PORTSMOUTH: THE FIRST HALF OF THE 2018-2019 SEASON
By Geoffrey Fry
The fortunate manner in which Portsmouth won the League Two title at the end of the 2016-2017 season – we were at the top of the table for just 32 minutes – did not exactly encourage optimism about how Pompey would do in League One last season. The most that I hoped for was something like seventh or eighth place, and, despite the fact that whenever I saw them play Portsmouth failed to impress me, Pompey contrived to finish eighth, which was a respectable outcome if not an inspiring one. The squad plainly needed to be reconstructed in the summer of 2018 if Portsmouth were going to make a serious bid to secure promotion from League One in the 2018-2019 season let alone secure the title. Though there has been no sign of serious expenditure, five players were, indeed, recruited during the close season, and fears that clubs with more money and of higher status would make an offer that Portsmouth could not refuse for Lowe or Clarke proved to be unfounded. As things stood on the eve of the season, there were essentially two views about Portsmouth’s prospects. Several of the pundits seemed to think that Pompey might well make a serious promotion bid. Against that, there were pessimists who noted that Portsmouth had failed to recruit another striker and one with speed, and not remedied a lack of creativity in midfield, and that, as a consequence, would pay a price for that in terms of results. We shall have to see who gets it right. Sunderland, armed with £34M in parachute payments, would seem to be the most serious of the other promotion contenders, with those of us whose allegiance lies elsewhere hoping that they spend this money without reward much as they did the £42M in parachute payments last season. Another serious contender has to be Barnsley.
PORTSMOUTH’S LEAGUE ONE CAMPAIGN
4.8.2018 LUTON TOWN [H] 1-0 [19,018]
Portsmouth began the season with a home win over Luton Town, scoring the only goal of the game. According to Neil Allen of The News, this win was ‘largely undeserved and harsh on Luton.’ An unexpected bonus was that Jason Lowe played the whole game when it had been previously believed that an ankle injury would keep him out for several weeks. It was less surprising that the winning goal was scored by the gifted Lowe. This goal came after 16 minutes. Its architect was Ronan Curtis, who pulled the ball back from the byline for Lowe to score with a left foot shot from about eight yards. Luton then proceeded to run the match. One of their shots hit a post, and another hit the underside of the bar. In addition, Pompey’s newly recruited goalkeeper, MacGillivray made a succession of saves, one of which merited being described as ‘superb.’ Allen thought that as an attacking force Portsmouth were unimpressive, but defensively they were ‘magnificent,’ and, indeed, Whatmough and Clarke led the way in conducting nothing less than a ‘wondrous rearguard action’ in shutting out a Luton team that he deemed nothing less than ‘rampant,’ at least on this occasion. It is hard to see at this stage how good or bad newly promoted Luton are, and one can see that Manager Kenny Jackett needed to tighten up the defence of a Portsmouth team that lost no less than 20 League One games last season, but if, as some fear, this is one season too many for Brett Pitman as things stand there has to be concern about Pompey as an attacking force.
11.8.2018 BLACKPOOL [A] 2-1 [4,154]
Though somebody called Dodoo hit a post for Blackpool with a shot after just 20 seconds, Neil Allen of The News still thought that Portsmouth’s performance in this second game of the season was ‘a considerable improvement on the scratchy victory over Luton on the opening day.’ Pompey took the lead after 9 minutes when Hawkins steered a header into the penalty box and Ronan Curtis reacted to bustle past a home defender and score. On 37 minutes, the lively Irishman struck the inside of a post with a right footed shot, before grabbing a second goal after 59 minutes. Hawkins was again involved, flicking the ball on, and Curtis wriggled through and fired a fierce right footed shot into the net. So, Portsmouth seemed to be in command, but, unaccountably, after 81 minutes the defence allowed a long goal kick into the penalty area and in trying to prevent Curran – who had replaced the wonderfully named Dodoo – from scoring, Clarke put through his own goal. Manager Kenny Jackett conceded that it was a soft goal to concede. A hectic finish ensued, with Blackpool having a possible goal ruled out for offside. Thus, if a pundit in The Times is to be relied on, Pompey won the first two games of a season for the first time in thirty years. That said, though, Jackett told The Football League Paper that he still believed that ‘there’s a lot to work on and a lot to improve.’
18.8.2018 OXFORD UNITED [H] 4-1 [18,093]
After Portsmouth’s lamentable performance in the League Cup earlier in the week, there was no shortage of pessimism around about Pompey’s prospects this season, but in this home game against Oxford United, Jordan Cross wrote in The News, ‘Jackett’s men delivered … a swashbuckling performance to sweep aside the doubters.’ Why this happened Cross largely attributed to ‘one of the finest Pompey debuts in recent memory,’ namely that of Ben Thompson, a midfield loan signing from Millwall. According to Cross, ‘around the ground the shimmies, [the] range of passing, and drive’ emanating from Thompson from what he described as ‘a faultless tour de force of a maiden appearance.’ Actually, it was not literally ‘faultless’ given that Thompson was booked late on. Though Portsmouth won this game 4-1. at half time the score was 0-0, with Evans having missed a penalty. After 48 minutes, Evans compensated for this blunder by scoring the opening goal, and eight minutes later Pompey went further ahead thanks to an own goal, and after 65 minutes the score was 3-0 with the scorer unsurprisingly being Jason Lowe. Oxford managed to rally and with a minute to go Whatmough put through his own goal when attempting to repel them. Portsmouth were not yet finished, though, and in the 90th minute Lowe raced 40 yards, cut inside and delivered a stunning left foot shot that Sky Sports fans voted the E.F.L. goal of the day. Manager Kenny Jackett was cautious afterwards, electing to say ‘we haven’t cracked it yet.’
21.8.2018 BRISTOL ROVERS [A] 2-1 [9,073]
By all accounts, and not least that of Neil Allen in The News, Portsmouth’s away victory at the expense of Bristol Rovers was a hard won affair. Allen described it as ‘a gutsy performance,’ and several excellent saves on his part ensured that the Pompey goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray was the man of the match. Though the Pirates were having the better of the game, it was Portsmouth who took the lead after 32 minutes when Curtis headed the ball down into the path of Evans and he scored with a devastating first time left foot shot. Pompey then spent most of the time resolutely defending before Rovers equalized after 76 minutes: Curtis handled in the penalty area, enabling somebody called Lines to score from the resulting spot kick. Three minutes later, Lines was sent off for a reckless challenge on substitute Pitman. This gave Pompey the opportunity to register a barely deserved victory, which they achieved after 87 minutes when Curtis squeezed home a left footed shot that just about made it into the net. Thus, Portsmouth registered four wins in their opening four league fixtures for the first time since the distant 1980-81 season.
25.8.2018 DONCASTER ROVERS [A] 0-0 [7,618]
I have never seen Portsmouth lose an away game against Doncaster, and I travelled to the rather splendid Keepmoat Stadium naturally enough hoping to keep this record intact. Pompey played so badly in the first half that it took heroics from goalkeeper MacGillivray and some very good defensive work from Clarke and Whatmough to prevent Doncaster from taking a two or three goal lead. This is not to suggest that Doncaster played particularly well. The hard truth was that they didn’t need to. This was because Portsmouth’s first half display was lamentable. Doncaster were always first to the ball, and the Pompey midfield could not compete. Without implying that Pompey in any sense then went on to play well in the second half, the replacement of Thompson (so heavily praised last week by the pundits) by Ben Close changed things for the better in midfield, and Pitman replaced Hawkins and, although as slow as ever, he was more of a presence up front. Pompey scorned a couple of good chances before being given a good opportunity to win the game when the Doncaster goalkeeper handled the ball outside of the area when preventing a possible goal, thus getting sent off. Pitman put the relevant free kick over the bar and Portsmouth managed just one shot on target in the seven minutes of the game and four minutes of added time in which Doncaster were down to ten men, preferring for no obvious reason elaborate build up play. So the game ended in a 0-0 draw. Overall, it was a dreadful game, and the attendance figure of 7,618 must have counted in absent Doncaster season ticket holders. The numerous Pompey fans made all the noise even in the wretched first half. Several veteran Portsmouth supporters have pointed out to me that if Pompey can continue to secure so many points as they have while still playing poorly then they may well do even better when they play well. We shall have to wait and see about that.
1.9.2018 PLYMOUTH ARGYLE [H] 3-0 [18,872]
Once more, it was the so called Dockyard Derby, and this time Plymouth were bottom of the table when they came to Fratton Park. ‘We’ve had a shot,’ the travelling Plymouth fans sarcastically chanted with eight minutes left. Actually the visiting team did hit the outside of a post with a shot earlier on, but Neil Allen reporting in The News was not alone in describing Portsmouth as bossing this game much in the manner that the final score suggested. Manager Kenny Jackett told The Football League Paper that ‘it was a good performance and a deserved win. I thought for the first 30 minutes we were excellent.’ Pompey went ahead after 22 minutes when Evans found Lowe on the right, and his square pass found Curtis and he scored. Then, after 63 minutes, Curtis returned the favour with a deep right footed cross from the left which found Lowe ghosting in at the far post to head home from close range. Six minutes later, following a pass from Evans, Curtis scored once more with ‘a wonderful left footed finish from an improbable angle.’ The attendance was better than half a dozen in the Championship. Plymouth brought about a third more supporters last season, but the presence of 1,226 of them was not bad for a bottom of the table team.
8.9.2018 SHREWSBURY TOWN [H] 1-1 [17,634]
Though Portsmouth were second from top in League One and Shrewsbury were second to bottom and without a win to their name, Pompey were without their leading goalscorer Ronan Curtis, who was away on international duty, and they have a poor record against these particular visitors. As The Sunday Mirror helpfully pointed out, Shrewsbury came to the game looking for their sixth successive win against Pompey, and they very nearly brought it off. In the end, Portsmouth were grateful for a home draw. In the first half, Pompey were ‘lethargic, sluggish, off the pace’ most of the time, according to Neil Allen reporting in The News, and although things improved after the interval, when changes were made in midfield, Pompey remained a shadow of the team that had destroyed Plymouth. That said, though, Shrewsbury similarly had not had a shot on goal until in the 74th minute Burgess unaccountably misjudged a defensive header to present the visitors with the lead, and it seemed victory. Then with three minutes to go, the wonderfully named Shrewsbury defender Omar Beckles fouled Jason Lowe in the penalty area. The Shrewsbury Manager (who was, obviously, sadly blind) pretended afterwards that it was not a foul, and, less forgivably, the pundit on Sky Sports expressed scepticism. The filmed evidence, though, was unequivocal. Neil Allen pointed out that the referee had previously made ‘a number of baffling decisions’ and had ‘displayed a penchant for not identifying the obvious.’ So, not everybody expected the man to do his duty on this occasion, but, prompted by the assistant referee, this time he did. Up stepped substitute Pitman to convert the penalty and give Pompey a point they were only too pleased to receive. Portsmouth’s Manager, Kenny Jackett told The Sun on Sunday, no less, that ‘we didn’t do enough to win.’
