The Pompey Chimes

The Pompey Chimes. Portsmouth Football Club Fans. Play up Pompey!

 

The History of Portsmouth Football Club

Portsmouth Football Club was founded in April 1898 and a huge debt of gratitude is owed to the foresight and enthusiasm of the syndicate of five sportsmen and businessmen who met on the evening of 5th April at the offices of their solicitor at 12 High Street (in what is now known as Old Portsmouth). The meeting passed a minute proposing that land close to Goldsmith Avenue be purchased for the "proposed football club".

Those same gentlemen became the first Directors of 'Portsmouth Football and Athletic Company Limited'. John Brickwood (who became the club's first chairman), George Oliver (succeeding to chairman in 1912), Alfred Bone, John Peters, and William Wigginton.

The club was formed out of the ashes of the popular local Royal Artillery team who had been forced to disband after a breach of amateur rules. The 'Gunners' had gained promotion to the premier division of the Southern League and their success had whetted the appetites of the local fans for first-class football.

Pompey's first manager was the experienced Frank Brettell and the club was successful in gaining immediate entry to the Southern League. The club's first league match was played at Chatham on 2nd September 1899 (a 1-0 away win) and the home debut at Fratton Park came three days later with a friendly against Southampton.

The first season was hugely successful, with 20 of the 28 league matches won, achieving a runners-up position. The Southern League championship was secured for the first time in 1901/02, by which time Brettell had been succeeded as manager by the captain, Bob Blyth. A Director, Richard Bonney, later succeeded Blyth in the post.

Season 1906/07 was highlighted by the visit of Manchester United in the English Cup and a new record gate of 24,329 was set at Fratton Park. A 2-2 draw meant a replay at Manchester and a 2-1 giant killing by the Pompey boys followed. Two seasons later another remarkable attendance of 27,825 was recorded when Sheffield Wednesday visited Fratton Park for the second round of the new FA Cup.

 


1910 - 1919: FINANCIAL DIFFICULTY

The 1910/11 season brought relegation to the Second Division of the Southern League and the recruitment of Robert Brown from Sheffield Wednesday as manager, but the following season saw immediate re-promotion to the top flight, but by then the club was experiencing financial crises as debts built up.

The solution was for the original company to be wound up and so the present company, 'Portsmouth City Football Club Limited', was formed in 1911. This proved to be the salvation of the club, but in fact survival was only ensured by heavy personal guarantees to the bank from the Directors and in particular Mr G L Oliver, regarded as the 'Father of Pompey'.

During this period the club had the famous amateur international full-back, A E Knight, as their captain and he was partnered by Jack Warner who gave long and sterling service as trainer on his retirement. Pompey were even aided occasionally by the legendary all-round athlete and cricketer C B Fry.

Football had been suspended during the First World War and when competition recommenced Pompey promptly won the Southern League title for the second time and were looking to secure a place in the high-profile national Football League. A Third Division had been formed and the Fratton Park club were duly elected in 1920/21.

1920 - 1929: THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE

Before the club's debut in the southern section of the new division, Manager Robert Brown had been replaced by John McCartney from Hearts. He led the club to 12th position in their first season, but sights were firmly set on the Second Division.

McCartney had boldly predicted that promotion would be secured in three years and sure enough Pompey finished top of the 1923/24 table. The signing of centre-forward Willie 'Farmer's Boy' Haines was crucial and he scored 28 goals in 31 league matches to give notice of the legendary scoring feats to come. Much credit also went to forwards Jerry Mackie and David Watson and defenders Harry Foxall and Jock McColgan.

The season 1926/27 was one of the most momentous in the club's history with promotion to the elite First Division dramatically gained on the last day of the campaign. The purchase of winger Freddie Forward in February 1927 changed things when he struck up a productive partnership with both Mackie and the predatory Haines, who scored an astonishing 40 goals that term. On the other wing Welsh international Freddie Cook was a great success and the half-back line of Reg Davies, skipper and centre-half Foxall, and left-half Billy Moffatt was the strong backbone of the team.

On that last Saturday of the season Middlesbrough were already up and the vital second promotion place was to be decided between Pompey and Manchester City. Both clubs had almost identical records and were at home. City put eight goals past bottom club Bradford, but their game finished fifteen minutes before Pompey's against Preston. At that stage Pompey were 4-1 up and in those dying minutes they needed one more goal to pip City on goal average. Fittingly it was Willie Haines who popped in the goal to secure the promotion amidst frenzied excitement at Fratton Park.

Pompey were the first southern team to make it to the top division and the first to make the climb from the Third Division. McCartney's efforts had affected his health and he resigned to be replaced by the experienced John ('Jack') W Tinn from South Shields.

In the top division the astute Tinn embarked on some urgent team strengthening and the crowd's favourite Willie Haines lost his place to a young ex-miner named John Weddle, one of many great signings by Tinn. Wing-halves David Thackeray and Jimmy Nichol, full-back Alex Mackie, centre-half John McIlwaine, and inside-forward Jack Smith were other good examples.

The 1928/29 season brought a struggle against relegation, with a record 10-0 defeat against Leicester in late October. Legend has it that during the game ten swans were spotted flying over the Filbert Street ground. Nonetheless the season was hugely significant for the remarkable FA Cup run, which ended in an historic first Final appearance.

Pompey were bottom of the league when the semi-final against Aston Villa was played, but a Jack Smith goal took them through to the Final against Bolton Wanderers in April 1929. Pompey were unlucky to lose 2-0, largely due to an injury to full-back Tommy Bell which effectively reduced them to ten men.

1930 - 1939: CUP WINNERS

The 1939 Cup Winning Side

Pompey were established in the top division and in 1930/31 reached the dizzy heights of fourth place. Jimmy Allen had been installed at centre-half, Freddie Worrall, from Oldham had replaced Freddie Forward on the wing and by now Weddle had formed a good partnership with new signing Jimmy Easson, which brought 20 goals each in the following season.

A remarkable cup run in 1933/34 captivated the city. Manchester United were beaten 4-1 and Bolton Wanderers 3-0, amongst others, before Leicester 4-1 and a Jack Weddle hat-trick against Birmingham in the semi-final took Pompey to Wembley to meet Manchester City.

Again the Final turned on a serious injury and it was centre-half Allen who was a passenger for long periods, after Pompey had taken the lead through Sep Rutherford. Allen was unable to stop Manchester City's star centre-forward Tilson from notching both the goals for their 2-1 win.

Months later centre-half Allen was transferred to Aston Villa for a then British record fee of £10,775. The money was used to finance major development at the ground including the building a new North Stand, which stands to this day, and increased the capacity to 58,000.

Weddle continued to score prolifically, but his goals only brought mediocre league positionings. However, the 1938/39 season was to prove historic as Pompey again showed great Cup pedigree. Comfortable home wins against Lincoln, West Bromwich, West Ham and Preston took Pompey through to another semi-final, against Huddersfield Town at Highbury Stadium when, after going behind, it took two late goals from new signing Bert Barlow and Jock Anderson to take them through to their third Final.

Pompey were the widest outsiders in Cup Final history, against a highly-rated Wolves team. The whole country expected the Midlanders to find consolation at Wembley for missing out on the league title. On the day Pompey were simply magnificent and swept the young Wolves aside with a superb display. Two goals from Bert Barlow, against his old team, and others from Jock Anderson and Cliff Parker took the Cup to the South Coast for the first time at their third attempt.

Captain Jimmy Guthrie holding the FA CUp 1939Typical of the superstitious nature of the team was the feeling that the legendary 'lucky spats', worn by manager Jack Tinn at every cup match, had brought the success. Captain Jimmy Guthrie took the Cup from His Majesty King George VI and much credit had to go the heroes such as Tommy Rowe at centre-half, Guy Wharton partnering Guthrie at half-back, inside-forwards Bert Barlow and Jimmy McAlinden and the emerging Jock Anderson at centre-forward.

Within a few months the World was at war again and Pompey took the dubious record of holding the FA Cup for the longest period.

1940 - 1949: THE TEAM THAT JACK BUILT

The war years included another appearance at Wembley for a 'London War Cup Final' against Brentford before an all-ticket crowd of 72,000, which was lost 2-0.

More importantly, throughout the war years Tinn was introducing several promising players. Peter Harris was a winger who was given his chance at the age of 18 in October 1944, a young wing-half called Jimmy Dickinson was recommended by his Alton schoolteacher Eddie Lever, Scottish wing-half Jimmy Scoular was a sailor stationed locally, inside-forward Len Phillips played as an amateur whilst in the Royal Marines and centre-half Reg Flewin became a wartime international.

The 1946/47 campaign was the first of truly competitive football for seven years and the seeds of the Championship team were being sown: Full-back Harry Ferrier had been signed from Barnsley, forward Duggie Reid from Stockport, and Dickinson, Froggatt, Harris, Phillips and Scoular had made their league debuts. Reid made his mark immediately with an impressive 29 goals in his first season.

After that first season Jack Tinn announced his retirement, but the appointment of the charismatic Bob Jackson was a popular one. In his first season in charge a respectable eighth position was secured, Dickinson was attracting rave reviews and Reid, Froggatt and Harris claimed 40 of the 68 goals scored by a Pompey team which was being tipped for success as the club approached its Golden Jubilee year.

Chairman Mr R Vernon Stokes called for the anniversary to be marked by the winning of the league Championship and the team made a superb start to that 1948/49 season with six wins in the first seven matches. That jubilee season included a 'birthday' match in the league against Arsenal in November and the celebrations, led by Club President Lord Montgomery, were climaxed by a stunning 4-1 win over the mighty Gunners.

Completely underrated and overlooked by the national press, the team played beautiful, attacking football with the outstanding wingers, Harris and Froggatt, as the springboards and Harris and Reid sharing the goals. But it was a cup match that brought a record attendance, which still stands to this day as 51,385 saw Pompey beat Derby County 2-1 in the FA Cup Sixth Round to earn a semi-final against lowly Leicester from Division Two.

