Smurthwaite said that he was behaving in this way in response to protests from Port Vale supporters, or so The Times for the same date reported, and that newspaper named him villain of the week for League Two. Unless Smurthwaite is himself a supporter of Port Vale I have no idea why he has put money into a football club, which, though a founder member of the Second Division in 1892 has never won a major honour, and one has to wonder what the the supporters actually expected from him or such a club.
GEOFFREY K FRY 25 March 2019
‘The Championship has become a Wild West of desperation, where owners willingly gamble the financial futures of their clubs and are criticized most for not spending enough on new players rather than too much,’ Daniel Storey wrote in a perceptive article in The Independent for 26 March 2019, adding that: ‘The E.F.L.’s current broadcasting deal might increase to £120M from next season, but that still equates to only 4.3 per cent of the current Premier League package and it must be shared – albeit unequally – between 72 clubs. By the last count, 19 of the 24 Championship clubs reported a loss in their annual accounts, and that figure is likely to rise. The Premier League’s wages- turnover ratio might be a healthy 55 per cent, but it rises to 99 per cent in the Championship.’ Storey reminded us that ‘The E.F.L.’s Financial Fair Play rules … allow clubs to lose no more than £39M over a rolling three year period … Birmingham have been caught and punished, while Aston Villa only staved off administration thanks to a change of ownership and
hasty £2M payment to [the] H.M.R.C. last summer, but they are not the only ones. Nottingham Forest only recorded a profit after owner Evangelos Marinakis wrote off £40M of debts. Reading face relegation having been forced to cut a bill for player costs that equated to more than 200 per cent of the club’s income .’ Storey went on: ‘Look at the most recent promoted clubs to spot a pattern. Leicester and Bournemouth were fined £4.75M and £3.1M [respectively] for breaking E.F.L rules during promotion campaigns. Wolves lost more than £1M a week over the course of last season. Cardiff lost £34M. Q.P.R. finally settled for a £40M fine several years after being found in breach of [the] rules. Had Brighton not been promoted, they would have had to dramatically cut their budgets and playing staff to comply with Financial Fair Play.’ Storey concluded an interesting article by writing that ‘the Championship is an economic car crash,’ and that ‘club owners are only too happy to joyride into the collision.’ He seemed to attribute at least some of this attitude to ‘a dramatic rise in foreign ownership’ in the Championship. At the time of writing, it remains to be seen if Portsmouth are going to join this particular rat race, and Pompey’s foreign owners have shown no sign of being willing to overspend during their tenure, thus far spent solely in League One, but – as I have observed above – with a small ground, how are Pompey going to compete with the spendthrifts?
GEOFFREY K FRY 26 March 2019
Meanwhile, things at Bolton are not seemingly going too well. ‘Leading the consortium that is now in the prime position to buy Bolton Wanderers’ is somebody called Laurence Bassini, who ‘in March 2013 the F.A, found .. guilty of misconduct and dishonesty over financial dealings’ when he ran Watford ‘and banned him from holding a position of authority with any Football League club for three years.’ Oliver Kay writing in The Times for 30 March 2019, commented that ‘Ken Anderson, whose three year ownership [of Bolton] has brought one indignity after another, always warned long suffering Bolton supporters that there would be plenty of people out there who would do a worst job than him. Does he really have to prove the point by selling to one, though?’