15.9.2018 PETERBOROUGH UNITED [A] 2-1 [10,472]
Last season, Portsmouth’s record against the leading clubs in League One was unimpressive, and so it was imperative that this behaviour was not repeated when Pompey travelled to Peterborough to play the current League One leaders for their first really challenging fixture of the present season. The London Road ground does not usually attract capacity crowds, but this one witnessed Peterborough’s first five figure attendance for as many as five years, with the Pompey contingent being so numerous that some of us could not get tickets. At one stage in his report of the game published in The News, Neil Allen wrote that ‘the game was played at a frantic pace with little to choose between the sides,’ while later suggesting that Peterborough’s goal scored in added time following a needless loss of possession by Lowe ‘suggested a closer game than it was.’ Anyway, it did not matter because Portsmouth still won the game 2-1, and it was completely unsurprising that the ‘dynamic Curtis … was ,,, Pompey’s inspiration. He initiated the opener on 62 minutes … clipping in a [left wing ] cross Hawkins met with a controlled header which found the corner [of the net].’ Hawkins played ‘a pivotal part in [Portsmouth’s] second goal after 75 minutes. Curtis cut through the Posh defence down the left, feeding it to Hawkins who took the ball across the penalty area and crossed right footed. [He] picked out Curtis at the far post, whose header teed up Lowe beautifully to steer a first time right footed finish [to] make it 2-0 [with] his fifth goal of the season.’ So, with this victory Portsmouth became the only unbeaten team in League One. One cause of concern was that near the end Curtis had to go off injured. Predictably, the injury seems to have been inflicted deliberately.
22.9.2018 WYCOMBE WANDERERS [H] 2-2 [18,648]
‘Not many teams will come to Portsmouth and do what we did,’ or so the Wycombe Manager Gareth Ainsworth told The Football League Paper after the Chairboys had secured an away point in this game at Fratton Park. Given that Shrewsbury, another team currently placed in the lower half of League One, had contrived to get a comparable result a fortnight earlier this latest home draw on Portsmouth’s part did not come as that much of a surprise. The weather was poor too and once more the referee – somebody called Craig Hicks – was sadly for him and the spectators not up to the job. Even sadder was that Portsmouth did not play very well, and, indeed, they were 1-0 down after 21 minutes to a superbly taken goal. Pompey eventually equalized after 57 minutes when – as Neil Allen told the tale in The News – Hawkins worked the ball out to Lowe ‘who clipped a first time cross into the six yard box’ and ‘there was skipper Gareth Evans’ to score ‘with a free header for his third goal of the campaign.’ With four minutes of normal time to go, another cross from Lowe was headed home by substitute Pitman. Were Pompey going to win after all? Not with Christian Burgess around. The same defender who had gifted Shrewsbury their goal two weeks before this time needlessly gave away a penalty that enabled Wycombe to equalize. Neil Allen elected to conclude that for Portsmouth this home draw ‘represented a hard fought point earned in testing conditions,’ and it meant that Pompey’s unbeaten start to the season continued, now stretching to nine games in League One, thus equalling the record of Harry Redknapp’s team in the 2002-2003 season.
29.9.2018 ROCHDALE [A] 3-1 [3,796]
Few have forgotten that game at Rochdale in 2014 when Portsmouth were so badly beaten that relegation from the Football League seemed only likely, and might well have been Pompey’s fate had not Richie Barker, the then Manager, not been dismissed. Frankly, Portsmouth going 1-0 down after only 4 minutes of this current game did act as an unwanted reminder of that awful evening even if Rochdale’s opening goal this time was of admirable quality. As Neil Allen told the story in The News, Pompey eventually managed to equalize after 25 minutes. Curtis found Pitman – restored to the starting line up – and he contrived ‘to drive in a low cross turned into the net at close range by the sliding Jason Lowe for his sixth goal of the season.’ Portsmouth were by no means running the game , but after 71 minutes ‘Curtis fed overlapping full back Lee Brown and his first time cross was steered home by Pitman inside the six yard box.’ Ten minutes later, a hard won victory was sealed when Clarke scored a third goal for Pompey with ‘a ferocious left footed shot.’ The Rochdale Manager, Keith Hill told The Football League Paper that Portsmouth were the better all round team.
2.10.2018 COVENTRY CITY [A] 1-0 [11,102]
Portsmouth Manager Kenny Jackett named an unchanged team for this game at the Ricoh Arena, and he and the 1,951 Pompey fans who attended were rewarded by a fifth away win in six such fixtures for a Portsmouth team still unbeaten in their League One games. Though the margin of victory this time was by a single goal, Neil Allen expressed the opinion in The News that Pompey were actually comfortable winners, though he did record that Naylor had to effect a goal line clearance late on to safeguard Pompey’s lead. Portsmouth scored in first half stoppage time through Curtis. Evans started the move, with Close crossing the ball to Pitman, and ‘Pompey’s skipper cleverly headed it back to Curtis, who cut inside, took several touches, and then curled a right footed finish into the far corner’ of the Coventry net.’ Though admittedly the numbers were inflated by the large Pompey contingent present, Coventry deserve praise for having a respectable attendance for this level of football. When that level of football was more realistically called the Third Division in the 1961-62 season, one notes that Portsmouth did start with a twelve game unbeaten run, and went on to win the title. It remains to be seen if history repeats itself, but Coventry’s Manager, Mark Robins, said after this latest game that he thought Pompey were currently top of League One on merit.
6.10.2018 GILLINGHAM [H] 0-2 [18,158]
Given that Portsmouth had failed to win their two previous home games against League One relegation candidates, and that Gillingham – the visitors this time – had won this fixture last season, this home defeat was not really the big surprise that it was portrayed as being, not least by Neil Allen in The News. Admittedly, Gillingham had not won since August 11, which was a run of ten matches, but Allen was not alone in conceding that their victory in this game was deserved. After 26 minutes, Gillingham scored an excellent goal, that was, indeed, deemed goal of the week in The Game section of The Times: a striker called Tom Eaves ‘juggled the ball with both feet before swivelling and scoring [with] a left foot volley.’ Just before half time carelessness on the part of right back Nathan Thompson enabled Gillingham to score a second goal following a routine corner, and though – according to Allen – Portsmouth ‘bossed possession in the second half,’ it was the case that ‘Gillingham stood firm with frustrating ease.’ Steve Lovell, the Gillingham Manager said afterwards that they took the game to Portsmouth, and they did so to the delight of the 550 visiting fans, thus bringing to an end the third best start the Pompey have ever made to a season, with the home team giving a display described to me by South Stand regulars as demeaning. Kenny Jackett told The Football League Weekly afterwards that the Pompey players were already expressing their determination to go on another unbeaten run.
13.10.2018 AFC WIMBLEDON [A] 2-1 [4,569]
‘In the opening hour’ of this away game at Wimbledon, ‘Portsmouth were at their brilliant best in attacking terms,’ according to Neil Allen of The News. Indeed, such was their ‘irresistible dominance’ that their 2-0 lead at the interval ‘should have been far greater.’ The Wombles were ‘swamped.’ It seems that ‘the opening 45 minutes were arguably Pompey’s most impressive of the season’ with the team ‘full of pace, power and menace, with goal opportunities piling up.’ Just two were taken, though, with Naylor opening the scoring after 24 minutes, and Evans adding a second seven minutes later. No doubt the 769 Pompey supporters officially present were delighted. Then, Wimbledon made three substitutions at half time, and that changed the game dramatically. After 63 minutes, Evans botched a clearance and a substitute called Hanson executed a ‘superb first time shot from outside the box … turning the match on its head.’ Pompey then ‘valiantly withstood the barrage’ giving ‘a gutsy team display’ to record an away victory that kept them three points clear of all their rivals. Afterwards, Portsmouth Manager, Kenny Jackett, told The Sunday Times, ‘now we just have to crack it at home.’ Indeed.
20.10.2018 FLEETWOOD TOWN [H] 1-0 [18,046]
Despite the fact that Fleetwood only had two shots on goal in the entire game and neither were on target, afterwards the Cod Army boss, the very boring Joey Barton, complained that the referee had cost his team the match. The South Stand regulars who spoke to me had a different view about the official called Lee Swabey, and this was that he was too lenient in dealing with Fleetwood’s time wasting tactics which began as early as the first minute. One such regular even suggested to me that refereeing standards were now so poor at this level that games were being ruined by such behaviour. One thing everybody agreed on was that the first half was dire, but after 50 minutes Hawkins scored for Portsmouth from a corner with a header, and, according to Neil Allen of The News, ‘there was never any doubt [that Pompey] wouldn’t see out their advantage.’ After fifty days and three home League One games without a win, this victory was very welcome, especially as it put Portsmouth no less than six points clear of their rivals, even if one had to remember that both Barnsley and Sunderland have a home game in hand. Pompey were ‘far from the fluent unit they consistently suggest they can be,’ according to Neil Allen, ‘yet the wins continue to rack up for this efficient and highly effective team. They are constructed upon a resolute back four – plus Craig MacGillivray – and possess counter attacking talent which thrives, in particular, on their travels.’
23.10.2018 BURTON ALBION [H] 2-2 [18,200]
Given Portsmouth’s erratic home form, it was unsurprising that Pompey failed to win this latest game at Fratton Park against yet another team from the lower half of League One in Burton Albion. According to Neil Allen in The News, Pompey appeared to be firmly in control at the interval, with Hawkins having headed Portsmouth into the lead after 36 minutes from a cross from Thompson. Then two goals scored by the Brewers in four minutes just after half time turned the game on its head. The Portsmouth Manager, Kenny Jackett was clear afterwards that he was unimpressed with Pompey’s defensive work on both occasions, especially in the case of the second goal, which others chose to describe as spectacular. Portsmouth did manage to equalize after 57 minutes with a Matt Clarke header from a corner from Gareth Evans, but a winning goal eluded them. Neil Allen thought that the game was ‘at times pulsating, on occasions breathless,’ and that ‘the contest was … played at breakneck speed.’ In his opinion, a draw was a fair result. Matt Clarke took a different view, saying that it was a game that Pompey should have won, and Kenny Jackett was brutally honest in not bothering to hide his disappointment at conceding two goals at home. One South Stand regular told me that he thought that the Portsmouth defence went to sleep in the period immediately after half time, and he was very critical of the overall performance of Whatmaugh. It should be noted also that both Donohue and Hawkins were injured, and that Naylor will miss the next game at Accrington because of his disciplinary record.