The prospect of Pompey becoming the first side in the Twentieth Century to achieve the elusive League and Cup double was very real and so it was a shattering disappointment for the 25,000 fans from the South Coast who traveled to Highbury and saw their red-hot favourites go down 3-1 to a Don Revie-inspired Leicester.

Pompey more than made up for it in the league subsequently as they stormed to their first title. By then Dickinson and Harris had achieved England international recognition, soon to be followed by Froggatt.

Pompey went on to win the title for two seasons in succession, mainly due to a storming finish to the campaign with 17 points coming from the last 11 games.

The title was regained on goal-average in an exciting last day of that 1949/50 season. The final match at home to Aston Villa had to be won convincingly, and in the event, a 5-1 victory put Pompey two-fifths of a goal better off than challenging Wolves.

1950s: END OF AN ERA

In the early 1950s Pompey consolidated their place in the top flight, but slowly slid into decline as the Championship-winning players began to age, but during this period came one of Fratton Park's most memorable and greatest post-war contests. An FA Cup quarter-final tie against the mighty cup fighters Newcastle United in March 1952 was rated by the eminent journalist Geoffrey Green of 'The Times' as one of the best three club matches he had seen in 30 years of reporting football. A rousing match saw the Jackie Milburn-inspired Geordies sweep to a 4-2 victory.

Bob Jackson moved to manage Hull City in the summer of 1952 and reserve team manager Eddie Lever replaced him. The Championship team had broken up, but had not been adequately replaced. The 1954/55 season brought a flattering 4th place, but from then on Lever struggled and several difficult campaigns, with relegation narrowly avoided, followed before the former Bournemouth manager Freddie Cox replaced Lever.

Cox's era was to be one of controversy and acrimony and positively disastrous. His first season 1958/59 was calamitous, with relegation following a miserable 20 defeats in the last 24 matches, and only 21 points secured for the whole season. The fall into Division Two brought no respite and in the second season in the lower league Cox was dismissed in February 1961.

1960s: GENTLEMAN JIM RETIRES

The appointment of George Smith in April 1961 came too late to save Pompey from relegation and a return to Division Three after 37 years. The outspoken, often controversial, Smith was one of the best coaches in the country and was known for his strict discipline and 'commando-style' form of training. Smith stabilised the club and with some inspired signings, wingers Tony Barton and Dave Dodson in particular, gained promotion at the first attempt under the captaincy of the seemingly ageless Jimmy Dickinson.

37-year old Dickinson played his 600th league appearance that season and compensated for his age and lack of speed with his unique positional sense and anticipation. Smith's arrival had revived a previously depressed and dispirited club and his coming had been the spur that encouraged Dickinson to play on and head towards the record books.

Pompey fans regularly had to settle for a mid-table place in the Second Division through the 1960s, without the resources or ambition to go further. Centre-forward Ron Saunders was an outstanding goalscorer amidst the mediocrity and before he was surprisingly sold to Watford in September 1964, he had recorded 145 league goals in just 236 appearances.

As he approached his 40th birthday, Dickinson announced that he would retire at the end of the 1964/65 season and it was a dramatic finale. Pompey had struggled all season and in the very last match away at Northampton at least a point was needed to survive. Curiously the league had allowed the match to kick-off at 7.30 p.m. in the evening, by which time Pompey knew what was required.

The team were a goal down at the County Ground with just six minutes remaining due to an own goal from forward Johnny Gordon, but a last-ditch equaliser came from full-back Alex Wilson who had only scored one other goal in a long career, allowing Dickinson to be chaired from the pitch in triumph on his retirement after a playing career spanning 20 years and 764 league appearances.

Pompey will never see the like of such as Dickinson again. A unique, intensely loyal, one-club man, Dickinson was universally known as 'Gentleman Jim' and was never once cautioned by a referee. Unobtrusiveness, soundness and consistency were his hallmarks and his record of service to the club was to extend, in various capacities, right up to his untimely death in 1982.

Smith was intent on revolutionising the way the club was organised and disbanded the reserve and youth teams, leaving a first team squad of just 16 players. Savings of £20,000 annually were projected as Smith explained that, "there was nothing but fish in the sea around Portsmouth".

The first revolutionary season brought another now regular mid-table position, but 1966/67 was notable for an exciting FA Cup run. A marathon three-game tie against Hull City included an astonishing 33,107 Fratton Park crowd which highlighted the club's potential, and over 15,000 fans traveled to White Hart Lane to see an inspired Spurs dash Pompey's hopes.

In the following season, 1967/68, gates were regularly topping 20,000 at Fratton Park and it was all down to a nine-match unbeaten run up to September which brought top of the table status. Close to Christmas more than 35,000 fans saw Pompey beat their then main rivals Blackpool 3-1 in the most memorable match of the 1960s.

However, despite the signing, for a club record £40,000, of striker Mike Trebilcock, Pompey's challenge faltered. The new striker did not score the required goals and just three wins in the last 13 league games meant that the expectant Fratton fans had to settle for a disappointing fifth place.

Local boy Ray Hiron was top scorer in the following season with 17 goals, but again Pompey finished in mid-table. By now the pressure on Smith was growing as fans stayed away and attendances plummeted to 10,000 levels. The first-team squad system had failed to have the desired effect and at the end of the 1969/70 season Smith was 'moved upstairs' to become General Manager and Ron Tindall, a former player, assumed control of team affairs.

1970s: NEW LOWS

As Pompey entered another decade, the challenge of 'waking the sleeping giant' with the huge potential had barely been taken up. Pompey fans had long since come to terms with the fact that theirs was a 'second division' club and the return to their rightful place in Division One seemed as far away as ever.

Yet curiously, on a depressing day in December 1972 where Pompey fought out a goalless draw with Middlesbrough in front of their lowest ever league crowd, 4,688, there sat in the Directors Box one Bramwell John Deacon, a Southampton-based property man. He can't have been inspired with what he saw that day, but he was a man keen to own a football club and Pompey were ripe for plucking.

In May 1973 John Deacon took full control after joining the Board several months earlier. He promised that he would get the club out of the second division within three years.

Big money signings in Peter Marinello (Arsenal), Ron Davies (Southampton), Phil Roberts (Bristol Rovers), Paul Went (Fulham) and Malcolm Manley (Leicester), had given fans hope that the glory days were to return. Marinello, captured for a cool £100,000, in particular had been dubbed 'the new George Best', and his signing captured the imagination of everyone, including the national press.

However, rather than things getting better, they were to get worse. John Mortimore had taken over as manager, but his big name players flattered to deceive and losses of £167,000 were revealed.

The following season was even more dismal with bigger losses on and off the field. John Mortimore left to eventually be replaced by former Liverpool legend Ian St John. The man famous from his playing days promised to inject some firepower in the club, yet by now the team was heavily dependent on youth and bargain free transfers. Graeme Lloyd, Bobby McGuinness, Alan Kane and Paul Cahill gradually replaced the big money stars, but Pompey were relegated in bottom place and John Deacon's prophesy of taking the club out of the second division had come true, but in a way he had never imagined.

There had been plusses with the emergence of youngsters such as Steve Foster, Clive Green and Peter Denyer, but most were out of their depth, which was why Pompey continued to sink. At around this time, as if things could get any more depressing, SOS Pompey was in full flow with an action group in place faced with the task of raising around £100,000 as John Deacon revealed the true extent of the club's debt.

Relegation from the second division, where the club had been permanent residents for 15 years, may have seemed like the end of the world, but it wasn't. It was in fact just the start. Pompey proceeded to go straight through to the basement division, an unthinkable prospect for a team and club that had been feared throughout the country just two decades previously. It was through no real fault of Ian St John who had been hamstrung, but he was replaced by one man who just might turn around the club's fortunes; one Jimmy Dickinson who had served the club with such dignity over a record number of games and who, since retirement, had performed the roles of Club Secretary and Public Relations Officer at the club he loved with all his heart. Ably assisted by Frank Burrows, brought in from Swindon, both men were too late to prevent this once great and proud club sinking into the lower regions, but on the last day of the season, a 1-0 win at Rotherham, though meaningless, saw a young 16-year-old 'keeper named Alan Knight make his senior debut, to become the youngest first team player ever to represent Pompey.

Despite sinking into the depths, was there some glimmer of hope for the club as they encountered the English fourth division for the first time in their once proud history?

Curiously, many fans view the fourth division days in the last two years of the 70s as a golden period. Northern outposts such as Hartlepool, Stockport, Doncaster and Darlington, to name a few, were a novel experience for both traveling fans and curious natives alike. Pompey still had a big name with a big following and in the second season in the basement a 23,871 gate against Bradford City was unheard of this far down and bettered many in the top division.

But first the side had to adjust to the level and two opening defeats to Bradford City 1-0, and York City 5-3, made it a disastrous start. On a Friday evening in Hartlepool, Pompey were a minute from going to the bottom of the fourth division, just under 30 years after taking the Division One Championship. Steve Davey's late goal averted that embarrassment and it proved to be a turning point.

Undefeated in their next 6 games, Pompey went on to push for promotion, a thing that their long-suffering fans had not experienced for around a decade. Ultimately though the club were to finish a disappointing 7th as their form tailed away, possibly due to the shock of a terrible incident that occurred to greatest individual ever to pull on a Pompey shirt on the night of Friday March 30th. The club had just secured a decent 1-1 draw at promotion rivals Barnsley when manager Jimmy Dickinson slumped on the bench of the visiting dressing room. He had a massive heart attack and football, as it does at times like this, became irrelevant. Frank Burrows took command and Dickinson would never return to the manager's chair.

1980s: LIKE A PHOENIX FROM THE FLAMES

Pompey started off at a cracking pace as the 1980s began, winning nine of their first ten games, scoring six against Scunthorpe, five against York City, four against Darlington and four against Bradford City. As with the previous season Colin Garwood and Jeff Hemmerman were firm favourites up front, but Burrows had added the likes of former Charlton man Terry Brisley, Archie Styles, Joe Laidlaw, John Mclaughlin and Steve Aizlewood. The latter filled the hole left by local favourite Steve Foster who had been sold to Brighton for £150,000. The others were rich in experience from higher leagues and top signings for a fourth division club.