GEOFFREY K FRY 30 March 2019
I have never had any affection or respect for Coventry City, and I have to confess that this is irrational and, indeed, dates back to an F.A. Cup Fourth Round second replay located at White Hart Lane on 19 March 1963. Portsmouth contrived to lose to Coventry by 2-1 that evening. Pompey had lost very badly at Southampton earlier that month, which defeat really emphasized that Pompey’s so called promotion push was a fiction, and losing to Coventry only rubbed salt into an open wound. Coventry had never done anything in English football, and yet they now had a rich backer and a Manager in Jimmy Hill whom the media worshipped. Hill was to become at one time the most hated man in English football, but that lay in the future. The journey to and from Tottenham’s ground has never been an easy one even if you live in London which I did at the time. On the journey back I had to endure the Coventry supporters singing the Eton Boating Song, which was the best an invented club could come up with as a marching song. Coventry were to go on and spend no less than 34 years in the top flight, eventually winning the F.A. Cup – their only major honour – in 1987. After their overdue relegation from the Premier League in 2001, Coventry got into severe financial difficulties, the details of which need not detain us. A move to the Ricoh Arena seemed to be the answer, but a Mayfair based hedge fund called Sisu, which had bought the club in 2007, in 2012 got themselves into a dispute with Coventry Council – who half owned the Arena – in an attempt to get a new deal. As a result, Coventry City spent the entire 2013-2014 season and the first weeks of the the next season playing at Northampton while the Ricoh Arena stayed empty. Barely had Coventry City moved back to the Arena when its ownership passed to Wasps Holdings, a rugby union club, who refused to discuss a new rental agreement with the football club unless its owners dropped a legal challenge to the change of ownership. The English Football League has given Coventry City a deadline of April 25 2019 to clarify where their home games will be played next season or they will be expelled from that League, thus becoming the first club to suffer that fate since Leeds City in 1920. The Coventry City supporters fear that playing elsewhere will finish the club off financially anyway, remembering that attendances at Northampton averaged 2,287. Oliver Kay in The Times for 13 April 2019 wrote that ‘the problem has been dire, intransigent, and seemingly vindictive ownership, facilitated by the weakness of England’s football authorities and aggravated by a Council who have sought to fight fire with fire.’ How it is going to work out nobody knows.
GEOFFREY K FRY 13 April 2019
Sunderland are in deep financial trouble, Matt Slater reported in The Independent for 30 April 2019. Relegation from the Premiership to the Championship saw Sunderland’s turnover halve from £123M to £63M, despite receiving £35M in parachute payments. Slater wrote that ‘the stark reality … is that Sunderland lost another £26M last year, bringing their total losses to nearly £250M … Sunderland will receive another £35M in parachute payments this season and then a final Premier League payment of £14M next year.’ Quite how Sunderland come back from this financial mess I have no idea.
GEOFFREY K FRY 30 April 2019
A note in The Times for14 May 2019 stated that Bolton Wanderers would be starting next season in League One following relegation with a 12 point deduction for going into administration. Bolton, who owe more than £1M in taxes, filed their notice of intention to appoint administrators last week after a winding up order was adjourned. A day later, there was a heart rending note in the same newspaper saying that ‘Bolton Wanderers had been forced to open up a food bank at the club to provide essentials to staff who have not been paid for three months. While the Professional Footballers Association has provided a loan to enable some players to be paid after owner Ken Anderson withdrew his funding, many of the club’s administrative and support staff have not received anything and are relying on handouts. Bolton, who were relegated from the Sky Bet Championship, entered administration on Monday and the club’s bank accounts have been frozen, leaving several of their staff desperately short of money. Employees of the club and the Bolton Whites Hotel have been offered fresh food donated by local businesses and charities while a rival Championship club, believed to be Preston North End have donated several thousands of shopping vouchers in a scheme administered by the club’s Community Trust.’ I have Bolton friends, and, despite the rivalries of the past involving Portsmouth and Bolton, this is a sad story.
GEOFFREY K FRY 15 May 2019
‘The English Football League will review its Financial Fair Play rules this summer after complaints from clubs in the Sky Bet Championship that their rivals are exploiting the system by selling off their grounds and leasing them as a way of balancing their books,’ reported Matt Hughes in The Times for 17 May 2019. Sheffield Wednesday and two other Championship clubs have reportedly followed the example of Derby County, who revealed last month that they [had] sold Pride Park to the club’s owner Max Morris for £80M last year, enabling them to record a pre tax profit of £14.6M for the 2017-2018 season. E.F.L. profit and sustainability rules prohibit clubs recording losses of more than £39M over a three year period. Derby County and Aston Villa are understood to be two of the clubs most at risk of breaking the E.F.L.’s rules, and incurring sanctions if they are not promoted to the Premier League. Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United are also at risk.