27.10.2018 ACCRINGTON STANLEY [A] 1-1 [3,558]
Given that Portsmouth have only won once on their four previous visits to Accrington, the outcome of this game was, for once, predictable. In an interview with The Football League Weekly afterwards, the Accrington Manager, John Coleman, said that for the first 25 minutes Pompey ruled the game and had ‘four or five good chances,’ but in the end ‘a draw was probably a fair result.’ Neil Allen of The News commented that ‘while Pompey have developed an admirable knack for not losing games, they have also created a habit for failing to finish off wounded opposition, particularly when in a position of dominance.’ A reply to that comment might well be that with the score at 0-0, MacGillivray had to save a penalty that he had given away himself – as a consequence of spilling a corner – so perhaps Pompey should be appreciative of a point. Curtis did hit the woodwork twice with shots, but Portsmouth’s only goal came after 62 minutes when Hawkins stuck out a leg to divert a cross from Evans into the net. The lead lasted for just a couple of minutes because Pompey’s defence granted an Accrington defender a free far post header which he took advantage of. No less than 1,163 Portsmouth fans made the 544 mile round trip to this game, and the Accrington Manager, John Coleman, commented that ‘the atmosphere was fantastic. I like the Portsmouth fans and how they’re proper football people … the way they treat you here and when you go away to Portsmouth, too, they treat you well.’
3.11.2018 BRADFORD CITY [A] 1-0 [16,393]
Valley Parade has rarely been one of Portsmouth’s happiest hunting grounds, and the fact that Bradford City were bottom of League One and that Pompey were in top place did not encourage optimism in me about the outcome of this away game. That the Bantams had been denounced by their Manager, David Hopkin, for their lamentable performance in their last fixture did not matter because this was a different game. I was right to be apprehensive. Bradford City proved to be difficult opponents. Pompey were the better team in the first half, and scored a beautifully worked goal after 12 minutes. Lowe cut in at speed from the right and found Curtis with a superb pass and his immediate centre was cleverly steered home by Evans. Admittedly, the ball did not run for Portsmouth, but, after the first quarter of the second half they showed little sign of getting the much needed second goal. Indeed, Bradford City’s physicality ensured that Curtis in particular was subdued and that they were in charge of the game. They continued to boss things even after going down to ten men after 83 minutes. The Pompey defence played capably throughout, but Bradford’s best player – somebody called Hope Akpen – scorned an excellent chance to equalize in added time, and even after that a Bradford free kick missed the Portsmouth goal by no more than a foot. I gave a massive sigh of relief at the final whistle. Pompey had won to the obvious delight of the travelling fans.
24.11.2018 SCUNTHORPE UNITED [A] 2-1 [4,365]
This was not a fixture for Portsmouth to have anticipated with much in the way of optimism, given that Pompey have collected just one point from their last four visits to Glanford Park – the current home of Scunthorpe United – since it opened in August 1988, and for the last away win against that club one has to go back to Portsmouth’s Third Round replay victory on 7 March 1963 at what was called the Old Show Ground. This time – and at long last – a Portsmouth win broke the hoodoo. Indeed, Neil Allen writing in The News declared that ‘Pompey should have breezed to victory following an hour of dominance.’ Portsmouth took the lead after 34 minutes when following a Curtis corner the unmarked Naylor scored with a left foot shot. Then after 40 minutes following a Nathan Thompson pass for the right, Evans capably beat the opposing goalkeeper with a right foot chip shot. Evans should have scored again after 58 minutes when he missed from four yards. Shortly afterwards, Scunthorpe scored, and the character of the game then changed dramatically with Portsmouth being forced to defend all the way down to the final whistle, even having to pull back Hawkins to supplement the defence. Though it was ‘desperate stuff at times, frantic and frenetic,’ Pompey held out for yet another away victory displaying ‘gutsy resilience’ in doing so, no doubt pleasing the 913 of their supporters who made the trip, The Scunthorpe Manager, Stuart McCall described Portsmouth in The Football League Weekly as as ‘well drilled, well organized, and playing with a lot of confidence,’ and elsewhere as the best team in League One.
27.11.2018 WALSALL [H] 2-0 [16,794]
Though in mid table, Walsall did come to Fratton Park with four away wins under their belt, but Portsmouth saw them off comfortably enough to register a much needed fifth home victory of the season. Portsmouth scored twice without reply. Neil Allen in The News reported that after 25 minutes ‘Curtis drove a right footed cross from the left which took a deflection and ballooned to the far post where Hawkins headed home.’ It was Hawkins’s seventh goal of the season. After 49 minutes, Pompey scored again: ‘Lowe started the move, flighting the ball in from the left [and] although Curtis’s path was initially blocked, the winger pounced to swivel and smash [the ball] home from close range.’ Hawkins should have made it 3-0, but headed a corner over from six yards. Allen wrote in terms of Portsmouth dominating the game throughout, which it seems they did, though my friends in the South Stand thought that this dominance took a positive form until the 2-0 lead was secured, and then became primarily a policy of containment, which they guessed Manager Kenny Jackett adopted because Pompey face an onerous programme of fixtures in the near future. It seems that many fans would have preferred Portsmouth to have improved their goal difference. That this game attracted the lowest attendance for a Fratton Park League One fixture this season was probably explained by the dreadful weather in the hours leading up to the match.
8.12.2018 SOUTHEND UNITED [H] 2-0 [18,062]
Given that Southend had won on two of their last three visits to Fratton Park, the outcome of this fixture did not at first sight look to be as straightforward as the relative positions in League One of the contending teams would suggest, but Portsmouth proceeded to record a ‘comfortable’ victory. Lewis Mason, writing in The News wrote that Pompey ‘did not have to wait long for their [opening goal, scoring] after 11 minutes [when] the Shrimpers failed to clear a free kick and Ronan Curtis’s left wing cross was diverted into his own net by [a Southend defender] under pressure from Oli Hawkins.’ Portsmouth were ‘in total command, grabbing a second on 29 minutes. Another fine Curtis cross picked out Lowe, whose superb flicked header found the bottom corner of the net via the post.’ This was ‘a well deserved victory’ for Portsmouth in the opinion of their Manager, Kenny Jackett, though he thought that Pompey should have scored more goals. His opposing Manager, Chris Powell, conceded – in remarks made to The Football League Weekly – that Pompey were ‘a decent side,’ and that ‘we never really troubled their keeper.’
11.12.2018 CHARLTON ATHLETIC [H] 1-2 [17,891]
The three games that Portsmouth faced before reaching the halfway stage of their League One campaign against – in date order – Charlton, Barnsley, and Sunderland were well described beforehand as an acid test of Pompey’s credentials as not merely serious promotion candidates but as prospective Champions. Given their less than commanding home form this season, it was sadly not that much of a surprise that Portsmouth failed the Charlton test. Jordan Cross reporting in The News wrote that Pompey ‘disappointed in the first half against a [Charlton] side that who pressed and performed at a tempo which has become their opponent’s trademark this [season].’ Charlton scored after 23 minutes and then again after 43 minutes. That said though, I was assured by those present and well placed to see that there was good cause to think that the first goal should have been disallowed for offside and that the ball was actually out of play at one stage of the build up to the second goal. In the second half, Pompey adopted a ‘gung ho’ approach which resulted in them receiving an ovation after the final whistle. Green got a goal back after 88 minutes. It was all very exciting, but the hard fact was that – as Cross pointed out – Portsmouth had missed the chance to establish ‘a vice like grip on the title race by opening up a 9 point advantage at the top.’ The officials at football matches tend to be an unloved breed, of course, but one notes that when Ben Thompson was sent off in added time the three match ban that would have followed had the decision been justified was immediately overturned by the authorities which suggests that scepticism about the competence of the referee and the other officials in relation to this game was more than just sour grapes.
15.12.2018 BARNSLEY [A] 1-1 [12,441]
This was always going to be a difficult match, given that Barnsley were unbeaten at Oakwell this season in their League One home games, and in weather conditions that were well described as treacherous the draw that Portsmouth secured was welcome. Barnsley ran the first half, keeping the Pompey goalkeeper MacGillivray very busy. So, it was against the run of play that Portsmouth took the lead after 43 minutes. As Neil Allen recorded in The News, a Barnsley clearance fell to Evans ‘lurking on the edge of the area, who took a touch with his right foot before driving home a finish with his left foot in front of [the] jubilant visiting supporters.’ This was Evans’s eighth goal of the campaign. Given the ability that Portsmouth have shown in several away games this season to hang on to leads, merited or not, there was the hope that Pompey would do this again, but Barnsley got an equalizer after 61 minutes that most conceded was deserved on the balance of play. The Portsmouth Manager, Kenny Jackett, when interviewed afterwards by The Football League Weekly, said that ‘they’re very strong, Barnsley,’ which meant that ‘although we took the lead,’ he was ‘pleased with a point.’ It was ‘a difficult game.’ The result seemed to be a fair one, and it needs to be added that this time there was no cause for there to be complaints about the competence of the officials.
22.12.2018 SUNDERLAND [H] 3-1 [19,402]
Portsmouth and Sunderland are the only clubs in League One who have ever been of much importance in English football, and so it was not very surprising that this match between two of the leading promotion contenders attracted the largest attendance witnessed at Fratton Park since December 2011 when the visitors were Southampton. What was surprising, given that their home form has often been less than consistent this season was that Pompey won the game 3-1. After a first half which was evenly contested, the game was turned when, after 47 minutes, the Sunderland central defender Loovens pulled down Hawkins in the penalty area and was sent off. Evans converted the penalty kick with impressive authority. Five minutes later Hawkins sent Curtis away down the left, and from an improbable angle he added a second goal for Pompey. Neil Allen in The News pointed out that Curtis’s failure to check back accounted for Sunderland pulling a goal back after 57 minutes, but six minutes later, following a brilliant save by the visiting goalkeeper from a powerful Hawkins header, Ben Thompson smashed the loose ball into the roof of the net. That proved to be the end of the scoring. In an interview with The Football League Weekly, the Sunderland Manager, Jack Ross tried afterwards to argue that Loovens did not deserve to be sent off, but the television evidence made it clear that he was talking nonsense. It was vital that Pompey won this match, and, as Neil Allen wrote in The News, that they did so ‘in a cut throat manner’ was to be ‘applauded.’