The signings and start made Pompey hot favourites to race away, but once more they hit an indifferent period and went into the last two games desperately chasing 4th spot behind Bradford City. In the final Fratton Park home game, Pompey beat Peterborough 4-0 to stay in touch, but went into their final day at Northampton still on the northern side's coat tails. They needed a win at The County Ground, and had to hope that the side they had whipped the previous week, Peterborough, could beat Bradford. In front of thousands of traveling fans, Pompey did their bit with goals from Steve Davey and Ian Purdie. Then came the agonising wait, with all sorts of scores being bandied about before confirmation that Peterborough had beaten Bradford 1-0 came through. A party of thousands gathered on the pitch as Pompey went up on a superior goal difference, to celebrate their first domestic triumph since they had picked up the Championship trophy for the second successive year in 1950. Though this might not have been as grand or illustrious, 30 years of freefall had been averted.

The third division years from 1980-1983 were difficult at first because Pompey fans had become used to success again. And though they were to eventually end a creditable 6th in their first season, many were disappointed at not having a second successive promotion to celebrate such was the feel good factor at Fratton Park. The second season was even more disappointing with a 13th place finish. In March 1982 Frank Burrows, who had guided the club to their first success in three decades, paid for the poor results with his job and former coach Bobby Campbell returned to the club as Manager. Though it was too late to salvage anything, his appointment would eventually guide the club to further success.

The summer of 1982 was the turning point as Campbell reshaped his team, bringing in young talents such as Neil Webb from Reading who was tipped for great things, and players like Alan Biley from Everton who went on to become another cult hero.

The side lost no time in gelling with a 4-1 opening home win against Sheffield United and the Blues remained undefeated for five games. One of the few heavy defeats, 5-1 at Bristol Rovers, coincided with the news that Jimmy Dickinson had died three years after he had collapsed in the Barnsley dressing room. The torrential rain that day and the heavy defeat seemed to sum up the feelings of everyone connected with the club.

Unlike the greatest man to pull on a Pompey shirt, the club recovered. Honing in on the third division Championship, they reinforced by signing Kevin Dillon from Birmingham in March. On May 7th a 2-0 victory against Southend clinched promotion. Three days later a 1-0 win over Walsall, again at Fratton Park, virtually assured the Championship and the old ground had not known anything like it for a considerable time. The final day at Plymouth, unlike Northampton three years previously, was one of celebration, not anxiety. It was fitting that Alan Biley's volley clinched a 1-0 win and the Division Three title.

It had been five years of intense activity with the club on the up and the 1980s would continue to prove Pompey's most eventful decade. Despite the big name signing of England U21 striker Mark Hateley for a record fee of £180,000, which provided an entertaining partner for Biley, the club could only manage 16th place. Scoring goals was no problem. They netted 73, just five less than Champions Chelsea that season. However, they conceded 64, which was only 13 less than bottom-placed Cambridge. Hateley had proved an inevitable success, scoring two successive home hat-tricks against Cambridge and Grimsby within four days, but the club could never keep pace and after a 2-0 defeat at relegated Derby which saw Pompey close to the bottom themselves, Bobby Campbell became the latest managerial victim. Alan Ball took caretaker charge for the final day 5-0 win over Swansea in which Biley scored a hat-trick and Hateley added his 22nd league goal for the club, which would also be his last.

Alan Ball assumed control in the summer of 1984 and first faced up to the prospect of losing Hateley who had alerted the World to his talents by scoring on his full international debut for England against Brazil. A bid of £1m from AC Milan made it impossible for Pompey to keep him and as was always foreseen, Hateley was on his way to the very top after just one season at Fratton Park.

If Ball could have seen the three years of heartbreak ahead he might just have left before he suffered it. However, his endurance was to pay off after three rollercoaster seasons. In his first, '84/'85 Pompey, with a new defensive team of Noel Blake and Billy Gilbert to plug the gaps that had been evident the season before, gave the club a steely look. Only one goal was conceded in the first six games and but for an indifferent period in which amidst all else Pompey threw a 4-0 half time lead against Fulham away to draw 4-4, they would have surely been celebrating promotion to the promised land just five years after being in the basement. There were also crucial April home defeats to promotion rivals Birmingham and Manchester City. On the final day of the season Pompey travelled to Huddersfield needing Manchester City to slip up at home to Charlton, both were on the same points, but the northern club had a superior goal difference. Though 10,000 Pompey fans travelled to Yorkshire in hope, City beat Charlton 5-1 and Ball's side suffered final day heartbreak, though such disappointment was put into context a few miles down the road where a fire tragedy at Bradford City's Valley Parade caused many deaths.

There was no sign of a hangover in August '85 as Pompey's season started off at cracking pace with a 2-2 draw against Hull and seven goals without reply in the first two home games against Sunderland and Carlisle. Neil Webb was the latest big money sale to Nottingham Forest, as he finally decided he needed to test himself at the highest level under Brian Clough. But Paul Mariner and Mick Channon had been brought in. Again Pompey were amongst the pace-setters but four losses from five games in April set them back and they would eventually finish once more in fifth place, three points behind Wimbledon who had not beaten the Blues that season.

But it was to be third time lucky for Ball who shrugged off a second disappointment to finally take Chairman John Deacon where he had pledged to go fourteen long years previous. Possibly due to a hangover, the season began slowly, but gathered momentum. Despite main striker Mick Quinn serving a jail sentence in mid-season for driving offences, Pompey would do what they had twice failed to, but even this time there were to be doubts. On the penultimate day Pompey travelled to Crystal Palace requiring a draw to clinch promotion, but never ones to do it the easy way, an Ian Wright tap-in denied the masses of fans celebration with an 87th minute winner. So something that Pompey had been waiting the best part of 30 years for was gained by somewhat of an anti-climax.

Promotion to the first division was confirmed on a Tuesday evening when Oldham were beaten 2-0 at Shrewsbury. Chairman John Deacon had taken his wife to the theatre so it was probably not the celebration he would have envisaged after waiting so long for this sweet moment. Pompey had started the 1980s in Division Four and now, just seven years on, they had made Division One, having come all the way back to their rightful place.

Perhaps John Deacon had lived on his dream for so long that when it became reality he was suddenly unable to deal with it. He had promised first division football within years of his entrance in 1973, but 14 years later, having gone all the way to the basement and back to the top, it was not exactly the fairytale it seemed it would be. The once fine old stadium was becoming dilapidated and needing repair. The top half of the Fratton End and pride of Pompey fans was closed for safety reasons, eventually to be knocked down. Since Pompey's rise from oblivion Fratton Park had seemed to take on a more dictatorial air and most home games were made all ticket, which, save for the odd big cup match, was a new phenomenon for Pompey fans. The last home game of the season had seen 28,001 bid farewell to the second division, only 16,917 came back to give a welcome to the first division against Chelsea in a 3-0 defeat. That followed an opening day defeat at Oxford (4-2), which already suggested a long season.

Another record signing had arrived as Pompey paid Leeds £285,000 for Ian Baird, but by the time he scored his one and only goal at Q.P.R. in late October, the writing was already on the wall. Perhaps the starkest warning of this came at Arsenal early on when Alan Ball's side were ripped to shreds, 6-0. So shorn of options to their new life in the first division were Pompey that they played striker Paul Mariner as a central defender in the opening games and though incoming buys such as Malcom Shotton and Clive Whitehead were solid enough, they were not the inspirational purchases that fans craved.

If there was a highlight to a dismal season then it came on the 3rd January 1988 when Pompey went to local rivals Southampton and won 2-0 at The Dell. That was a sweet moment, but even this was to have a sour ending as days later, inspirational skipper Mick Kennedy, who had been the lynchpin of the rise to the top division, was sold to Bradford for £250,000.

Rather than the Saints result acting as an inspiration to pull Pompey from trouble, which it might have done, the sale of Kennedy appeared to rip the heart out of the team. For the next home game against Oxford they had to put untried youngster Lee Darby into the vacated place, which seemed to sum the situation up. It was Darby's only ever start in a first team who would only win another two games before relegation was confirmed at Coventry in the third to last game of the season. A final day visit to Old Trafford to face Manchester United merely showed Pompey what they would be missing the next season and a 4-1 defeat sent them packing back to the second division. After nearly a decade and a half of looking forward to it, John Deacon's dream had been a nightmare lasting a few short months. His fantasy was now over and so too was his tenure at Fratton Park.

The 1988/89 season hailed a new era for Portsmouth Football Club. The Deacon days ended with the sale of the club to successful garage owner Jim Gregory who's Chairmanship at Q.P.R. had been controversial but highly successful, turning the unfashionable West London club into one of the most entertaining in the first division. It promised to be an exciting new era, but with hindsight the club were entering a period of deep turmoil, despite some limited success in the next decade.

Things started off well enough. Three straight opening wins against Shrewsbury (2-1), Leicester (3-0), and Leeds (4-0), suggested Pompey were in fine fettle to bounce straight back. The win against Leeds was particularly satisfying as it brought Noel Blake, Vince Hilaire, and Ian Baird back to Fratton Park after all three had left in the summer,

However, it was all a false dawn. Fourth division Scarborough knocked Pompey out of the League Cup, emphatically 5-3 on aggregate over two legs and the club finished 20th, just 9 points off eventual relegation. Long before that Gregory, never a man with a reputation for patience, had dispensed with the services of Alan Ball as manager after a 2-1 defeat at Leicester in mid-January made it just one win in 8 games. Namesake John Gregory, who had played for Q.P.R., but who was untried as a manager came in. Ironically on the 1st January 1990, two weeks short of the anniversary of Ball's sacking, Gregory was shown the door also after another defeat against Leicester in which the visitors had come from two goals behind to win 3-2.
Gregory (John) had tried to instill discipline into the Pompey camp, but his record of 9 wins in 12 months had been miserable and he left the club as he found them, floundering in the bottom half of the league. His dismissal led to the return of a familiar and popular face. Frank Burrows, who had taken Pompey from the fourth division on the first leg of their revival a decade earlier, had returned to the club as a coach and he was now in caretaker charge. Over the next three months the old favourite led Pompey to 10 victories, one more than Gregory had managed in just under a year. It managed to secure a respectable mid-table position and Burrows the job.

