Supporting Portsmouth Football Club as a south coast exile in this part of the world was a lonely business. We did not lack numbers what we lacked was an organization. This problem was solved when the Northern Branch of the Portsmouth Supporters Club was founded in 1989.
The prime architect of the establishment of what we all came to call the Northern Blues was Derek Kilburn.
Frankly, things looked bleak for Pompey at that time. It was just short of forty years since Portsmouth had won their third and, we feared, last major honour, and a return to the top flight of English football, from which we had been humiliatingly relegated in 1959, had lasted just one season. Pompey had no money. They just seemed to be a history book club with no future.
Derek did not like this brutal reality, but undeterred he proceeded to organize all of us with refreshing zest. I met up with him for the first time at the last match of the 1988-89 season at Barnsley. Pompey lost 1-0 to a last minute penalty awarded to Barnsley by a stupid referee who failed to see that the relevant handball had been committed by one of the home players. In other words, he fell for an old trick. Derek and I just looked at each other, and shrugged our shoulders. Frankly, the next couple of seasons were dire, but Derek kept us altogether, usually by means of jokes, some of the better ones being at my expense.
Then, in the 1991-92 season, things dramatically changed. Jim Smith, known to one and all as Bald Eagle, took over as the Portsmouth Manager . He was told by one and all that we were destined to be relegated. Bald Eagle said what about all these gifted youth players we've got, and he played them all in the opening game at Blackburn. Pompey's young players took the game by the scruff of the neck and Portsmouth led 1-0 until the last minute when they conceded an equalizer.
It made no difference. Pompey were on a roll, and might well have secured promotion back to the top flight instead of finishing ninth if they had not got involved in an F.A. Cup run that only ended in a defeat at the semi final stage in a replay.
That we were able to go to the original semi final game at Highbury and the return game at Villa Park was down to Derek. He organized all the tickets without which we would have been excluded.
Portsmouth then rewarded Derek and its other loyalists by selling their best player, Anderton. In his place for the 1992-93 season they recruited a veteran in Paul Walsh, who, together with a record goalscorer in Guy Whittingham, was the architect of a promotion drive that only failed by the narrowest of margins. Portsmouth then sold off, first Whittingham, and then Walsh, and reverted into a succession of relegation struggles until the new century when Milan Mandaric and Harry Redknapp came together to secure promotion to the Premier League, and eventually some Russian oligarchs put real money into Pompey. 'Portsmouth bought the F.A. Cup,' David Moyes, the Everton Manager, jealously stated in 2008. Was there any other way of winning it?
That we could all go to the F.A. Cup semi final and then final in 2008, and, for that matter too, those of 2010 too was primarily down to the structure that Derek Kilburn set up initially in 1989. He was himself too ill to see any of those later games. I think that Derek would not mind being described as an idealist. He certainly was an honest soul in a world that only too rarely rewards such qualities. It is tempting to state that his organizational skills were exemplary, but the hard reality both was and is that few of us have the ability to match his example. I salute his talents, and take the risk of stating the obvious when I say that it was a privilege to have known him.