GEOFFREY K FRY 17 May 2019
‘Bury’s promotion winning players last night urged the Chairman Steve Dale to sell the club because they fear he will bring it “to its knees,” ‘ The Times reported on 23 May 2019, ‘Despite not being paid for the past 12 weeks, the squad came second in League Two. Many are considering their futures. A winding up order has been adjourned until next month in the hope that a buyer can be found , but the palyer shave reached breaking point. “We are disappointed to find ourselves in this position having had such a great season … We may have to start looking at other clubs … all we ask is that the Chairman moves on ans stops ruining everyone’s livelihoods.” Dale bought the club in November. He has said that the club was “in serious trouble” that “turned out to be in excess of what we could have comprehended.” ‘
GEOFFREY K FRY 23 May 2019
VLADIMIR ANTONOV GOES TO JAIL
Former Portsmouth owner Vladimir Antonov has been jailed for two and a half years by a St Petersburg court,’ Will Rooney reported in The News for 17 March 2019. I seems that with others he stole 2.2 euros from a bank. If, forgivably, the reader has difficulty remembering who Antonov was, Rooney reminded us that Antonov purchased Portsmouth Football Club in June 2011 having passed the Football league’s Fit and Proper Persons Test, which seems to have been useless. Rooney recorded that ‘Antonov set out an ambitious five year plan to transform the then Championship club. It included the development of the Blues’ Academy, interest in buying land around Fratton Park, and a desire to win over the faith of local businesses and supporters. However Antonov’s reign lasted just five months and 28 days. He quit as Chairman on 29 November 2011 when his company CSI entered administration, owing Balram Chenrai’s Portpin £17M. Four days before stepping down at Pompey, Antonov had appeared at Westminster Magistrate’s Court after being arrested by the City of London Police.’ At the end of the 2011-2012 season, Portsmouth were relegated from the Championship to League One, thus falling into the third tier of English football for the first time in 30 years, and were given a ten point deduction at the start of the following campaign.
GEOFFREY K FRY 17 March 2019
THE HARRY REDKNAPP INDUSTRY
There are many Portsmouth supporters who hate Harry Redknapp. I am not one of them. My reasons for this are easy to state. I have never met the man, but I certainly met the type during my distant days in the ranks of the Royal Air Force in the 1950s. One of my unwanted duties in the Aden Garrison was to be part of a ceremonial drill squad. Given that the temperature in Aden regularly reached a minimum of 100 degrees F at night and as much as 140 degrees F in the day nobody wanted to be on the squad, which was frankly hard work, not least having to get up very early for the only too regular practices, the idea being that the temperature would not be so unbearable then. I noticed that a certain type of fellow ranker always somehow managed to avoid being part of the squad. The Harry Redknapp types would say to you the night before ‘Give us a shake when you go out, Geoff, will you?’ By then, of course, you had to be in your kit, which had to be immaculate, as, indeed, you had to be, and you had to have had breakfast because if you didn’t you would be subject to a disciplinary charge if you feinted on parade, which given the heat was always a risk. The Harry types got a lot of extra sleep. To do conscription was to get to know only too well a very representative cross section of the English male personality. It was a very depressing experience. If the Harry types had a motto it was ‘f… you, Jack, I’m fireproof.’ You knew that when the excreta hit the fan, the Harry types would somehow elude it, and the chances were that you were not going to be so lucky.
So when Harry Redknapp became involved with Portsmouth first as Director of Football and then as the Manager, I was glad that he was on board because he was from the mainstream of English football, and I did not doubt that, behind the smile and the jokes, he would ruthlessly succeed with a club that had done very little for more or less half a century. The football the Pompey played in winning the second level title for the first time in the 2002-2003 season was excellent, and that played when comfortably retaining Premier League status the following season was impressive too. Then Harry and the then Chairman, Milan Mandaric fell out, and not long into the 2004-2005 season Harry was off, ending up as Manager at Southampton, despite having assured everybody that he would do no such thing. Those who had previously sung his name now hated him. As Peter Crouch wrote in his memoirs discussed later, ‘Portsmouth fans … thought he was Satan in a Saints badged jacket.’ I did not have this problem because, of course, I had never trusted him in the first place. The ‘f.. you Jack, I’m fireproof ‘ philosophy that he adhered to meant that Harry would pursue his own interest in any situation you would care to name. So, though he wrote otherwise in his memoirs, once he was aware that Portsmouth were going to be taken over by rich owners, Harry was back at Fratton Park, having got Southampton relegated in the meantime. Harry then used the money to (a) save Pompey from certain relegation, and (b) then to build a team good enough to finish twice in the top half of the Premier League [which Portsmouth had not done the equivalent of this side of the 1954-55 season] and which won the F.A. Cup in 2008, Pompey’s first major honour since 1950. When it was clear to him that the money was about to run out – and how – Harry was off to Tottenham, doing a good job there and less well elsewhere.