Another plus to come from the season was a striker by the name of Guy Whittingham. After buying himself out of the army, Whittingham had persuaded Pompey to have a look at him and after a debut in mid-September at Newcastle, he finished the season with 24 goals from 39 games and picked up the player of the season trophy.

1990s: FLATTERING TO DECEIVE

So in came the 1990s. The newfound Whittingham would go on to become a legend and there would be some unforeseen highs, but whether or not these would compensate the lows was a mute point.

The 1990/91 season began in unspectacular fashion. Colin Clarke signed for nearly £500,000 from Q.P.R., but Pompey had the look of a struggling side. It took them 7 games to find a win. By March 1991 a 0-0 draw at home to Millwall, which left Pompey deep in relegation trouble, saw Burrows resign and leave Fratton Park for the second and final time. Tony Barton, who served the club so well as a player, took over on a temporary basis and in the remaining 12 games steered Pompey clear of relegation by just five points.

Pompey's fans and Barton himself had high hopes of getting the job on a permanent basis. He was to be disappointed, but would eventually have the last laugh as he guided Aston Villa to European Cup success. Back at Fratton Park the surprise announcement that summer to fill the hot-seat was Jim Smith, who had managed Q.P.R. under Gregory. He had been sacked from Newcastle the previous March and had a wealth of managerial experience from domestic success with clubs such as Oxford and Birmingham. The 'Bald Eagle' as he was popularly known immediately put the emphasis on youth. For the first game at Blackburn Andy Awford, Kit Symons, Darren Anderton and Daryl Powell, hardly household names from the youth side, were pitched in and if none of them were recognisable names then they certainly would be by the end of the season.

Nobody expected much from this Pompey side, but it stayed in with a realistic chance of a promotion play-off place, which was perhaps only hampered by a superb FA Cup charge that took the club four minutes from Wembley and the final itself. It had been like any other cup run when it began at Exeter in January, a side now managed by Alan Ball. A 2-1 win at St James' Park, followed by a 2-0 home win over Orient in the 4th round, when Anderton struck twice, merely provided hopes of a lucrative tie in the next round. But Pompey were drawn at home to promotion rivals Middlesbrough and when an 88th minute goal by the visitors cancelled out a 59th minute strike from Whittingham, a midweek trip to Ayresome Park seemed unappealing and the end of the road. However, for those who traveled, this was the night that Pompey really came of age and for the first time there was a belief that this had become a great side. A fantastic 4-2 victory brought Pompey back to Fratton Park for a quarter-final clash with Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. Alan McLoughlin, who had been recently loaned from Southampton, sent the ground into raptures when he took advantage of Mark Crossley's drop to force home in only the 2nd minute. And despite plenty of nerve jangling moments in the next 88 the defence, two of whom had been youth players just months before, refused to be breached and almost unbelievably Pompey were in the FA Cup semi-finals.

The draw could not have been crueler. With Sunderland and Norwich also in the last four Pompey drew the short straw and got matched with the giants of the time, Liverpool. Yet such was the belief now instilled that Pompey almost had an unbeaten swagger of their own. Highbury bathed in sunshine was the venue and for 90 minutes there was little to choose between the two sides as extra time came about. That was a triumph in itself as many had predicted one-way traffic, but the drama was yet to unfold. When Darren Anderton ran on to a through-ball from Warren Neil and beat the advancing Grobbelaar three minutes into the second period of extra time, a blue and white euphoria took over the ground. Surely Pompey were at Wembley. But then four minutes from time Barnes hit a free-kick that came back off the base of the post and ran into the path of Whelan (who after an earlier season-ending 'tackle' on Chamberlain, was lucky to still be on the pitch) who forced home, leaving a creditable draw feeling like the cruelest of defeats.

The replay was fought out at Villa Park, but after the huge Highbury disappointment of being so close yet so far could Pompey summon the energy to have another go? The answer was a resounding 'yes' as once again the Division Two side took Liverpool all the way to extra time and beyond. For the first and only time in this famous old competition, a semi-final was decided by a penalty shoot-out taken in front of the horde of Liverpool fans and it was only here that Pompey's nerve finally deserted them, missing three out of four from the spot. Pompey had not been beaten by Liverpool over two games, but had finished both sick with disappointment having been denied a place at Wembley in the FA Cup Final by a lottery. Naturally their promotion drive tailed off in the midst of the run, but the pride had been put back into Pompey and a team who had been a collection of unknowns when the season began, were now in the national limelight with great things predicted.

So 1992/93 saw great hope emerge. Pompey had been forced to sell one of their young stars and FA Cup heroes Darren Anderton to Tottenham and had brought Paul Walsh to Fratton Park in return. Walsh's signing was received rather tepidly, but by the end of the season Pompey fans had a new cult hero as he set up a deadly partnership with 'Corporal Punishment' the nickname bestowed on Guy Whittingham. It was a fantastic season in every sense, yet again it was to end in only bitter disappointment. In fact the season got off to a distinctly mediocre start with only one win in the first four games, including a 4-1 defeat at Brentford. Gradually, however, Pompey found their feet, Walsh found his and the ensuing lightening runs and control had the crowd in raptures. His partnership with Whittingham reached a peak when the striker helped himself to all four goals in a Boxing Day defeat of Bristol Rovers in which Walsh created most.

When Pompey went to struggling Sunderland in the penultimate game, Whittingham had already broken the Pompey scoring record set way back by Billy Haines and the club were in pole position for a return to the big time. However, nobody read the final script. Pompey were humbled 4-1 with Walsh and Butters sent off. West Ham won at already promoted Swindon the next day and suddenly it was they who were in the box seat. Despite Pompey beating Grimsby 2-1 on the final day, West Ham's 2-0 win at home to Cambridge sent them up with a better goal difference.

For Pompey there was still the play-offs, but not only had they another last day bitter disappointment to cope with, but also the loss of Walsh after his sending off against Sunderland. In the 1st leg of the play-off semi-final against Leicester, played at Nottingham Forest, a late Julian Joachim goal gave the Midlands side the advantage. But there was still everything to play for at Fratton Park and when McLoughlin gave Pompey a 1-0 lead it was game on. However, the visitors equalised two minutes later with a distinctly offside looking goal and when they then took the lead it was virtually game over. Despite Kristensen leveling for Pompey it ended in more abject disappointment. Leicester had finished the season two places and twelve points below Pompey, but it was they who were triumphant. Again so near and yet so far.

It had been rumoured that Jim Smith had desperately sought funds for a striker as the promotion push had reached its climax. All he got in the end was another sick feeling to the stomach after a rollercoaster two seasons which had ended with a second almighty crash.

If you could describe these heady moments as high then that was as good as it was going to get for Portsmouth Football Club over the next ten years. Having missed out on a FA Cup Final by four minutes and a penalty shoot out and then the newly formed Premier League on goal difference Pompey were now going to find themselves engaged in a very different battle that would eventually come frighteningly close to threatening the very existence of the club. It was not immediate but from these highs it was all downward.

Owner Jim Gregory's health was on the decline and over the next years one of his sons, Martin Gregory, took over the day-to-day running of the club, eventually becoming Chairman. Gregory junior, a shy, retiring individual, could not have been more unlike his brash and ruthless father. Public Relations and fan consultation, a popular vogue which began somewhere in the 1980s had rapidly gone downhill in the latter years of the Deacon reign, but under the new owner it had descended to an all time low and when Martin stepped into the breach it remained so.

At the end of the '92/'93 season, one of the cult heroes and record holder Guy Whittingham was sold to Aston Villa and it would not be too long before the other, Paul Walsh, followed suit to Manchester City. There were some highs still to experience though. In January '94 two epic cup ties in the same week captured the public's imagination as within four days Pompey were drawn away at then mighty Blackburn Rovers (Premier League champions) in the FA Cup 3rd round and Manchester United in the quarter-finals of the Coca-Cola Cup. Not only did the draws capture the imagination, so did the subsequent results. A 3-3 draw at Blackburn (Alan McLoughlin 3) and a 2-2 draw at Man United (Paul Walsh 2), brought both giants back to Fratton Park for an instantly memorable month. Sadly both cup dreams ended in the replays and this brief flourishing period was no cure for the erratic league form which had cursed Pompey all season, resulting in a 17th spot finish.

For '94/'95 the cup again briefly lightened another gloomy season as Pompey knocked Everton out of the League Cup, winning 3-2 at Goodison Park and drawing 1-1 in the 2nd leg. Again it was but a brief respite. After only six wins by Christmas there was descending gloom. Parkway, the new stadium project in Farlington that had been approved by the local government but called in for enquiry by the national one, was refused planning permission. Jim Smith became the third consecutive manager to be sacked in the month of January following a defeat by Leicester, this time in the FA Cup and that followed an announcement days before that the club had been put up for sale by the Gregorys at a price of £7m. Not that too many would be unhappy to see the club change hands, but many thought it a synthetic gesture to ward off the growing fury of fans at the escalating situation. Whilst Smith, who had become a legend, was shown the door, Terry Fenwick, untested in management terms came in. He had been an uncompromising central defender with Crystal Palace, Q.P.R., Tottenham and England, but whilst Smith's departure had not been a total shock after a vain battle to work on a shoestring, Fenwick's arrival was, and it went down with most Pompey faithful like a lead balloon.

Always in the background to Fenwick's arrival was a persistent rumour that Terry Venables, a close associate of the Gregorys, and also strongly connected to Fenwick, was poised to come to Fratton Park in some capacity after the 1996 European Championships held in England; it being common knowledge that he would leave the national job following this.

It has to be said that though never overtly popular, Fenwick did, for a time, have an effect once he had bedded himself in. He managed to keep the club clear of relegation in the first four months of his tenure, but the 1995/96 season saw Pompey escape relegation on the last day of the season at Huddersfield when a Deon Burton goal rescued a dismal campaign from turning into a disastrous one with a 1-0 victory. It was a season that had seen the Blues exit the FA Cup 3rd round in the worst possible way at Southampton, where they limply went down 3-0 and apart from the final day win, if there was one highlight it was the return of cult hero Paul Walsh after his controversial sale to Manchester City two seasons earlier. In one of those soccer ironies, he made his debut at home to Derby, who by now were managed by one Jim Smith, the man who had brought Walsh to Fratton Park in the first place. But the player's two years away had led to him being a shadow of his former self and soon injury was to end his playing career.