PORTSMOUTH’S LEAGUE ONE RECORD AT THE
HALFWAY STAGE OF THE 2017-2018 SEASON
Home: P 12 W7 D3 L2 Goals 22-11 Points 24
Away: P 11 W8 D3 L0 Goals 17-8 Points 27
Overall P23 W15 D6 L2 Goals 39-19 Points 51
League Position: First
Portsmouth have ‘ground out’ most of their victories, according to Neil Allen of The News, who described them as ‘a unit of supreme efficiency churning out regular positive results.’ You could also say that Pompey are only four points clear of Luton Town, their nearest rivals, at the top of League One. Promotion, let alone the League One title, is by no means assured yet. Plainly, nothing can be taken for granted. That said, though, it has to be said that nobody can seriously complain about a half season in which Portsmouth have been top of League One since September, and in which they have been unbeaten away down to the halfway stage. Pompey have never done that before in their history, and I ought to know having lived most of that history. Whenever I see them play they certainly seem well organised defensively, but the cutting edge in attack is rarely on display. Yet, we have good cause at the time of writing to hope for promotion from League One, possibly in first place, while remembering that no less than half the fixtures remain to be played in an exacting competition in which the standards of officiating leave a lot to be desired.
PORTSMOUTH’S RECORD IN CUP COMPETITIONS
THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE CHECKATRADE TROPHY
4.9.2018 GILLINGHAM [H] 4-0 [2,011]
‘The Checkatrade Trophy served its purpose on this occasion, as Pompey defeated Gillingham with comfort,’ Neil Allen wrote in The News, adding: ‘The Fratton Park scoreline was 4-0, yet for several of those challenging for a first team slot it proved a crucial outing.’ Allen had in mind Joe Mason, Andre Green, and David Wheeler. After what Allen described as ‘a dull opening period,’ this Southern Section Group A match came to life when Clarke scored for Portsmouth with a header from a corner after 41 minutes, and a couple of minutes later Close made it 2-0 when he converted a Nathan Thompson cross. Eleven minutes after that, Pitman scored from a penalty, thus atoning for having earlier missed several goalscoring opportunities, and in the last minute Wheeler slotted home an angled right foot finish to complete the scoring. The crowd was predictably poor, but it seems only fair to express admiration for the 69 Gillingham fans who made the effort to attend.
9.10.2018 CRAWLEY TOWN [A] 1-0 [1,268]
Of the team that played – and lost – to Gillingham the previous Saturday, only Evans and Close started this Checkatrade Trophy Southern Group A away game at Crawley, though Clarke came on at half time. Crawley were reported to have won no less than five home games on the bounce, and so this was not an easy fixture in this much maligned tournament. That said though, Portsmouth contrived to win the game 1-0, which no doubt pleased the 484 Pompey fans who travelled to support their team. As Neil Allen reported in The News, ‘following a bright start, the deadlock was broken after 37 minutes after Evans found Mason with a raking ball out of defence. The forward slipped in Donohue down the left channel, who proceeded to cleverly cut inside his man and curl a right footed finish into the far corner of the net.’ Don Donohue was making his return from injury and marked it notably. It should be noted that Mason missed a penalty for Pompey late in the game.
13.11.2018 TOTTENHAM UNDER 21[H] 3-2 [3,138]
The first half of this Checkatrade Trophy game was described by Neil Allen as lack lustre, but then ‘Pompey blew away Spurs Under 21s with a magnificent second half display.’ Manager Kenny Jackett made 11 changes to the Portsmouth team that won at Maidenhead in the F.A. Cup the previous Saturday, with fringe players and academy youngsters coming into the side. The visitors went ahead after 20 minutes, but after 50 minutes Green equalized from a corner. Evans, Hawkins and Matt Clarke came on a quarter of an hour later. Within four minutes, Evans scored from a free kick, and Hawkins made it 3-1 after 81 minutes following a pull back by Wheeler. Spurs got a second goal after 90 minutes. Pompey had already qualified for the knock out stages of this tournament, but this victory ensured home advantage in the next game.
4.12.2018 ARSENAL UNDER 21 [H] 2-1 [3,109]
Portsmouth made eleven changes from the team that won in the F.A. Cup at Rochdale the previous Saturday, and their Assistant Manager, Joe Gallen, thought that the fringe players that were promoted to the team made a statement by giving an excellent performance in this 2-1 victory at the expense of the Arsenal Under 21 team. David Brawn writing in The News recorded that ‘Pompey took the lead on 10 minutes [when] Walkes headed back a corner into the danger area and Pitman spun as he fell to flick the ball into the net from inside the six yard box.’ Pompey had a plethora of chances to score, hitting the woodwork no less than three times, but after 66 minutes the Arsenal team scored against the run of play. Then, after 83 minutes, Portsmouth won the match with a well worked goal: ‘Pitman’s clever flick sent Dennis away on the left side of the box, and his low ball to the far post found Green who swept the ball into the open goal.’
THE F.A. CUP
10. 11. 2018 MAIDENHEAD UNITED [A]4-0 [3,205]
Four years ago this month, for the first time since joining the Football League in 1920, Portsmouth suffered their first ever F.A. Cup defeat at the hands of a non-League club when they lost 1-0 at Aldershot. Such results are always portrayed as F.A. Cup shocks, but there have been so many of them over the years that games like this First Round tie at Maidenhead could not be treated dismissively. The Pompey Manager, Kenny Jackett, played his best team, the pitch was not too bad despite there being a slope, and – as has been the case with some famous Cup upsets – the referee was not looking for a place in the history books. The game was televised, and, although the headline in The Football League Weekly was ‘No Uphill Task For Stylish Pompey,’ for most of the first half it seemed to me that Maidenhead made it a contest, hitting a post at one stage. Pompey had hit the woodwork earlier. Then after 43 minutes a fine cross from Curtis was hammered home by Ben Thompson, and the tone of the game changed markedly. Hawkins scored with an emphatic header after 55 minutes. Lowe got a classy third goal on the hour, and substitute Wheeler scored a fourth goal after 83 minutes with an opportunistic header. Overall, Pompey did a professional job.
2.12.2018 ROCHDALE [A]1-0 [2,555]
Portsmouth progressed to the Third Round of the F.A. Cup for only the second time in the last seven years following this away win over Rochdale which Neil Allen of The News described as ‘fortunate.’ Though ‘Pompey had been comfortably the best side in the opening 45 minutes, they were a shadow of their usual selves after the break as they began to wilt.’ Indeed, ‘Rochdale began to dominate [Kenny] Jackett’s leggy troops.’ That said, though, Brown took a free kick on the edge of the box in the last minute and rolled the ball to [Aston Villa loanee] Andre Green whose right foot shot took a huge deflection and ended up in the net. Green conceded that he was lucky to score. The Pompey Manager praised Brown for setting up the goal, saying that ‘it was a piece of quick thinking to square the ball.’ It seems that Portsmouth’s performance was ‘unconvincing, below par, and laboured,’ and ‘yet’ – Allen added – ‘this is a team blessed with heart and guts, excellent characteristics once more demonstrated in this match.’ So, Pompey remain currently unbeaten in 13 away games in all competitions this season. However, with 10 games in 35 days coming up home and away, it was not good news to learn that, with such a programme to be faced, the Portsmouth were ‘leggy’ at its outset. Though nobody pretends that Pompey will win the F.A. Cup this season, this victory at Spotland was welcome, and – yes – winning is a wonderful habit to have – but, as contenders for promotion from League One, it is merely stating the obvious to say that the away game at Barnsley in a fortnight matters so much more. Pompey cannot afford to be ‘leggy’ at Oakwell.
THE LEAGUE CUP
14.8.2018 A.F.C. WIMBLEDON [H] 1-2 [6,588]
Portsmouth have never got farther than the Fifth Round in the League Cup and for the past couple of seasons they have failed to get past the First Round. Pompey could have hardly asked for an easier First Round game than this one but lost once more. Wimbledon were judged to have got the best of the first half, but the newly recruited player Wheeler contrived to miss an easy headed chance for Pompey. Burgess did not make the same mistake after 49 minutes. So, the advantage lay with Portsmouth, but, as Burgess bitterly complained later, this was thrown away. Wimbledon secured an equalizer in a defensively unforgivable manner after 76 minutes and then after 88 minutes Walkes presented the visitors with victory by putting through his own goal. Manager Kenny Jackett promised once more that Pompey’s habit of conceding late goals would be eradicated, but it seems that many fans already fear a long, hard season. We shall just have to wait and see on that one. Portsmouth understandably make much of having a devoted fan base, but it should be noted that on the night Pompey’s attendance was merely the seventh best. To finish well behind Leeds United with its crowd of 19,617 was understandable, especially given the flying start that Leeds have made, but to finish behind the likes of Bristol City, Norwich, and Reading surely should impress nobody.
ENGLAND OLD AND NEW
I have always maintained that England would not have won the Wotld Cup in 1966 if the squad and the team drawn from it had continued to be chosen by the F.A, International Selection Committee. The behaviour of this Committee was spelt out in an interview in The Independent for 6 June 2018 with Ivor Broadis who played for England in the 1954 World Cup.As Broadis recalled: ‘The Committee wanted players from their own clubs because an England player was worth more on the transfer list. It was about furthering a player’s value. Half of them did not have a bloody clue about football. It was about money.’ He was very interesting in his comments about Hungary who famously beat England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953 and followed this up by beating England 7-1 in Budapest. Broadis played in the latter game and he said ‘I spoke to their right back and he said that he hadn’t seen his wife for two years. He was in a training camp. Hungary were a professional club team. They would play together all week – we’d meet up on a Friday or Saturday. So you’re on a sticky wicket. We were a collection and they were all together all the time. I mean, they had some tremendous players. Everybody goes on about [Ferenc] Puskas but the fella [Sandor] Kocsis, I’d take him every time. We knew we were going to be beaten that day.’ Hungary ran their international team like an Army outfit. They were very impressive, but I was not surprised when Hungary lost the 1954 World Cup final to West Germany by 3-2. Unlike almost everybody else, I had been unimpressed with Hungary’s defensive work in their Wembley win over England, and I agreed with the later comments of Alf Ramsey, who played at right back that day, that the the poor performance of Gil Merrick, the England goalkeeper, had an important bearing on the result of that game. Many thought Ramsey’s comments were ungenerous, but not me, and the England team selection that day and for the game in Budapest was beyond parody.