Not one it seems to just drift into retirement, Harry has had relatively recently published two books. The first was his autobiography, which appeared in 2013. This was called Always Managing, and I thought that it was an entertaining book to read when I was given it as a Christmas present. Naturally, I found the material on Harry’s time at Portsmouth the most interesting parts of the book. In 2014, he had published a second book. This one was called A Man Walks On To A Pitch, and I also got given this as a Christmas present. This book discusses the various decades of Harry’s life in terms of football, and Harry selects what would be an ideal team representing each decade, while also assessing the better teams of each era. The judgements are those of a man who played English football as a professional and who has also been a coach and a Manager. I found it interesting enough to be able to read it on public transport. I have never been more than a spectator, of course, but I would dissent from some of the judgements, not least because they seem to me to be delivered with both eyes on the likely market. In the role of spectator, I would dissent from Harry’s assessment that the Liverpool of the Shankly and Paisley eras were entertaining. I would have thought – as the general attendance statistics ruthlessly bore out – that the style of play that they led the way in perfecting came close to killing the game as a form of entertainment. Others were guilty too, of course, with Revie’s Leeds and George Graham’s Arsenal being obvious examples. In my opinion, much of the violence among spectators from the 1960s down to the late 1980s had its origins in the quest for entertainment. The turning points came with all seater stadiums – thanks to the Thatcher Government acting in the wake of the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 – and amending the rules, notably changing those rules governing passing back to the goalkeeper in 1992, and the changes relating to tackling made in advance of the 1994 World Cup. I would also think that the excellent television presentation of the 1990 World Cup was important in widening the appeal of football beyond the lower orders. The advent of the Premier League from 1992 onwards also made an important difference.
Most recently, Harry has moved into television, contriving to star in a programme called I’m A Celebrity .. Get Me Out of Here, which I did not bother to watch, and then on successive nights – those of 18 and 19 March 2019 – leading the way in two ninety minute programmes called Harry’s Heroes: The Full English. What Harry did was to get together a collection of the England players from Italia 90 – that’s the one where England got to the semi final of the World Cup and lost to Germany on penalties – with the aim of training them up to take on a similar collection of German veterans in a re-run game. The players were Lee Sharpe, Steve Howey, Mark Wright, David Seaman, Chris Waddle, Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock, Mark Chamberlain, Paul Merson, Robbie Fowler, Matt le Tissier, Rob Lee, and Ray Parlour. John Barnes was unable to take part as he had injured himself, and he acted as an assistant to Harry. Frankly, as somebody who has always taken keeping fit seriously and who does not drink or smoke, I thought that, with one or two exceptions, these former players mostly looked disgusting, with 23 stone ‘Razor’ Ruddock leading the way. An early defeat by 2-1 at the hands of a team composed of a bunch of teenagers made clear how unfit they were, and it was followed by a victory over – wait for it – Crystal Palace Ladies by 1-0 which emphasized their limitations. ‘I love to win,’ said Merson. That said, though, Harry then took the veterans to Spain to sharpen up their fitness, and eventually after about three months they took on a team of German veterans, beating them 4-2, with Fowler scoring twice, and Lee and Merson once. As the television programme, including adverts, lasted for no less than three hours in total, it has to be said that it was entertaining, but for me the male camaraderie brought back only too many memories of my youthful days in the Services. It was also in many ways a sad programme. Merson was in tears as he revealed that his gambling problem was back with a vengeance. Matt le Tissier confessed too that when he knew that an injury had condemned him to retirement he had wept. As for Harry, he kept the group together very capably, and one wondered if he might have been able to do the same as the England Manager in the days of the cliques that Rio Ferdinand has told us about.