In another irony, whilst Pompey avoided relegation on goal difference, Smith took Derby to the Premier League, which only served to fuel the discontent at Pompey as a northern consortium, headed by Yorkshire businessman Warren Smith, attempted to buy the club from the Gregorys. There were months of on/off talks with the deal even announced at one stage, with Gregory and Smith pictured on the front page of the local paper, toasting the deal with champagne, but it never happened and fans, whilst most intensely wanting Gregory out, were split on the credentials of the new suitors which merely added to the tension at Fratton Park.

But fresh from the European Championships where England were again knocked out in heartbreaking style, Terry Venables finally landed at Fratton Park. Despite the legal problems that 'El Tel' was encountering on several fronts, he was still a massive figure and a renowned coach so his entrance in the summer of '96 was a massive boost. He took the first day of pre-season coaching, but bizarrely his main role was Chairman, having reportedly brought the club from Martin Gregory for a £1.

Despite the boost, Pompey started slowly, winning just 9 of their 26 games up to the New Year, but 1997 brought a turnaround. In the league a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace in mid-January commenced and eight-match unbeaten run which put the club into the promotion reckoning. At the same time the Blues progressed to the FA Cup 5th round where they turned over mighty high-flying Premiership Leeds on their own patch 3-2 before eventually being knocked-out by Chelsea. Defeat against Ipswich two games from the end of the season ended play-off hopes, but the side finished just one place and three points below.

But it was just another false dawn. The '97/98 season saw Venables increasingly absent due to a dual role of managing the Australian national team. Even though Pompey benefited through the acquisition of sharp striker John Aloisi, the club also inherited more dubious figures such as Hamilton Thorpe, Craig Foster, Robbie Enes and Paul Harries. The club were knocked out of the Coca-Cola Cup in a two-legged affair against Peterborough and by the turn of the year had won just six games.

For the FA Cup 3rd round home tie with Aston Villa, Venables was back on the Pompey bench to see his side go 2-0 up in the first 40 minutes, producing form rarely seen in the league. Craig Foster scored twice, his only two goals in 13 appearances, but Villa hit back and equalised with two minutes remaining to take the tie to Villa Park. By the time the replay took place, Venables and Fenwick were history, Martin Gregory was back in charge and fans were left wondering if it was all just a cheap publicity stunt to buy the despised owners more time.

If the Venables spell managed to achieve anything of a lasting legacy then it had done so with the rebuilding of the Fratton End of the ground; the proud spot from where all the noise had once been generated, but which had laid roofless and without soul for a decade, cut down to a mere shell from its former grand self. However, somehow the former England coach had managed to get it reconstructed to its former size and when it opened for Pompey's home game with Bradford City in October '97 it proved the only lasting fond reminder of the period.

Back came another hero in January '98 when Alan Ball, the last man to have taken Pompey to the top league (and bring them back down again), was reinstated as manager. Around the same time potless Pompey managed to borrow the highly-rated Steve Claridge from Leicester, an ironic twist for Claridge as the Fareham-born striker had been released by the club he had always supported when just an apprentice.

With seventeen games to go, Pompey were in desperate trouble and nobody in their wildest dreams could have forecast that an evening match against Stockport, played in front of 8,622, would go down in history amongst locals. But when Claridge opened his Pompey account after 15 minutes it was to create a wall of endless noise and singing around Fratton Park that made you believe the ground was full, and made the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. Aided by this spectacular backing the side registered their first win in seven games (1-0) and then went unbeaten for 6 more, winning the next three on the trot, but yet more controversy followed even now. Claridge, quickly the latest folk hero, was allowed to join Wolves, then made his debut against Pompey and was part of a side who inflicted a 2-0 defeat.

The club celebrated its centenary season on 4th April 1998 with a 1-1 draw at home to Birmingham. Old players of the past were invited back and an injury time goal by Andy Thomson kept survival hopes alive in the 100th year.

A final home day 3-0 win against Huddersfield meant a simple equation: Pompey once more had to go to Yorkshire on the last day of the season and defeat Bradford City. Unlike at Huddersfield two years previously, they just had to rely on themselves and the Blues did not disappoint, winning 3-1 and sending Manchester City, who had won 6-2 at Stoke, crashing out of the division. Once more Alan Ball was a hero, but this time for keeping Pompey up in a situation which had looked utterly lost a few weeks earlier.

The same message of 'this must never happen again' was prominent after the second 'great escape' at Bradford City. But by the time the '98/99 season had got to Christmas 'relegation' was the least of the Pompey faithful's worries. With Terry Venables and his cohorts now history, supporter frustration was once again turned full heat on the Gregory regime. Warren Smith and his Northern consortium were back making waves whilst another group engineered by Wolanin, and promoted by rock singer Brian Howe, also continued to court publicity. With emotions running high both sects vied for supporter approval and media backing. A desperate Gregory courted each to a certain extent, but despite the public promises of 'the earth' from both there was no budging and fans became more incensed as they backed their particular man like a political favourite. If anything, Pompey fans were split into different camps, which turned out to be more temporarily advantageous for the current owner rather than those trying to disarm him.

On the field just six wins prior to Christmas heightened the gloom. Then on 13th December 1998 Pompey fans invaded the pitch in protest at half time in a home match against Grimsby. Five days later, on the eve of an away match at Bolton, Martin Gregory announced his resignation as Chairman. It did little to lighten the mood as effectively the club was still owned by his Blue Star company and Alan Ball was stripped of all spending power, although that had virtually been the scenario since his return. Director Les Parris became temporary Chairman, but there was only one way that the club could now go.

So as the club ended the last year of the century, it left fans asking, "How had it come to this?" 100 years previous, on September 2nd 1899 Portsmouth FC had made their Southern League Division 1 debut against Chatham and now it was more than a possibility that 1999 was to see the curtain come down, with administration claiming its biggest club ever. For that was where Pompey were heading in the second month of the last year of the century. Administrator Tom Burton was effectively in charge and in a funny way he was the first person to have controlled the club during its rich history who had no allegiance whatsoever, but who nevertheless was charged with their best interests: In short, to find the most suitable buyer. Burton was a Scot and a football fan who had been involved in the administration procedure of other clubs.

A 1-0 FA Cup win at Premier League Nottingham Forest with Claridge scoring the winner was almost light relief to the main drama and focus which was being played out exclusively off the field. 'Pompey United', a fan-based group, led by a collection of local businessmen, all claiming to have the club at heart, was born, pledging to raise money from which Pompey could exist as a community run club, or back any buyer who came in. The two other main consortiums were still in the background and they were joined by one or two other local figures, clearly using the club's acute plight to engineer their own five minutes of fame.

Given these massive off the field distractions, it was no surprise that Pompey's results had been poor. Yet miraculously Alan Ball, with every odd stacked against him, kept the club up again, and with one game to spare. It was still tight, with relegation avoided on goal difference to Bury, but Port Vale and Q.P.R. also trailed Pompey on the same number of points with an inferior goal difference which made things slightly safer than they might have seemed. On the final day of the season a home match against Bolton was a chance for everyone to at least relax in what had been the club's most emotionally exhausting season in their 101 year history. The rumours of who was taking over the club, or if anyone was at all, were still dominating.

Pompey United, though launching a laudable effort, had failed to raise sufficient funds to entertain a serious concern. Yet there was a great deal of optimism generated via the administrators for some weeks prior to the last game that Bolton might be the curtain call on the season, but not for the club itself. Names of potential buyers, including the old ones, bandied about for several months, through a mixture of self-promotion and genuine media interest still failed to go away, but one major player who had as yet been unannounced or speculated upon watched the final day 2-0 defeat against Bolton: Serbian born Milan Mandaric who was a self-made millionaire, and had owned clubs in both the United States and Belgium, had made an offer to buy Pompey several years before unbeknown to most. However, former Director David Deacon, son of former Chairman/Owner John, remembered this. He subsequently talked the American-based businessman into taking the club out of administration and a month later in the summer of 1999 all but formalities were completed. Given all the names linked with buying the club, this had come totally out of the blue. Business had been done as it should have been, away from the press and unannounced until almost certain. Fractions of Pompey United followers, incensed that David Deacon, who had never been the most popular of figures, should be involved, handed out leaflets of protest. It was the most futile of last stands by figures on the edge of the organisation. In reality the club itself entered a new century with a refreshing new and wealthy figure whose promise was to take Pompey back to the promised land. As the administrators admitted in signing off: "This was the only man amongst the various bidders that could realistically save the club and take it forward."

2000s: A BRIGHT NEW ERA

In the dark hours of recent years, Pompey fans had dreamed of a knight in shining armour coming along with money and a desire for the club, in fact they would have taken just the former attribute alone. But Milan Mandaric had both in abundance and he had been bowled over by the support of the Pompey fans in the face of adversity. As he spoke about his determination for Premier League football and a state of the art stadium it was difficult not to pinch oneself given the storm-clouds that had so recently enveloped Fratton Park. And suddenly Alan Ball had more money at his disposal than he had had at any other time in both his spells at the club. The only way now was up and how appropriate that it had all come so right as we entered the new Millennium.

Things began in this bright new era much the way the script had been written. Ball had brought in well-known domestic imports such as Jason Cundy and Rory Allen, part of the Allen footballing dynasty. The former Spurs striker cost £1m, which was pure fantasy given the state of the club just a few months earlier. Steve Claridge, who had endured a reckless time since his transfer to Wolves, was also back at Fratton Park to heighten the feel good factor. Though the Chairman would have been far from amused that his first ever game experience ended in a comprehensive 3-0 pre-season defeat at Dorchester, surely this was merely a brushing off of the cobwebs, although the manner of defeat had been slightly alarming even at that early stage.