GEOFFREY K FRY 8 June 2018
Even with the F.A. International Selection Committee involved, England might have done really well in the 1958 World Cup but the Munich Air Crash tore the guts out of the team, and nobody rightly gave us a chance in the 1962 World Cup tournament. The last team that the International Selection Committee chose lost 5-2 to France in 1963, and then Alf Ramsey took over. As everybody knows, England did win the World Cup in 1966, and I thought Ramsey did wonders to win the trophy with the limited pool of talent that he had available. The team that we sent to the 1970 World Cup seemed good enough to emulate the success of 1966, but the next England team that were serious contenders to win the trophy was that of 1990, reaching the semi final stage. This achievement was matched by the England squad that Gareth Southgate took to the 2018 World Cup. Southgate certainly maximised what could be done with a squad in which only Harry Kane merited being described as being an outstanding player, and – yes – England were favoured by the draw which gave us a through route to the later stages. As it was, England lost half of the matches played in the tournament, and in the semi final itself I have to confess that I could not see the sense in a formation which in the second half required Jordan Henderson to deal with both Ivan Rakitic and Luca Modric in midfield, but there was no doubt that overall Southgate had done a good job. It was fascinating to watch some of the games when I was abroad. The idea that some have that the English are not especially patriotic did not square with the intensity of support that I witnessed.
GEOFFREY K FRY 15 July 2018
One reason for welcoming the appointment of Gareth Southgate as the Manager of England was his previous involvement with England teams at the lower age levels. He knows what talent is coming through. An example came in the friendly match with the U.S.A. on 15 November 2018, which, incidentally, England won 3-0. Jadon Sancho at merely 18 appeared in this game, and, if the headline in The Times the next day declaring ‘ Superb Sancho Steals The Stage From Legend’ exaggerated the midfield man’s talents on this occasion, the Hamburg player really does look a prospect. The Legend in the headline was Wayne Rooney who was granted a farewell England appearance. On the same day one noted that England Under 21 defeated Italy Under 21 in an away game by 2-1 with both goals being scored by Dominic Solanke, formerly of Chelsea and now of Liverpool. It seems he was lucky not to be sent off for a stamp. Another player of considerable promise at this level is Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon.
GEOFFREY K FRY 16 November 2018
THE LATEST SACKING THE MANAGER GAME
Fifty four Managers were dismissed in the English professional game in the 2017-2018 season, the second highest total ever, The Metro reported on 12 June 2018, This data was published by the League Managers’ Association, and it also showed that the Managers relieved of their duties last term had an average tenure of 1.18 years – a slight improvement on 2016-2017 (1.16 years) but still the second lowest average in the last six seasons.
GEOFFREY K FRY 12 June 2018
THE POMPEY CHIMES
The most comprehensive and authoritative football annual in this country was for years simply referred to as The Rothmans Football Yearbook, and then The Sky Sports Football Yearbook, and now it is The Football Yearbook 2018-2019 in association with The Sun. In that part of this publication devoted to Portsmouth Football Club, what was called The Sun Fact File stated that ‘[The] Portsmouth fans’ classic song “The Pompey Chimes” appears to be the oldest surviving football chant still sung today. The song’s original association was with the city of Portsmouth and in fact predates the formation of the football club in 1898. It has not, however, been sung at Fratton Park continuously and there were lengthy absences in the 1930s and early 1950s.’ Despite my world weary appearance I cannot comment on Pompey in the 1930s from personal experience, but I supported Portsmouth from 1947 onwards, and according to my very reliable memory the Pompey Chimes were sung in the early 1950s with as much gusto as at other times. As I comment in my book Bury My Heart At Fratton Park, the behaviour of some of the Pompey fans in the 1951-1952 season in relation to Len Phillips left a lot to be desired, and in the 1952-1953 season our fans understandably did not enjoy experiencing the early evidence of Portsmouth’s future decline – it was the first season since that of 1946-1947 that Pompey did not finish in the top eight – but the team generally got an intensity of support in relation to results that other clubs of that time and this would consider enviable.
GEOFFREY K FRY 13 August 2018
JIMMY MCILROY AND SCOULAR
When the famous Burnley and Northern Ireland midfield player, Jimmy Mcilroy died in August. the obituary in The Times for 24 August 2018 recalled that McIlroy ‘had a clash with Portsmouth’s Jimmy Scoular, a Scotsman who was one of the most combative players of the day. “I was going up the wing when Jimmy hit me. I went over the grass verge and over a little railing into the crowd … Jimmy sidled up to me and said “Listen, you little Irish Fenian bastard, that’s nothing to what I’ll do to you next time.” And I looked at him with my child like innocence and said “I’m a Protestant,” and he said, “Oh God, son, did I hurt you?” For the rest of my career he never tackled me again. In fact I am certain he guided me past him.” ‘ I saw Scoular play many times for Portsmouth. He was a merciless and combative midfield player, and when Pompey sold him in 1953 I was one of those who took this as a sign that Portsmouth were on the way out as a major club. I do not believe that Scoular gave some special dispensation to McIlroy or any other opponent. He was ruthless, and we loved him for it.
GEOFFREY K FRY 24 August 2018
FOOTBALL – NOT BIG BUSINESS REALLY
‘Football is often described as “big business”; indeed it has become a cliché,’ Matthew Seyd wrote in The Times for 27 August 2018, ‘It is also spectacularly untrue, a point made by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in their book Why England Lose. The 2016 annual revenue of the virtually unknown British firm BBA, a maker of conveyor belts in Dundee, was £1.59 billion. This is not huge. Royal Dutch Shell, the biggest U.K. listed company had revenues 106 times larger. How do Manchester United compare? Their 2016 revenues were the highest in English football history, trumpeted as such as “vast” by the sports pages. Yet this was a third of the revenues of BBA, and less than a third of 1 per cent of Shell’s. United would be outside of the top 70 companies in tiny Finland. In 2016 there were 48 clubs in Europe with annual revenues above 100 million euros (about £90M). A Tesco superstore has annual revenues of 100 million euros. Just to be clear: that is a single Tesco superstore. This may seem odd, but the reason is simple, as Kuper ans Szymanski point out. Tesco is a transactional company. It makes money from every purchase of every product on its shelves. United, by contrast, is a cultural institution . It exists in hearts and minds, in millions of conversations, in radio debates, on sports pages and beyond. The club cannot extract the value of this, however. When you chat about United, you do not have to pay the club a royalty, and a jolly good thing too. Clubs only create value from ticket sales, selling TV rights, merchandising and so on. These represent decent figures for a smallish business, but are dwarfed by the game’s broader impact. To put it a different way, football is unusual (perhaps unique) in the schism between its commercial and cultural significance.’ Seyd argued that ‘it is this schism which explains the modern trajectory of the game and [Roman] Abromovich [at Chelsea] was the first to exploit it .’ In the words of the headline to the article, ‘Abromovich used Chelsea to sanitise his image – and made them winners,’ and ‘the money he poured into the club, particularly in those early years, didn’t matter. He was leveraging the club’s cultural cachet, not its commercial potential. This has become a trend. Abu Dhabi has poured millions into Manchester City, financed redevelopment in the city and helped the club to three [Premier League] titles. Qatar has done similar things with Paris St Germain, a club who have won the French League five times under their ownership. These were not commercial decisions. These are Islamic dictatorships with questionable human rights records, attempting to leverage football to bolster strategic defence interests and to launder their reputations.’ This has happened under what Seyd rightly called ‘light touch regulation.’
THE GLAZERS AND MOURINHO
The affairs of Manchester United have a compelling interest to its fans, real and fake, but not to the rest of us, but the squabble between that club’s Manager, Jose Mourinho and the Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward does have a wider interest in what it tells us about modern football. ‘The Glazers [who own the club] put only £170M of their own money into the [original] takeover, with vast majority of funds coming from loans,’ Martyn Ziegler wrote in The Times for 28 August 2018, ‘Fast forward thirteen years and they have already recouped that and more via dividends and selling stock, and are sitting on a club valued at £3billion, of which still own more than 80 per cent with a much reduced debt. “That’s why the Glazers trust Ed Woodward with their lives,” according to one source with a close knowledge of their relationship.’ That’s why when Mourinho wanted a new central defender, and Woodward did not, Mourinho lost out. As the headline to the article said, there are ‘Three Billion Reasons Why [the] Glazers will back Woodward over Mourinho.’
GEOFFREY K FRY 28 August 2018
In the summer of this year, my great friend, Jon Holmes, came up to Leeds to take me to dinner to mark the fact that we had known each other for 50 years. I had met him in 1968 when I was merely Dr Geoffrey Fry, a Lecturer at the University of Leeds, and not Professor Geoffrey Fry, nowadays a totally forgotten and long retired academic. Several people have taken a delight in pointing out to me that being both a Professor and a Portsmouth supporter means that I am widely regarded as being mad twice over. I don’t care. Of course, nobody who supports Leicester City attracts the label of being mad: they have always been considered boring. That was one reason why in January 2016 I rang up Jon, a lifelong Leicester fan and for a short time that club’s temporary Chairman, and predicted that Leicester would win the Premier League that season. I recall that he was unconvinced, but, then, virtually everybody else from Leicester born Gary Lineker downwards among the pundits wrote off their chances. I saw things differently. I was unconvinced that one of the so called Big Six was going to take the prize this time, not least because the most likely of that Six to prevail was Tottenham. I did not think that they had the bottle to see things through. For all the fuss made about Spurs as a club, the hard facts remain that, for all their achievements in cup tournaments in the past, they have only been Champions of England twice, just like dear old Pompey. Further than this, like the rest of the Six, they had taken up a style of play that at least at that time in my doubtless unsophisticated opinion placed too much emphasis on the virtues of possession. Leicester played in a more direct style, admittedly one that was not difficult to read, and, thus, in principle, to counter, eventually. This, I reasoned, was not going to happen in time to stop Leicester taking the prize because of that club’s unfashionable image. Nobody would take them seriously enough until it was too late. They would already be over the line.