GEOFFREY K FRY 22 March 2019
‘Harry Redknapp’s transition into a mainstream media star since winning ‘I’m A Celebrity last year has led to an explosion of interest in the journeyman Manager from the cut throat world of celebrity agents, who are keen to be associated with the wise cracking Londoner,’ Matt Hughes wrote in The Times for 30 March 2019, ‘Such has been the desperation of many to get a piece of the action with Redknapp, that his agent, former West Ham United and Portsmouth Director Peter Storrie, has sent 23 separate cease and desist letters to rivals who have claimed to represent his client.’
GEOFFREY K FRY 30 March 2019
Almost inevitably, given his current wave of popularity, Harry Redknapp made it to The Times Magazine on 13 April 2019, being the subject of an admiring interview. ‘Once I met Sandra at 17, that was it,’ Harry was off on his life story, and, of course, as we all now know, they met at the Two Puddings pub in Stratford in East London. Why do we know the name of Harry’s wife when we don’t know the name of any other manager’s wife? This is because Harry is a master of self publicity. So, as the interview progresses, off we go through Harry’s journey through life, including, of course, the famous income tax trial. There is a picture of Harry, Sandra, and, of course, the dogs, and just to round it off when the interviewer’s taxi fails to turn up good old Harry gives the journalist a lift to the station. No trouble, my son! What a performance!
GEOFFREY K FRY 14 April 2019
In June 2001, Milan Mandaric, the then Chairman of Portsmouth, offered Harry Redknapp, the job of Director of Football at Pompey, looking after player recruitment. He told Harry that he couldn’t pay him the wages that he had been receiving when he was Manager at West Ham, but there would be an incentive deal. Harry was going to receive ten per cent of any profit on any player if he was sold on. Harry later recalled in his memoirs: ‘Just over a week later, I persuaded Milan to buy Peter Crouch from Queens Park Rangers. Not that he fancied him. “Harry,” he said, “he’s the worst footballer I’ve ever seen in my life. Harry, he’s a basketball player. If you think I’m going to pay a million pounds for this player, this useless player, you must be mad.” I told Milan he was wrong. “He’ll be fantastic,” I said. In the end I persuaded him to take a chance … I was right about Crouch … He was outstanding for us. We bought him for £1.25M and sold him to Aston Villa nine months later for £4.5M – a profit of £3.25M.’ Though Harry had moved on from his role as Director of Football to actually being the Manager of Portsmouth by the time of the sale he somehow persuaded Mandaric to pay him the 10 per cent he felt due to him, though for some reason it was paid into an account bearing the name of his dog. The H.M.R.C. were not amused, and later pursued Harry – not the dog – in the courts, without success. Given that a jury was involved, Harry was predictably found not guilty after a memorable performance in the dock.
Peter Crouch was definitely a success when playing for Portsmouth in the
2001-2002 season, scoring 18 goals in 37 games at the second level of English football, thus enabling Pompey to finish seventeenth and to thus avoid relegation. The money obtained by the sale of Crouch enabled Harry Redknapp to build the redoubtable Portsmouth team of the 2002-2003 season that won promotion to the Premier League. So, when Crouch published his memoirs, which were called How To Be A Footballer, in 2018, it was unsurprising that I got this book as a Christmas present.