However, on a sunny August day Pompey opened the season proper with a 2-0 win over Sheffield United and Rory Allen opened his goal-scoring account in a creditable 1-1 draw at Wolves the following week. Another 2-0 home win against Stockport followed and a 3-0 aggregate win over Torquay in the League Cup was successfully negotiated. Then it all began to unravel before the very eyes. Pompey went down 6-0 at Barnsley, but with Andy Awford and Fitzroy Simpson both sent off early in the first half you could be forgiven for brushing this away as a freak result. However, after winning only one more game in the next five, which included a 6-1 aggregate loss against Blackburn in the League Cup, Pompey were again trounced 4-0 at Crystal Palace. Only two more wins would materialise before Christmas and prior to this, Pompey's Chairman of barely six months showed his first streak of ruthlessness and impatience by firing Ball after a run that saw the side take just 1 point from 8 games.

One of Milan Mandaric's closest advisors when coming to Pompey had been former Arsenal defender Bob McNab who, along with Kevin Bond, took charge of the impending FA Cup tie against Premier League Sunderland. Ball's departure had been sad but not unexpected given the run the side had endured. It seemed this time around that the little man had been at his best with a siege mentality of saving the club on a shoestring from the impossible, which he had admirably achieved. But now given the task of these heightened ambitions with cash attached, he had failed to live up to the challenge.

In January 2000 it was not quite the bright beginning to the century that Milan Mandaric had right to expect and the one which most disbelieving fans had braced themselves for. Tony Pulis, a manager who had achieved relative success with Gillingham, coming within a few minutes of taking the unfashionable Kent side to the old First Division, was named as Ball's successor. Pulis had a massive fall-out with Gills owner Paul Scally which had escalated into legal proceedings and his spell as manager of Bristol City had hardly set the West Country alight. If anything, the former Bristol Rovers player was renowned for long-ball tactics, but after an indifferent start, he led Pompey on a run which saw them beaten just once in ten games. Pulis brought in such extras as experienced former Spurs defender Justin Edinburgh, and 'keeper Russell Hoult, along with the likes of winger Kevin Harper and midfield hard man Shaun Derry. The run was never going to put Pompey in touch with promotion, but it did avert an even worse fear to this new beginning, that of relegation.

Amidst this period there were also off the field changes. David Deacon, who had been instrumental in attracting Milan Mandaric to the club, had become his first Chief Executive, but along with things not going how the Serbian anticipated on the field, they were also not progressing as he would have liked off of it. The new owner was fiercely pro-active on the supporter front and for the first time in decades the fans had a man who came along to their meetings and who endeared himself to them on the public relation front. Deacon stepped to one side to concentrate more on the issue of the stadium rebuilding project which was gathering pace and Barrie Pierpoint, a man well known in football circles from his time at Leicester City, was brought in to re-generate and build the club off the field.

But things were not about to get better before they got substantially worse. Pulis acquired another expensive striker in journeyman Lee Mills who cost another £1m, but missed out on several others including Jason Roberts, a highly promising striker with Bristol Rovers. The acquisition of Rory Allen was proving even more costly when, after fracturing one leg and missing most of the previous season, he then injured the other in a defeat at Sheffield United. By the beginning of October Pompey had won just twice and the Chairman had gone to the length of reimbursing the travel fare of fans who had travelled to Blackburn in the League Cup and watched them hammered 4-0, so disgusted was he with the result. The relationship between manager and Chairman had suffered as a result of the poor on the pitch results and performances and following a 1-1 draw at Stockport, the axe came down again as Milan Mandaric displayed his determination to put the club on the right road.

Again the dismissal was less than controversial. Though Pulis had engineered that spring run which pulled the club away from a relegation fight, his tactics and demeanour were not conducive to popularity and his lack of results in the first half of the season had proved the final count against him.

As an instant replacement Pompey decided to go with a popular but untried commodity, installing Steve Claridge as a temporary player/manager. In truth, the jury remained out on the appointment of someone who obviously loved and had passion for the club, but on the other hand had no managerial experience. However, a perfect nine points out of nine start, including coming back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Crystal Palace, was all the convincing that the sceptical needed and the club went on a seven match unbeaten run which banished all the doubts. But nothing is easy at Pompey. When the run finally came to an end with defeat at Fulham, a downward spiral in complete reverse to the upward one began. Just two wins in the next 15 games, alongside a home defeat to Tranmere in the 3rd round of the FA Cup saw Pompey hurtling down towards relegation bother again and in March 2001 the Chairman made the first unpopular decision of his tenure as he replaced Claridge with former Arsenal winger and successful Chelsea coach Graham Rix.

In the scheme of things Claridge's run had been wretched and in some quarters, just like a few before, he had seemed to lose the players. But he had created himself an heroic status at Fratton Park, although whether it would have been so shining had the club been relegated we will never know. Replacing him with an equally untried manager, despite his glowing coaching references, seemed a gamble and Rix carried extra baggage by virtue of having served a prison sentence.

Claridge's last match in charge was a 2-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion where he was already aware of his fate. He brought himself on late in that game, but his body language the whole afternoon, be it in dugout or on pitch, was that of a soul whose love affair and time with the club had come to an end. Pompey and Milan Mandaric very much wanted him to continue playing, but it was something that Claridge felt he could not do. The club insisted that the appointment had only ever been a temporary one to give them more time with which to find a replacement for Pulis, but he did not see it that way and his departure was hardly the most convivial.

This was the first really tough test of the Milan Mandaric era. Off the field Barrie Pierpoint had also departed after just over 6 months at the helm with local businessman Martin Murphy becoming the next Chief Executive. To make things a little more tense, Rix's results were hardly convincing though he did have only around fourteen games to make a marked difference. Perhaps the most catastrophic night came in the second to last match of the season. A win over Crystal Palace at Fratton Park, lurking below Pompey in the relegation area, would have been enough to see off the fear for another season, but the Blues were trounced 4-2 in front of disbelieving fans and the performance had 'relegation' written in capital letters all over it.

Pompey's Chairman was speechless and possibly for the first time realised the enormity of the task he had taken on. Though he had been prepared to suffer some setbacks along the way, with ninety minutes remaining the club were staring the second division firmly in the eyes and he had in no way been prepared for that.

There was a wave of emotion on the final day which was at least on home turf against a Barnsley side with nothing to play for. Thankfully it was a day where Pompey and Graham Rix were to play out another great escape. A 3-0 victory was not quite as cut and dried as it seemed, with all the goals coming in a second half spurt, but it was enough to keep Pompey just afloat, though the scare had been far too close for comfort for all concerned as celebrations on the pitch lauded a feat which Milan Mandaric had never wanted or expected to see.

The following season, though not beginning as the best, did offer some promise and one player to make a massive difference to the immediate scheme of things was Mark Burchill who signed from Celtic. The Scottish striker had scored goals aplenty on loan at Ipswich and Birmingham and he complimented beanpole striker Peter Crouch who Rix had brought from Q.P.R. for £1.5m. There were also promising youngsters from the manager's old club Chelsea in Courtney Pitt and Neil Barrett. Neither had made the grade at the London club but Division One offered promising youngsters a chance to kick start their careers.

Burchill signed with the season already underway and came off the bench for his debut at Stockport in a 1-0 victory. That kick started the season and his direct running for 20 minutes that afternoon had an immediate impact. Two days later in a Bank Holiday clash against Grimsby, Pompey again ran out 4-2 winners with Burchill scoring twice and already forming a telepathic understanding with Crouch.

The still summer days of August were all the more brighter for the promise as Pompey went on an unbeaten run. It almost seemed too good to last and it was. In a training session the day before a September clash at Coventry a freak clash saw Burchill go down and instantly his season was over before it had barely began with damaged ligaments. The result at Coventry was a 2-0 loss, the first in several games, and crowd trouble amongst Pompey fans at the game dominated the press. Suddenly those summer days of hope seemed a distant memory and so they proved.

Pompey hurtled down the table and perhaps their darkest hour in what was a dark season came with a crushing 4-1 home defeat in the FA Cup against 3rd division Leyton Orient who laid one off the bottom of the basement division. That heralded an all time low and the next day Rix's assistant Jim Duffy departed Fratton Park, but for the time being the manager stayed intact.

The previous summer had also seen a significant off-field signing. Former West Ham boss Harry Redknapp had joined the club as Director of Football and in February there was another Chief Executive change. Local businessman Martin Murphy left the club after 12 months to be replaced by the vastly experienced Peter Storrie who had served the same role at West Ham for ten years.

Pompey's continuing desperate results continued into spring and in March 2002 Rix finally paid the price as once more the club flirted with relegation. Redknapp was immediately installed as manager and quickly tried to strengthen the team bringing in defender Eddie Howe from Bournemouth and striker Svetoslav Todorov from his old club West Ham, though one not entirely popular decision that had to be made was the sale of Peter Crouch to Aston Villa. However, given the fee of close to £5m it was an offer that the club really could not turn down. With games fast running out Redknapp managed to steer Pompey away from the danger zone with games to spare and his next challenge was to do what several had failed to do for Milan Mandaric who was now entering his fourth season at the club with little else to show apart from successive relegation battles, despite ploughing millions in. Little did anyone know with hindsight how dramatic season 2002/03 would turn out to be.

Paul Merson was a player in the twilight of his career, but in his heyday as an Arsenal and England midfield player, he had been one of the best. And despite his aging years and a host of off field problems he was still a big name in football, but more importantly, unlike a lot of the stars past their sell by date who had winged their way to Fratton Park as a convenient pre-retirement home, this one still had ambition and a point to prove. Given the well-documented personal battles Merson had endured, he needed football just as much as it needed him. Having latterly played for Middlesbrough and Aston Villa he did not disappoint in what was to be a phenomenal season that nobody could have predicted prior to it kicking off.

Another popular addition was Jim Smith who had written himself into Fratton Park legend over a decade earlier. He joined as Redknapp's assistant. Ironic since it was ten years since Redknapp as assistant boss at West Ham, beat Smith's Pompey to the Premier League on goal difference.