So it happened. Of course, unfashionable or not, Leicester could not have won the Premier League in the 2015 -2016 season without a serious financial backer, and he was Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, whom we will refer to from now on as Chairman S to save time. Sadly, Chairman S ran out of time in the most tragic way. For he died dramatically when a helicopter taking him away after Leicester’s home game with West Ham on 27 October 2018 crashed on the car park outside the King Power Stadium, which is actually on the site of the old Filbert Street ground. When Chairman S took over Leicester City in 2010 they were in football’s second tier, having spent the 2008-2009 season in the third tier. As his obituary in The Times for 30 October 2018 observed: ‘Having paid £39.3M for the [club] in 2010, he continued to invest. Within four years the club
promoted to the Premier League after a ten year absence. At this point, [Chairman S], who had made his fortune through the King Power duty free business at Thai airports, promised that he would spend as much as £180M to ensure that [Leicester City] would break into the top five within three years. Critics said that he was delusional, and at the start of the 2015-2016 season bookmakers offered odds of 5000-1 [against Leicester] winning the Premier League.’ Though I spotted that Leicester would win the title before all the pundits, I was sadly too late to make any money out of this prediction, brilliant though it was. The Metro for 1 November 2018 reported that the son of Chairman S, who is for no obvious reason called Top, has vowed to keep his commitment to Leicester City going. One noted that Leicester travelled to their next game at Cardiff by train.
GEOFFREY K FRY 27 October 2018
Thus far Unai Emery has proved to be an impressive successor to Arsene Wenger as the Manager of Arsenal. As for Wenger, he has made no secret of his attitude that he regards retirement with distaste, and intends to return to football management. Though his overall record in management commands respect, more recently Wenger has been holding forth on other subjects, notably politics. Personally, I do not discriminate in my personal life between people on the basis of their political views because such opinions rarely reflect their value as people. Quite why Wenger recently had to favour the world with his political views I have no idea. One can see that he is a public figure, but when he tells the world that he is a socialist he invites the reply that as he has been regularly in receipt of an annual salary of the order of £12M he himself offers plenty of scope for redistribution of income and on a grand scale. With such supposed beliefs, surely tokenism is not enough.
GEOFFREY K FRY 27 October 2018
On October 28 2018, Glen Hoddle, the former England Manager and, before that famous footballer, suffered a heart attack while working for BT Sport, from which at the time of writing it is not known if he would recover, though, thankfully, he was out of intensive care within a couple of days. Hoddle’s illness caused Matthew Seyd, writing in The Game section of The Times, to reflect on the man’s career, and on the character of English football generally. Seyd thought that the ‘brand of creativity’ that one naturally associates with Hoddle ‘has never fitted comfortably into the English game. For those grounded in the Victorian ideal of muscular sport, where virtue is to be found in sweat, blood, and toil, it is too mercurial. When a player unlocks a defence with an intelligent pass, it seems almost sinful … Nobody has endured this prejudice more … than Glenn Hoddle.’ For, ‘he was a beautiful player, slotting into a deep lying role for Spurs in the late 1970s and [then] the 1980s, a time when the methodology of many English teams could be summarized in the physical orthodoxy of Charles Hughes, the then England Director of Coaching’ which was ‘ hoof the ball into the mixer.’ Hoddle was – and will always remain – a Spurs legend, making 377 appearances for them, before moving to Monaco, where the then Manager, Arsene Wenger described him as ‘the most skilful player I have ever worked with.’ Michel Platini may well have got it right when he said that ‘if [Hoddle] had been French, he would have got 150 caps.’ As it was, Hoddle secured 53 England caps. Hoddle went on to have a career in football management with – in date order – Swindon, Chelsea, England, Southampton, and Wolves. His record was mixed. He was the Manager of the England football team in the years 1996-1999, and most remember him being forced to resign following remarks made that reflected his born again Christian religious views. Among those calling for him to go was none other than the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, discussion about whom these days seems to centre on whether or not he has gone mad, a subject on which I have no opinion. Though Hoddle made some strange decisions as the England Manager, notably leaving Gascoigne out of the squad in 1998, his idea of then going on to organise the team around Paul Scholes (easily the best English midfield player of his day: an opinion shared by the great Barcelona midfielders of his time) was imaginative, and might well have worked.
I saw Hoddle play many times, and his skills impressed me. There is something in the ‘blood toil, tears, and sweat’ view of the English game that Seyd writes about. Sadly for him, Hoddle was born at the wrong time.
If he played in the present football climate, he would be both priceless and lauded. Much the same could be said, by the way, about Len Phillips, who was technically the best player of Portsmouth’s Golden Age, and, in my opinion, if that of nobody else, the equal of Hoddle. Phillips got 3 England caps.
GEOFFREY K FRY 30 October 2018
PUNDITRY AND THE HARD REALITIES OF FOOTBALL
In his role as a Sky Television football pundit, Gary Neville recently said about Tottenham teams that he had played against in the past had often been ‘flaky’ and pathetic.’ As reported in The Metro for 1 November 2018, this drew from Harry Redknapp a ‘furious response.’ Redknapp, who was the Spurs Manager between 2008 and 2012 said: ‘I thought Gary’s remarks were an absolute disgrace. I can only comment on the three and a half years [that] I [was there], and we weren’t gutless, we weren’t spineless. Listen, we can all come back- when he [that is, Neville] managed Valencia
they were the worst Valencia team probably not just in the last 30 years but in their history.’
Given that on Sky Gary Neville poses as the man with all the answers, he should not be allowed to forget his disastrous spell as Manager of Valencia. The arrogance that both he and Paul Scholes display when discussing Manchester United’s games is hard to bear, given that neither of them could ever match Jose Mourinho as a Manager. The same is true of Rio Ferdinand, whose analytical skills are superior to the others. Though one values the insights that distinguished former players are often capable of, some of them can from time to time match this with stupidity. When in reaction to a less than impressive display from Tottenham, Jamie Carragher declared that Spurs needed to spend, even Neville came up with the obvious reply, which was, of course, that for Tottenham the cost of building their new stadium was inhibiting their other expenditure as it was bound to do. Whether, given his marketability, the Spurs Manager Mauricio Pochettino will continue to put up with this situation remains to be seen. Some think that he would be a better fit for Manchester United than Mourinho. These matters are not of compelling interest to a Portsmouth supporter, but I would have thought that Mourinho would have been a better choice as the Manchester United Manager immediately after Alex Ferguson left. Ferguson’s recommendation of David Moyes was ridiculous, and, as for his successor, Louis van Gaal, his record since his days at Ajax should have served as a warning.
GEOFFREY K FRY 1 November 2018
THE EUROPEAN SUPER LEAGUE IDEA – AGAIN
The political idea of a united or federal Europe made a lot more ground than it would otherwise have done in this country because it was boring. Against the odds, the idea of a European Super League somehow manages to match this level of boredom, though, of course, football commands more interest than politics can ever do. This idea of a European Super League – let’s call it ESL – is back again. There have been once more talks and once more they are supposed to be secret talks about setting up a ESL. Five English Premier league clubs are supposed to be involved. They are inevitably Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United. According to the German magazine Der Spiegel 16 leading European clubs were on the draft of a ‘binding term sheet’ to create a new league, which, according to the document, is intended to be signed by the competing clubs this month. All teams, it is reported, would leave their national leagues after the end of the 2020-2021 season.
‘However, it would be almost impossible for the English clubs to leave the Premier League before the end of the 2019-2022 broadcasting deal,’ or so Tim Wigmore observed in The Independent for 5 November 2018. This was because ‘all 20 top flight clubs have previously consented to the Premier League selling the media rights on their behalf for the three seasons up to 2022. It is understood that clubs are precluded from exiting the contract midway through in order to protect [the] broadcasters’ rights.’ The Premier League has already sold all domestic broadcasting rights for the 2019-2022 period and the sale of the foreign rights is expected to be concluded by the end of the year. While the value of the domestic rights has decreased by around £500M, the overall value of the foreign rights is expected to increase due to the growing interest in the Premier League from abroad, notably in China and in the U.S.A. In June, the premier League announced that overseas rights would be apportioned based on a club’s league position, ending the equal share arrangement. This was a significant victory for the leading clubs, who will, obviously, stand to get a higher overall share of broadcasting revenue. As Wigmore added: ‘It had been hoped [that] the deal would quell leading English teams’ discussions of a European Super League with the biggest clubs on the continent’ – but it seems that this has not happened.
That this has not been the case is not surprising, given that there is no limit to greed. Some of the most recent information about the international politics of football seems to have come from hacking, and though much was made, for example, of Manchester City and Paris St Germain getting minimal fines for breaking financial fair play rules in 2014 thanks to an intervention by the then Secretary General of E.U.F.A., Gianni Infantino (now the President of F.I.F.A.), as Gabriele Marcotti pointed out in The Game section of The Times for 5 November 2018, however disgraceful in terms of ideal behaviour, this was scarcely news or – he could have added – much of a surprise at the time or now. In the same section of The Times, Matthew Seyd – while not ruling out the establishment of an ESL in the long run if the governing authorities do not toughen up their act – did not see much prospect of such a league being established in the near future. His line was that ‘the true meaning of the ESL [and] its significance is not based on its concrete realisation, but its ghoulish presence, hovering around the edges of the game, channelling conversations, the implicit threat that has driven the drumbeat of European football since it was first seriously mooted [in] 1998. It is the game’s defining spectre.’
‘For two decades, the Super League has been the leading European clubs’ nuclear option, a threat to be wheeled out whenever they wanted more,’ wrote Tim Wigmore in The Independent for 6 November 2018, ‘Negotiations have been conducted in secret but not too much secret. Leaks and fears of a breakaway, after all, have served a very useful purpose. The more that E.U.F.A. And the the rest of the Premier League have regarded a breakaway as a real threat so it has been easier for the biggest clubs to bend European football to their will. This has been the story of football since 1992, the year of football’s two big bangs – the creation of the Champions League and the Premier League. Then only only five of the 32 berths in the Champions League were for teams from the big five leagues. In the years since, the Champions league has become a misnomer, concealing what the tournament is really about: consolidating the wealth of the biggest clubs, which explains why the five big leagues now have 19 of the 32 competing teams.’
We have all been aware of what Seyd called the ‘fracturing of the jurisdictional structure on which the game has depended for decades’ has been undermined over the last 25 years or so, and we also know, as Wigmore puts it, that ‘the biggest clubs have strong armed the others to agree to reverse Robin Hoodism.’ Of course, it is all about the biggest clubs making even more money. Ed Woodward, the Executive Chairman of Manchester United spelt it out in a call to investors in May 2018: ‘Playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business.’ Indeed, one of the attractions of the ESL for the owners is that it will make it easier to impose a salary cap, thus maximizing the money that goes to the owners. You can see the beginnings of this happening in the Premier League, where – according to Deloitte – the proportion spent on wages has decreased from 70 per cent in 2012-2013 to 55 per cent. There would be no way out with an ESL with no relegation. It would be a cartel.