If you believe The Metro, Crouch is nothing less than ‘the funniest man in British sport,’ while The Daily Mail deemed him to be nothing less than ‘a comedy genius.’ Without wishing to be ungenerous, the most that I will say is that the book is well worth reading. Naturally, I was most interested in what Crouch had to say about Portsmouth. ‘When I joined Portsmouth from Q.P.R., I drove to my first training session and thought I had inadvertently enlisted for service on the high seas,’ Crouch recalled, ‘There was nothing bespoke about the Pompey training ground. It was the H.M.S. Collingwood naval base, named after a nineteenth century admiral and apparently left exactly how he had known it as some kind of tribute. The pitches had once seen grass but now had only a vague memory of it. They were as windy and [as] exposed as the deck of an aircraft carrier. We got changed in some old Portakabins and had to take our kit home to wash it. When it came to lunch we drove across to the barracks and ate alongside the sailors. They hated us – screeching into the car park in our sports cars and 4x4s, us in shorts and expensive trainers, them about to spend a year on a ship with only other men for company. Food was served on a prison style tray. The base was the home of the Maritime Warfare School, and every time we got out of there without battle breaking out I gave a sigh of relief. It was always cold. The rain came in sideways. The base had a Latin motto, Ferar unus et idem. It translated as “I shall carry on regardless” and that’s what we had to do.’ As for Harry Redknapp, Peter Crouch wrote that ‘I loved him as a Manager. He was sensational at man management. But I was never his teacher’s pet, and I was never immune to being moved on if he felt he could do better without me.’ Crouch’s verdict was that ‘Harry Redknapp is a vastly unappreciated Manager.’
Crouch’s book is well worth reading as an insider’s account of life among the leading echelons of English professional football. Down to the end of last season, according to the record books, Crouch has played no less than 556 games and scored 140 goals. He has played for no less than ten different clubs. He played for Portsmouth in two different seasons. We have already noted his vital contribution in the 2001-2002 season – and who could forget that crucial goal at Crewe? – and we should note too that he also scored 11 goals in 38 appearances in the 2008-2009 season, though, through no fault of his, that only delayed Pompey’s relegation from the Premier League.
GEOFFREY K FRY 23 March 2019
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE CHEATING
‘The Premier League clubs have come out fighting in the face of sweeping proposals to change the Champions League and say that they will “vigorously defend” the domestic game,’ so Martyn Zeigler reported in The Times for 6 April 2019, ‘The 20 clubs issued a statement after a meeting in London yesterday where they were told of moves by the European Clubs Association to significantly expand the number of European matches and replace the system where the top four English teams qualify for the Champions League.’ Oliver Kay writing in the same newspaper said that ‘the agenda is dictated by the biggest clubs, who dominate the [E.C.A.]’s executive structure. They want the supremacy of their elite to be ring fenced.’ No one will be surprised that currently washed up clubs like A.C. Milan are behind all this desire for guaranteed access to the Champions League. The Premier League is not alone in opposing these contemptible proposals, having support from the European Leagues Association, which represents 35 leagues in 24 countries, including England and Scotland. What the E.C.A. proposals demonstrate once again is that the market is so ruthlessly efficient that the losers if influential enough will try if allowed to form a cartel to frustrate it .
GEOFFREY K FRY 6 March 2019
FINANCIAL NOT SO FAIR PLAY?
The Premier League and the English Football League and E.U.F.A., and so it turns out, even F.I.F.A. – a body notorious for being surrounded by corruption in the past – have been exercising their various regulatory powers recently. It seems that Chelsea may be banned for two transfer windows because they have allegedly offended against F.I.F.A. rules regarding the recruitment of young players. The appeals procedure may ensure that Chelsea are able to operate in this summer’s transfer window, which they may need to, given that Hazard seems determined to leave to go to Real Madrid, even though that club does not seem at present to have the money to sign him or anybody else that expensive. Meanwhile, Manchester City are facing a ban which would exclude them from participating in the European Champions League for a season imposed by E.U.F.A. for allegedly breaking that body’s Financial Fair Play rules. This ban would not operate until the 2020-2021 season. City are disputing that any financial irregularities took place. Those with good memories will recall that in 2014 City were forced to pay a fine of £49M and observe restrictions on transfer spending because of a breach of E.U.F.A.’s rules. I have no special knowledge of these matters, but it does seem to me that Financial Fair Play rules seem to be primarily directed against what I call the invented clubs, and not the Real Madrids and Barcelonas and Manchester Uniteds and Arsenals and Liverpools of the football world. It is yet another attempt to freeze the economic order. A reply to that would be that as long as these Rules exist or persist they should be respected.