Good standard players were brought in around Merson. Shaka Hislop, Hayden Foxe, Arjan de Zeeuw, Gianluca Festa, Steve Stone, Matthew Taylor, Vincent Pericard and former apprentice Deon Burton came back on loan. Taylor was a young and exciting prospect from Luton and Pericard the same from Juventus. The others had a high degree of experience in top level football.

A 2-0 home win over Nottingham Forest, followed by a 1-1 draw at Sheffield United set the tone to whet the appetite against what were other fancied teams, but it was probably a 3-2 win at Crystal Palace which made people sit up. Trailing 2-0 at half time at Selhurst Park it seemed like the old Pompey that fans had grown used to, but almost effortlessly a second half comeback, that saw them triumph from adversity, really did convince the so far unconverted.

Wins at outposts where Pompey had failed traditionally such as Grimsby, Gillingham, Rotherham and Burnley, kept the ball of hope rolling relentlessly on. It was not just the results, but some of the irresistible football the side was playing. They dropped just 1 point in the opening 9 games and when they were finally defeated in the tenth, 1-0 at Norwich, nobody was that concerned.

At Christmas Harry Redknapp's side topped the table, as they had done for most of the season, and despite a dodgy run over Christmas and beyond, they still moved towards their goal which most, brought up on years of failure and near misses, were frightened to dare to hope.

In January Pompey acquired the signing of powerful Nigerian striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni from Maccabi Haifa and he was soon showing his prowess after making his debut in a 1-1 draw at Brighton, scoring seven times and making as many with his power and physical presence in the remainder of the campiagn.

Pompey emerged from a winter sticky patch, which had seen them win just one in eight, but perhaps more importantly, only one of those was lost, and recorded wins such as Derby (h) 6-2, Millwall (a) 5-0 and Coventry (a) 4-0. The latter result in mid-March put the Blues on the brink of the unbelievable. Suddenly after a 2-1 win at Walsall, Pompey needed a win at home to Sheffield Wednesday to ensure return to the big time. Their Yorkshire opponents were deep in relegation trouble and quite frankly the party commenced. Yet this was Pompey and nothing would be done the easy way. After taking the lead, Redknapp's men were pegged back to 1-1 and with minutes remaining suddenly they were behind. The 2-1 defeat was a massive anti-climax. Though Pompey still had it all to do to throw promotion away, this result was a massive shock and the champagne was hurriedly put back on ice. Fans fed on so many near misses and failures began to doubt again.

Three days later Pompey had the chance to put it right with another home game against more lowly opposition in Burnley. Once again the match was fraught with tension. Harry Redknapp's team had one foot on the white line, but just could not get both over. Then in the 75th minute the stadium exploded in a ball of relief as Svetoslav Todorov forced home in front of the Fratton End before being mobbed by adoring fans. The former West Ham striker had not been taken to immediately by the Fratton Park faithful, but his 26 goals were evidence of a class marksman and this one, the most prized asset of them all. When the final whistle sounded, fans erupted as decades of frustration evaporated. Moments of pure undiluted joy across the pitch and in the Directors' Box Milan Mandaric, the man who had pulled the club from administration and certain death, now stood a proud man after doing what he promised, delivering the Premier League to the Pompey faithful. A 3-2 win at home to Rotherham sparked off more scenes of jubilation as the club secured the first division championship and a 5-0 win at Bradford City with a Todorov hat-trick ended a remarkable season with the style that Pompey had graced the division throughout. In doing so they had smashed or equalled almost every record to highlight just how magnificent they had been: Most wins in a season (29), most goals scored in a season (91), highest points total (98), most away goals in a season (48), most away win in a season (12), fewest defeats in a season (6), fewest defeats away in a season (3), most consecutive wins (7).

That summer Milan Mandaric's contribution to the community was recognised with the award of the 'freedom of the city'. The open bus tour that paraded Portsmouth on its snaking way to Southsea Common was besieged by throngs all along the route. This is what it all meant.

Finally it sunk in when the fixtures were released in July, pitting Pompey against Manchester United, Arsenal and the like. Also equality with old and fierce neighbours Southampton was renewed after 15 years of playing second fiddle. The one problem now was 'coming down to earth'. Such was the way the club had marched through the first division, the expectations of the fans needed to be put in check over the reality of stepping up. There were also some difficult decisions. No more so than the one to let Paul Merson move on. The midfield man had done the job that Redknapp had asked, but the Premier League was thought to be a step too far for him and he moved to Walsall. However, signings such as Teddy Sheringham and Patrik Berger revitalised the club for the challenge ahead.

But the bubble was not quite ready to burst. By virtue of kicking off the Premier League on Sky Televison, Pompey's home Premier League adventure began ahead of everyone else at home to Aston Villa. In a perfect start, goals from Sheringham and Berger opened the victory account (2-1) and the club could even celebrate being top of the Premiership for something like two hours and 5 minutes.

Then, after going to Manchester City and being deprived of a win only by an injury time goal, Pompey returned to Fratton Park where four sensational second half goals thrashed Bolton under the lights with Sheringham grabbing a hat-trick. Most had thought that the championship of the first division was as good as it got, but this was unbelievable. The victory saw them return to the top of the Premier League, this time for 24 hours. Then again robbed by a dubious penalty at Highbury Pompey played out a 1-1 draw with the mighty Arsenal. This Premier League stuff was kids play. Surely after this there was nothing to fear.

The harder you rise, the harder you fall and this wonderland cocktail that had Pompey fans in the clouds ended in abrupt style. There were still highs. A 1-0 win at home to Liverpool and the 6-1 thrashing of once mighty Leeds both at Fratton Park were results that all would not have predicted in their wildest dreams not so long since. But these amounted to glorious days and no more. Four wins in 20 games between October and March was the proof of the reality of the Premier League and twice in cup and league Southampton had beaten Pompey 2-0 and 3-0.

In the January transfer window the club had brought in the talismanic Lomana Tresor LuaLua on loan from Newcastle and Ivica Mornar, an imposing striker from Anderlecht. Both were to score in their first away game, a 4-3 defeat at Tottenham, but neither could arrest the general trend of results. After the massive party atmosphere, the hangover of reality had taken over with danger of an immediate return. After 1-0 and 3-0 defeats on Merseyside at Everton and Liverpool within four days, the writing seemed on the wall. It needed something dramatic, but given the previous two years, nobody was discounting it. They were proved right.

In late March a Yakubu strike finally ended more years of frustration as Pompey recorded a 1-0 win at Fratton Park against Southampton. It was a win greeted with hysteria, but apart from the local significance nobody quite realised what it had set off. It was the first league win for two months, but that was quickly followed by the first away win of the season, at Blackburn. A 1-1 draw at Charlton was added to 48 hours later with a 3-1 win over Birmingham and then unbelievably, five days later, Manchester United came to town and left with tails between legs as Steve Stone grabbed a winner. Next, a 2-1 win at relegation rivals Leeds virtually assured Pompey of survival in their first season of Premier League football having taken 16 points in six games, championship form, not relegation.

The season ended in some style. Pompey, already assured of safety, came so close to ending Arsenal's unbeaten season in a 1-1 draw and on the final day of the season a Yakubu inspired Pompey thrashed Middlesbrough 5-1 with the Nigerian striker bagging 4. Pompey's late run had inspired one from Yakubu himself. After struggling for goals all season he had suddenly started firing them in for fun, scoring ten in nine games. One slight worry as the season ended on a high note was a public falling out between Chairman Milan Mandaric and Harry Redknapp over the future of the club, but before the final game against Middlesbrough they had issued a statement and sat together during the game, so the club's first dipped toe into football's toughest league ended with all smiles and much merriment.

The second season in Premier League football was to prove tougher than the first as Pompey attempted to establish themselves. Now no longer amongst the new boys tipped to go straight back down the level of expectation was that much higher as the club looked to move onwards and upwards. A desire no more greatly felt than by Milan Mandaric who was now masterminding the growth of the club off the field as he looked towards building a new state of the art stadium and establishing Pompey as a true Premier League force.

Though the beginning of the season was not quite as remarkable or to hit the heights of the first, it was solid enough. Home wins against Fulham, Tottenham, and for the second time in six months, Manchester United. Beating them once was good enough, but goals by new defensive acquisition David Unsworth and Yakubu defeated Alex Ferguson's side once more as they returned north goalless and pointless. However, the Jekyll and Hyde of the side was displayed the following week when Redknapp's men were defeated 3-0 at Aston Villa in a performance that was as bad as the previous week's was good.

Off the field drama was about to occur. Chairman Milan Mandaric's plans to build the structure of the club involved former Yugoslav international captain Velimir Zajec who had been in a similar role at Panithanaikos. The Chairman wanted a football figure to oversee the playing structure of the club, right down to the youth side, but they were plans that did not sit easy with Harry Redknapp who saw it as a threat to his authority, though the club tried to make it abundantly clear that this was not the case and that Zajec's appointment signified the growth of the football club in line with the structure of all Premier League sides. In November 2004 Redknapp dramatically resigned, citing personal reasons and the need to get away from football. Jim Smith went with Redknapp and coach Kevin Bond would also eventually follow. What happened next stunned most in the football world, but made great headlines in the national press. Harry Redknapp was appointed manager of Southampton, Smith and Bond followed him there. Pompey's neighbourly rivals were in the relegation battle alongside them and if this was not intriguing enough, over the next 12 moths a plot which most would have been hard pressed to dream up was to unfold.

Back at Fratton Park there was no other option than for the newly appointed Zajec to take control on a temporary basis. He had come in to oversee the football operations and had found himself in the hot seat. He stressed that he was: "a soldier of the club" and for 4 months, carried out the duties and kept the club afloat. His first match in charge saw Pompey beat Bolton 1-0 away which was quickly followed by a 3-2 home win over West Brom. A 1-0 away victory at Crystal Palace on Boxing Day seemed to suggest that the temporary manager, who was no lover of the intense limelight every Premier League boss faces, had the touch to steer the club into calmer waters. The win at Selhurst Park took Pompey to 26 points, but for some reason the foot came off the pedal and the side embarked on a wretched run.