The founding members of the ESL, exempt for relegation for 20 years would be from the Premier League – as we noted earlier – Arsenal. Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United; and from elsewhere from Europe Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris Saint Germain, and A.C. Milan. Other members, who would be known as initial guests would be Atletico Madrid, Borrusia Dortmund, Marseille, Inter Milan, and Roma. The diligent Tim Wigmore also noted in The Independent for 6 November 2018 that sports lawyers have warned that this proposed ESL could contravene European Union competition law thus enabling E.U.F.A. to block it. This would be because
of the provision for no relegation.
The ESL would amount to the Americanization of European football, and the reader may well wonder what it has to do with Portsmouth, currently striving to escape from the lower orders of English football. After all, all we can hope for at present is to emulate Bournemouth and eventually get promoted to the Premier League. If the ESL project takes off, though, what sort of a Premier League will it be without its leading clubs? The establishment of the Premier League beheaded the Football League, but it did have provision for promotion and relegation. The ESL project rules that out. Would the beheaded Premier League amount to much more than, say, the so called EFL Championship does now? Championship of what exactly? Those left behind? Given their exclusion from the ESL plans quite what use would Tottenham with its revamped White Hart Lane be? Of course, they might well have the resources to win the beheaded Premier League year in and year out, letting in, say, Southampton or Bournemouth or, should we ever make it that far, dear old Pompey for a moment of second rate glory now and then. It would become like being what being Champions of Scotland has become.
It will hardly be Pompey’s problem in any direct sense, but I don’t think that the ESL would be that popular. The big clubs that constitute it do have impressive fan bases, but their spectators want to be associated with a successful team. They think it reflects on them. Only one team can win the ESL. The others will be also rans. Will these so called fans want to be associated with that ? Then again, with no relegation many of the games would be meaningless, much like most of the Champions League games at present. It seems to me that much of the agitation for the ESL comes from outside England. The current Premier League rules the roost in terms of popularity in competition with the other major European leagues. The Premier League has no need to help them out. By the way, am I the only football fan outside the ranks of the Arsenal supporters who is amused at the exclusion of Tottenham from this proposed ESL?
GEOFFREY K FRY 6 November 2018
Opposed as I am to the idea of a European Super League, I have to say that the Saturday programmes of the Premier League in the last couple of weeks have been less than inspiring with just one or two of the leading clubs being involved. Outside the ranks of their own supporters, exactly who is interested in Huddersfield Town versus Brighton and Hove Albion ? Those involved in the Match of the Day programmes concerned
on the Saturdays in question did their best to pretend that it all mattered a lot, but the hard truth is that as things stand at the moment several of the clubs in the so called Championship are widely seen as being of more importance in English football than those congregating in the lower half of the Premier League, notably Leeds United and Aston Villa. Compared with them, who cares about Watford, or, equally boring, Fulham or Crystal Palace? To save on the replies, I am only too aware that such interest as there is in Portsmouth outside of the ranks of our fans relates to the television coverage of Premiership games in the relatively recent past which led to the Pompey supporters being considered completely mad. Having been a University Professor before my retirement, and as a result widely deemed to be mad anyway, I can assure the reader that it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Pompey need impressive investment if they are going to deserve being taken seriously again.
GEOFFREY K FRY 3 December 2018
MANCHESTER CITY AND FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY
If you believe material obtained by – you’ve guessed it – the German magazine Der Spiegel, Manchester City used a scheme called Project Longbow to overcome E.U.F.A.’s Financial Fair Play rules, which had the effect of wiping £40M off the club’s wage bill. According to The Times for 7 November 2018, the scheme was named after the weapon that the English used to beat the French at Agincourt, and appears to be related to City defending themselves against Michel Platini, at that time the French President of E.U.F.A., and the architect of Financial Fair Play, introducing it in 2013. The Spanish football authorities seem to be particularly agitated about this behaviour with somebody called Joris Evers, the Chief Communications Officer for La Liga telling The Times: ‘The leaks validate what we have been saying for more than a year. Manchester City and P.S.G. are cheating and should be sanctioned. We hope that E.U.F.A. Will take the right decisions, but we don’t have full confidence that they will . Should E.U.F.A. fail to act, we will do what we have said before [and] launch a complaint with [the] E.U. competition authorities.’ In view of the manner in which the various English football authorities dealt with Leeds United and Portsmouth for breaking financial rules that by the way do not apply within domestic Spanish football, and ignoring their own failures at regulation, we can look forward to what happens next with curiosity.
GEOFFREY K FRY 7 November 2018
THE PREMIER LEAGUE 2 IDEA – AGAIN
With Portsmouth striving to win promotion from the third level of English professional football, perhaps we should note that the so called EFL Championship – as the grandly called second level calls itself – might possibly not be there to receive us. Despite the lack of interest on the part of the Premier League itself, this is because the Premier League 2 idea is back in circulation again. This is because many of the Championship clubs think that the Sky television deal that the EFL has negotiated is unsatisfactory, and a breakaway is being contemplated. My own views are as follows. I am opposed to the freezing of the football order. It would preclude advancement of the kind that Bournemouth have made from what is no called League Two to the Premier League. Portsmouth are a bigger club than many in the current Championship. So, why should Pompey be excluded, or, come to that, Sunderland? Further and in a less generous sprit, I would respectfully suggest that many of the Championship games currently filmed are scarcely worth watching anyway for the standpoint of the uncommitted. I am not surprised that there is no other offer on the table from any other broadcaster
GEOFFREY K FRY 14 November 2018
Mark Catlin, the Portsmouth Chief Executive, welcomed the new Sky Sports television deal worth £595M, Neil Allen reported in The News for 20 November 2018. The Football League agreement, which runs from the start of next season until 2024, represents a 35 per cent increase on the previous contract. A number of Championship clubs, including Derby, Aston Villa, and Leeds, are unhappy with the deal, insisting that they want a greater share. Catlin, though, recognises an important leap in income for Pompey irrespective of what division they are in next season. Should Portsmouth be promoted they will earn a larger share of the money.
GEOFFREY K FRY 20 November 2018
The Metro reported on 21 November 2018 that ‘rebel Championship clubs have vowed to contest the £595M TV deal [that] the EFL has agreed with Sky … Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani last month called for a Premier League 2 to be created, and after Championship clubs chiefs met yesterday at Aston Villa … the threat of a breakaway remains alive [though] there is a clear split among the second tier clubs.’ No less than 138 EFL games would be shown every season under this deal, including a minimum of 20 from Leagues One and Two, plus every play off match and rights to every EFL Cup and EFL Trophy game. Though the deal represented a 35 per cent increase on the size of the previous one, as The Metro observed, ‘it pales into the shadow of the £4.55 billion [that] the Premier League will get from Sky and BT between 2019 and 2022.’ One of the better points in the case advanced against the deal is that Sky is already showing midweek Championship matches via its red button, and the dissident clubs want more control over streamed matches, having voiced – I think understandably – fears about the effects on attendances. I would add on this matter that, although I live in Leeds, should I wish to see Leeds United’s various games, I have little need to go to Elland Road and pay the very high admission prices because United are being shown on TV on a very regular basis.
GEOFFREY K FRY 21 November 2018
Frankly, this issue is beginning to bore me much as what is really the Second Division – to give the Championship its old name – almost always did in former times, but it seems that the threat of a breakaway league has receded, and the route of legal action is now preferred. Though nobody else has mentioned this factor, one thing that must needle several of the clubs in the Championship must be that the current Premier League has several very ordinary clubs in its ranks. With no less than five of the six most important clubs playing on the following Sunday, the Premier League programme for Saturday 10 November for example had a collection of matches that made me feel sorry for the pundits on Match of the Day as they struggled to pretend that the games were of much general interest.
GEOFFREY K FRY 23 November 2018
VAR IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE AT LAST
Video Assistant Referees will operate in the Premier League from next season, the relevant clubs have decided, provided the relevant international authorities agree. Martyn Ziegler suggested in The Times that it would be arguably the most significant change in how English League matches are officiated since the introduction of neutral linesmen in 1898.
GEOFFREY K FRY 16 November 2018
GORDON TAYLOR AND THE P.F.A.
A controversy has suddenly blown up about the manner in which the Professional Footballers Association is run, which centres on the role of its Chief Executive Gordon Taylor, who has been in that post for 37 years and who will soon be 74 years old. The bitterness of the dispute seemed to me to be captured in a short note about it written by Matt Dickinson in The Times for 23 November 2018 which read: ‘Gordon Taylor may have bought himself time by agreeing to an independent review into the P.F.A., but he is deluded if he thinks he can, or should, survive a revolt among many past and present members who have, at long last, grown weary of a lack of accountability on top of his unjustifiable salary and 37 years of empire building. We must hope that friends of Taylor are taking him aside and quietly advising him of the dignified way out of this mess, and to make room for new leadership. But when you have inexplicably become the world’s best paid trade union leader on a salary of £2.29M, I suspect [that] you are always going to need dragging from the building.’ Taylor and the P.F.A. have come to be accused of many things, ranging from serious matters such as (a) not observing its own rules and those of trade union legislation relating to regular elections within the organization; and (b) not adequately funding research into whether heading the ball in former times was a cause of footballers developing dementia only too often early in life [with the family of the late Jeff Astle of West Bromwich leading the criticism] to (c) supposedly not doing enough about one third of footballers getting divorced within a year of finishing players. Of course matters (a) and (b) are important, even if (c) merits the reply of what would you expect?
GEOFFREY K FRY 23 November 2018
WHERE HAVE THE SCOTS GONE TO?
When Stuart Armstrong scored a couple of goals for Southampton in their away game at Fulham on 24 November, there was some comment about a how rare it was these days, in stark contrast with historical memory, for a Scottish player to make his mark at the highest level of English football. The former Celtic player scored once more in the following game against Manchester United. Rick Broadbent of The Times dug out some remarkable statistics about this subject. As far as combined top flight appearances for English clubs finishing in the top six were concerned, in the 1976-77 season there were 434 such appearances by Scottish players. In the 1977-78 season there were 512 such appearances by Scottish players. In the 2016-17 season there were no such appearances at all. In the 2018-19 season so far there have been 35 such appearances, with Andy Robertson (Liverpool) making 22 of them, and Scott McTominay (Manchester United) making 13.