Of course, Portsmouth currently are not a threat to clubs of that order, whether established or invented, and may well never will be. That said, though, even with much more modest ambitions, one does wonder how exactly Pompey’s present owners or, indeed, any other potential owners, can develop the club that is seriously competitive while balancing the books. Infrastructure costs do not count when it comes to a club having to observe the £39M limit on losses over three seasons that E.F.L. clubs are supposed to respect under the Financial Fair Play rules that apply to them, but this does not alter the brutal reality that the owners face prohibitive costs when it comes to building a new or a seriously refurbished stadium as well as having to operate in a transfer market that it would be an understatement to describe as savagely competitive. I think that many of us among the ranks of Pompey supporters do not really grasp how bad the current state of Fratton Park has become over the years, and how much it has cost simply to keep going.
In principle, rules like Financial Fair Play can be represented as cleaning up a football business very much in need of such attention, but nobody seriously believes that the established clubs will be in any serious sense regulated or that one effect of the application of such rules will not have the effect of freezing out competition. One does wonder when reviewing the finances of football clubs, quite how many of them contrive to stay in business, and there have been several last minute escapes in the past involving various clubs. Given that the sums of money involved these days often seem quite mad, I do not rule out at some stage a club or clubs going out of business.
GEOFFREY K FRY 15 May 2019
MANCHESTER CITY AND THE TREBLE
Manchester City became the first club to win the English domestic treble when they defeated Watford in the F.A. Cup Final on 18 May 2019, having won the League Cup earlier in the season, and the Premier League title the previous Saturday. Previously, the biggest victory in an F.A. Cup Final was that recorded by Bury in 1900 when they defeated Derby County 6-0. Manchester City equalled this achievement in 2019 by beating Watford by the same score. Though Watford became members of the Football League as long ago as 1920, and have failed to win a major honour in the many seasons since, and some would say that they merit being despised because of this, I thought that the margin of victory flattered City, though it seems few others outside of the ranks of the Watford supporters seem to think so.
The most sour comments on Manchester City’s F.A. Cup success and, by implication their treble and, indeed, their successes since Sheikh Mansour bought the club in 2008 came from Sam Cunningham in The Independent for 20 May 2019. In remarks which recalled Arsene Wenger’s past comments on ‘financial doping’ in English football, Cunningham described City’s Abu Dhabi owners as ‘using City as a PR tool to legitimise a corrupt regime,’ and noted that City had launched an astonishing attack on E.U.F.A.’s Yves Leterme who was leading the investigations into allegations that City had not observed the rules relating to Financial Fair Play. Cunningham wrote that ‘if City [had] constructed this behemoth within the rules, then fair play. But they have not, and with four separate investigations hanging over them, just how illegitimately this has been achieved will soon be known and could forever change the way this team is remembered.’ The next day in the same newspaper, Cunningham was still on the case: ‘Cheating is ingrained in football, from top to bottom: from the mass corruption of F.I.F.A. To the children on Sunday league pitches emulating their heroes by diving and writhing around on the floor, feigning injury. ”Sometimes we forget how dirty this industry is,” E.U.F.A. President, told The New York Times [on 20 May 2019]. E.U.F.A., at least, appears to be taking the lead in the clean up. For the most part, though, it’s as if those in charge of the world’s most lucrative sporting product don’t actually want to catch the cheats.’
I very much doubt if any of Manchester City’s fans care much about the means by which they now rank as a major club. I only respect, of course, the real fans, meaning the ones who have serious links with the Greater Manchester area, especially those who stood by them in the long years of misery between winning the League Cup in 1976 and winning the F.A. Cup in 2011 and having to endure the continual successes of Manchester United. No doubt they would rather forget what happened in 1998. I was reminded of that year by an article in the Portsmouth programme for the Accrington match at the end of this season. It was written by ‘Johhnie Lager’ Durnin who recalled that last day game at Bradford City when he scored twice in Portsmouth’s 3-1 victory which enabled them to avoid relegation to the third level of English professional football, and it was, of course. Manchester City who were relegated.
GEOFFREY K FRY 21 May 2019