GEOFFREY K FRY 1 December 2018
LET’S ALL SALUTE COMMANDER WILLAN
‘As a young naval officer in 1937, Derek Willan risked the wrath of his parents by going to watch a Portsmouth F.C. Match on Christmas Day, such was his near fanatical devotion to the club. However, when he got there he started to feel guilty and, with Portsmouth losing 2-0 to Preston North End at half time, he decided to leave and get back home for whatever remained of the Christmas dinner. He was mortified to find out that he had missed Portsmouth’s three second half goals, and a 3-2 victory.’ Thus ran the opening sentences of the obituary of Commander Derek Willan (1917=2018) published in The Times for 30 November 2018. The obituary continued: ‘Two years later, when Pompey were unexpectedly in the F.A. Cup Final against Wolverhampton Wanderers, he was again disheartened to discover that he had the dog watch (4-6pm) which coincided with the match. He was serving in HMS Icarus, a destroyer, off the coast of Greece, and so was operating two hours ahead of U.K. time . Having resigned himself to missing the match, a kindly first lieutenant took pity, tapped him on the shoulder, and took his place, telling Willan to go down to the radio room and listen to the match. Portsmouth, despite being the underdogs, won 4-1. In unexpected ways, this victory was to prove fortunate for Willan and his club, the outbreak of the [Second World] War five months later meant that there would not be another F.A. Cup [tournament] for seven years, which means that Portsmouth still have the record for the longest uninterrupted period. It also meant that Willan did not have to miss any matches, which was just as well because from that moment on he was rather busy.’ There then followed an account of Willan’s distinguished naval career, which included involvement in the evacuation at Dunkirk. The obituary of this 101 year old man concluded: ‘He remained an enthusiastic supporter of Portsmouth and was a season ticket holder into his nineties. He attended the 2008 F.A. Cup Final with his family, which Portsmouth won. It was the first time that the team had triumphed [in that tournament] since 1939, the final he had listened to in the radio room of HMS Icarus.’
GEOFFREY K FRY 3 December 2018
THE F.A. CUP AT FRATTON PARK
Portsmouth won the F.A. Cup on 29 April 1939, defeating Wolverhampton Wanderers, the hot favourites, by 4-1. Despite my some think carefully cultivate world weary appearance, I was too young at that time to know anything about this, and I was still young when told that after the Second World War broke out on 3 September 1939, I was much later told that the trophy was kept at Fratton Park for the entire War, which, given the heavy bombing raids that Portsmouth as a city had to endure down to 1943, did not seem the most sensible of policies. Anyway, an item in The News for 5 December 2018, recording 49 things that you did not know about the history of Fratton Park – and I must confess that I did not know 42 of them – declared that in January 1946 the F.A. Cup was returned to the Football Association, having spent no less than 2468 days at Fratton Park. Another version of this story is that during the War the F.A. Cup was kept under the bed of the Portsmouth Manager, Jack Tinn. Whether the trophy was kept alongside Tinn’s famous lucky spats is not known.
GEOFFREY K FRY 5 December 2018
THE BOURNEMOUTH ‘MIRACLE’
As I have written before, in many respects The Game section of The Times every Monday is the best magazine on sale that deals with English professional football, and in the issue dated 17 December 2018 there was a very interesting article about the rise and rise of Bournemouth. It was written by somebody called Nick Broadbent. Though Bournemouth is not that far away from Portsmouth there is not much sense of rivalry between the two clubs who have relatively rarely played each other. I have to confess that I have only seen two such games, and thye were as long ago as the 1961-1962 season when Pompey won the Third Division title. On 30 September 1961, Pompey drew 1-1 with Bournemouth, rather fortunately I seem to recall, with Johnnie Gordon scoring a spectacular late equalizer to the delight of the overwhelming majority of the 25, 672 crowd in Fratton Park. The return game was on 17 February 1962, and it followed an eleven game unbeaten run on Portsmouth’s part, including a 1-0 win at Halifax where Jimmy Dickinson confessed he nearly froze to death. Pompey, though, did lose the game at Bournemouth by 2-0. The crowd of 22, 942 owed a great deal to the presence of a huge contingent of away fans. I recall the train journey back was a long one.
Bournemouth are currently in their fourth consecutive season in the Premier League. The article in The Times reminds us that in the 2008-2009 season Bournemouth were in League Two, eventually finishing in twenty first place with 46 points, having had no less than 17 points deducted for financial misdemeanours, and having on 16 December 2008 lost a second round F.A. Cup replay to Blyth Spartans by a single goal. Broadbent records that Eddie Howe was appointed as the caretaker Manager at Bournemouth on New Year’s Eve 2008, and, apart from a spell as Manager of Burnley in 2011-2012, he has been with them ever since throughout their rise and rise. They were promoted from League Two in second place in the 2009-2010 season, and then three years later they were promoted from League One in the 2012-2013 season again in second place. Just two years later, Bournemouth were promoted from the Championship in the 2014-2015 season this time in first place. Broadbent commented: ‘The success of Howe cannot be overestimated. The club were 91st in the Football League when he took over. Ten years on and he has lifted them to within realistic talk of European qualification.’ One of his staff – and he has kept much the same staff – said of Howe that ‘as a coach you are in awe of him. Seeing him work on the training pitch is poetry in motion. The attention to detail, the way he processes it and then puts it out – short, sharp and effective. Its demoralising sometimes because you feel a million miles away.’
Though Portsmouth’s memories of Eddie Howe are that he was one of those players who was always injured, I do not doubt that he is an exceptionally good Manager. Yet, I note that Bournemouth’s average attendance last season was 10, 641, a decline from 11,182 in the previous season, and I think it would have been appropriate if the journalist from The Times had mentioned that the rise and rise of Bournemouth has been funded by a Russian oligarch called Maxim Demin. It cannot be done without real money and as we would like to see Portsmouth emulate Bournemouth’s achievements, one hopes that Pompey’s owners recognize this brutal reality.
GEOFFREY K FRY 17 December 2018
JOSE MOURINHO AND POMPEY
Jose Mourinho was sacked today as the Manager of Manchester United. In his long and otherwise very successful managerial career he will be remembered for many things, but for Pompey fans we can recall with admiration his comments that he made after United’s 2-0 victory over Huddersfield last February. He complained about the atmosphere at Old Trafford being ‘a bit quiet,’ and recalling going to Fratton Park when he was Manager of Chelsea, he said, ‘I remember Portsmouth – such a small stadium, the atmosphere was absolutely incredible.’ Manchester United do, of course, have a large body of local fans from the Greater Manchester area, but they also attract a very large number of what I call glory supporters who simply want to be associated with success, and seem to have come to feel that they have more or less a divine right to that success, and that success, moreover, has to be achieved in style.
Mourinho has an impressive record in football management, but his many achievements have not been achieved with style. The stage was always set for a repeat of his experience with Real Madrid. What, according to my reading of English football history, Manchester United have been – consciously or not – trying to avoid after the long and eventually very successful reign of Alex Ferguson is to replicate the decline that followed the retirement of Matt Busby in the 1960s, After becoming the English Champions in 1967 and winning the European Cup in 1967, United did not become English Champions again until 1993. Their bitter rivals, Liverpool, have not been English Champions since 1990. These things happen even to the greatest of football clubs. I have no idea who will be called upon to temporarily follow Mourinho as the Manager of Manchester United, but those who – unlike me – have a malignant view of Manchester United will perhaps wish on them Rio Ferdinand or Paul Scholes who have been chipping away at Mourinho from day one. Let’s see how they will do when it comes to doing the job instead of merely criticising. Let’s not forget that from what is called the class of 1992 Ryan Giggs was a failure in the role, and surely after his lamentable performance as the Manager of Valencia, surely Gary Neville, that man of a thousand opinions, will be ignored.
GEOFFREY K FRY 18 December 2018
Manchester United appointed their former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as their Caretaker Manager. He was – of course – the player who scored the winning goal when United won the Champions League in 1999. As a Manger he has had success in Norway, but his only experience in the Premier League was with Cardiff City in 2014 when they were relegated with just 30 points and in bottom place. Solskjaer had a very successful spell at United between 2008 and 2011 running the reserves. He was reputed to get on well with Pogba. I have no idea whether this particular appointment will work out or not. Solskjaer has a reputation for favouring entertaining football, which is what the United supporters are said to prize above all. The appointment reminds me a little of that of Wilf McGuinness in succession to Matt Busby in 1969-70. He proved to be predictably hopeless in dealing with the Charlton, Law, Best team. Much as Dave Sexton did as the United Manager in 1977-1981, Mourinho, of course, paid the price for playing football that was deemed to be unattractive. Sexton, though, had a win percentage in his time at Old Trafford of just 40.3 per cent, whereas that for Mourinho was 58.3 per cent. One notes that of all the United Managers since the last War, only Alex Ferguson with 59.7 per cent bettered this record, with the relevant figure for Matt Busby being 50.5 per cent. As for who will succeed Mourinho on a permanent basis, the smart money is said to be on the current Tottenham Manager, Mauricio Pochettino. A Spurs supporter assured me this morning that Pochettino would not leave for Old Trafford. I have no idea about this one way or the other, but Henry Winter in The Times for today suggested that ‘Pochettino would take some persuading, but this is United calling.’ As he observed earlier, ‘United may resemble troubled matinee idols fearful of losing their looks, but they are still Hollywood.’ We shall have to wait and see on this one.
GEOFFREY K FRY 19 December 2018
Portsmouth were English Champions in the 1948-49 and 1949-50 seasons, and they were serious contenders to repeat those achievements in the 1951-52 and 1954-55 seasons too. In the latter case, one of the younger players who was a regular first team player was Mike Barnard, who was also a top class cricketer with Hampshire. The Portsmouth born Barnard originally played for Gosport Borough, and made his debut in a home game against Spurs on Boxing Day 1953, which ended in a 1-1 draw with Charlie Vaughan scoring s dramatic last minute equalizer. Barnard played inside left. He was instrumental in Portsmouth escaping relegation in the 1953-54 season, and he played an important part in Pompey’s attempt to win the title in the 1954-55 season, which failed primarily because of serious injuries to Dickinson and Phillips, in the latter case a career ending one. Much was expected of Barnard, and he always gave his best, but – much like another local lad and contemporary, Johnnie Gordon – he was not in the same class as the title winning players. Pompey’s decline was only too evident after from the second half of the 1855-56 season, and in 1959 Portsmouth experienced relegation for the first time in their Football League history. Barnard left the club in 1959. His death at the age of 85 was announced this week. Those of us who saw him play will recall him with admiration.
GEOFFREY K FRY 19 December 2018