It was almost destined that the intrigue would continue. Pompey were drawn at Southampton in the FA Cup 4th round, which would have been a spicy enough encounter, without all the extras. The January transfer window saw the arrival of Greek players Kostas Chalkias (goalkeeper) and Giannis Skopelitis (midfield) on the eve of the big cup tie. To rub salt into the wounds, Southampton won by a last minute penalty, highly dubious in nature, which former Blues striker Peter Crouch banged away. Little did Pompey fans, or anyone connected with the club realise how, in three months time, this bitter feeling would turn full circle in the most dramatic way believable.

Though in the immediate aftermath of the cup defeat Pompey defeated Middlesbrough to reach 30 points, by February the wretched run continued. The Greek reinforcements had struggled to make an impact, and the 'keeper in particular had a miserable time in the few games he played. A 3-1 defeat at relegation rivals Fulham in April made the drop a distinct possibility once more and Milan Mandaric felt the time was right to replace his temporary man Zajec who had given his all, but was in danger of presiding over a team on the drop.

Alain Perrin, a Frenchman highly regarded in his own country, but little known this side of the channel, was brought in. Perrin had overseen the French equivalent of a 'Wimbledon' by taking the unfashionable Troyes from non-league all the way to the top division in France. The British press remained unimpressed, but in his first match in charge, just 48 hours after his appointment, Pompey romped home in a 4-2 victory over Charlton at Fratton Park. An animated manager on the touchline was a joy to behold, but his best was yet to come. The following game against Redknapp's Southampton was a 'winner takes all' clash in every sense. The former Pompey boss had failed to re-ignite the South Coast neighbours and they were desperately close to dropping through the trap door. A Pompey win would tighten the screw to throttling point. The script was almost perfectly laid out for the blue half of Hampshire. Former Pompey striker Peter Crouch injured himself in the warm up, whilst the former managerial trio of Redknapp, Smith and Bond grimaced on the bench during a resounding 4-1 victory with LuaLua taking centre stage scoring twice before leaving the field injured on 28 minutes. Also playing in the red and white stripes that day was former Fratton Park favourite Nigel Quashie who had joined his boss up the road. Beating Southampton, virtually relegating them, along with the entire managerial team which had begun the season at Fratton Park, whilst saving themselves? Who would have predicted that the previous August?

On the final day of the season Pompey lost at West Bromwich Albion to transport the Midlands side from relegation certainties at Christmas to dramatic safety. The supporters from Fratton Park, in the knowledge of safety themselves, had eyes and ears for only one outcome elsewhere. Southampton were beaten at home to Manchester United and relegated. Pompey were now indisputably the top team on the South Coast and how they revelled in the moment in which the local tables had finally turned.

Yet there was to be one more twist of this amazing tale in season 2005/06. Alain Perrin started off the season in buoyant mood having secured the services of talented, but highly temperamental French playmaker Laurent Robert from Newcastle. His other purchases had brought players from across the world and performances on a brief pre-season tour of France looked promising. One loss the club and supporters had braced themselves for for some time was that of striker Yakubu, who after months of intense speculation, had joined Middlesbrough. In all honesty the club had wanted to hold onto him, but the Nigerian striker's body language had been that of a man who had other things on his mind. Arjan de Zeeuw, the popular Dutch defender who had arrived in the club's promotion season also went to newly promoted Premier League rivals, Wigan, whilst popular figures such as Steve Stone and Patrik Berger were not offered new contracts. Shaka Hislop also left for West Ham, the club he had joined Pompey from.

On the field Pompey's season lurched once more into freefall. In the previous two seasons of Premier League survival the club had escaped with a poor away record due to their great home one, but now the home form had deserted them also with no improvement on the away. True, a 1-0 away win at Everton and a 4-1 away trouncing of Sunderland did suggest better things were on the way, but by November the club had failed to win a single home match. This included two games against Aston Villa and Birmingham who were hugely disadvantaged by playing most of the game with ten men after dismissals.

Laurent Robert was disappointing and an incident prior to the Sunderland match where he was reported to have declared himself unfit after being named as a substitute hardly ingratiated him to the Pompey faithful. Other signings, all players who played for their country, such as John Viafara, Collins Mbesuma, Dario Silva and Zvonimir Vukic failed to make significant impacts.

By the end of November the inevitable parting of the ways happened. Alain Perrin was increasingly cutting an isolated figure, consistently struggling to get his points over to the British press, for which they took no end of unfair amusement in dubbing him 'Reggie'. But this was a results business and it was this that saw his departure.

However, the tale of twelve months earlier was now to turn full circle. Pompey wanted a manager capable of digging the club out of the relegation hole which they found themselves firmly entrenched in. Neil Warnock (Sheffield United) was the favourite, but one name would not go away, that of Harry Redknapp. Following relegation with Southampton he had stayed on, but was forced to sell most of the better players from which the side never really recovered. Saints remained on the fringes of a promotion play off spot, but there was much speculation that the former Pompey boss was deeply unhappy with off the field goings on at St Mary's, including the involvement of former England rugby coach Clive Woodward, who had joined the staff that summer.

Redknapp was eventually given that popular current pastime 'gardening leave' by Southampton and finally allowed to talk to the boss who had left just over a year earlier, Pompey re-instated him in the most unlikely of football tales. Many Pompey fans gave the decision their blessing despite reservations over the way he left and where he had ended up. In polls carried out the majority considered Redknapp the best man to dig the club out of the relegation spot they occupied.

In January 2006 another major impact occurred at Fratton Park. Milan Mandaric had been the sole owner of the club since taking them out of administration. He had always said that when the time was right and when he had built the club up sufficiently that he would seek a partner. That came to fruition with the arrival of Alexandre Gaydamak, a young man that Pompey's Serbian Chairman saw his own mould in. He became the club's co-owner and the future of Portsmouth Football Club, despite the current on field results, seemed as bright as ever it had been just seven years after they had been taken out of administration.

Pompey's added wealth allowed them to bring in a flurry of players during the January transfer window and this, along with Redknapp's genius at turning 'improbable' into 'possible' would eventually propel the side to another 'great escape' in quite dramatic fashion. When Pompey lost 1-0 to Aston Villa at the beginning of March they found themselves second from bottom, six points below Birmingham and eight behind West Brom. They had been on the end of a 5-0 hiding at St Andrews some weeks before and even with the added clout of Alexandre Gaydamak and the extra nous of Harry Redknapp, the order looked tall.

If there was a turning point then the following game against Manchester City provided it. One of the new additions, Pedro Mendes, had scored a sweet goal with a volley from outside the area to put the side 1-0 up, but when the opposition equalised seven minutes from the end nobody could foresee the landmark point of Pompey's season. That was when deep into stoppage time the Portuguese man hit the target again with an even better effort to clinch the game. It is true to say the tide had turned and Pompey never looked back.

Out of the next 7 games Pompey took an amazing total of 14 points, securing wonderful victories at Fulham and West Ham, plus home wins against Middlesbrough and a dramatic last gasp home win over Sunderland. They also held Arsenal 1-1 at Fratton Park. Harry Redknapp had taken over in December with the club on 10 points and by the end of January they had just 17. However Matt Taylor's late penalty, in the 2-1 win over Sunderland presented the possibility of Pompey escaping relegation with a game to spare, an amazing prospect when you consider their position just a few short weeks previously.

And so it came to pass. Pompey's 2-1 win at Wigan, made it 20 points from 9 games and coupled with Birmingham's failure to beat Newcastle at home, it ensured they and West Bromwich Albion went down with already doomed Sunderland. Mass celebrations ensued as another legendary afternoon in Portsmouth Football Club's history was played out. One of many in a rollercoaster of highs and lows that has seen the club win the FA Cup and league championship, sink into the basement division and enter administration. The summer of 2006 saw Pompey prepare for its fourth consecutive season in the Premier League and looking at a bright future befitting of a club with such a long, rich and distinguished history.

Portsmouth - a brief history of a club in crisis

February  20, 2012 (Extract From the Mail)

The phrase 'as clear as mud' may well have been created specially for Portsmouth.

Last week the Championship club were docked 10 points after entering administration for the second time in as many years.

Saturday's defeat to Barnsley left Pompey in the drop zone and the club now faces a fight for its future both on and off the field.


Field of dreams? Portsmouth are facing another financial crisis

But how did it all come to this?

Portsmouth's troubles can be traced back six years when Alexandre Gaydamak took control. What followed was a familiar tale of boom and bust as the new owner splashed the cash. Looking back, when Benjani becomes your club's record signing, the warning signs should have been put up right away.

But as long as the fans watched a winning side, there was little cause for worry. And Portsmouth certainly were a winning side. The FA Cup was lifted in 2008 and European football followed at Fratton Park the following season.


Trouble: Portsmouth are now in the relegation zone following the 10-point deduction

But in December of that year, Gaydamak announced he planned to sell his stake in the club. He said all the right things; that he would only sell to the right person and that he would ensure that the proposed new stadium would still go ahead. He also claimed that 'we are not in financial meltdown and it is nonsense to suggest we have to start selling players.'

On the otherhand, Harry Redknapp had, when he left to join Tottenham, suggested that all was not rosy: 'It was a lot of money - I think £5m, crazy money really. Pompey couldn't sell a player in the [transfer] window so we sell the manager.'

Farcical scenes followed as the club was passed from owner to owner. Sulaiman Al-Fahim was in charge for a mere 40 days before selling 90 per cent of his stake to Ali Al-Faraj who was loaned £17million by Balram Chainrai despite the two never having met. Still with me? 


Arrest: Vladimir Antonov was in control at Portsmouth but quickly ran into trouble

Portsmouth did indeed have to sell players and several high-earners were transferred out including Peter Crouch, Sylvain Distin, Glen Johnson and Niko Kranjčar. By December 2009, the club were £135m in debt, under a transfer embargo and would soon be placed in administration, which meant a nine-point penalty, and relegation to the Championship.

Chainrai remained in control when the club came out of administration in June 2010 but the game of pass the parcel continued a year later when he sold to Vladimir Antonov. If Pompey fans thought this was the beginning of the end, they were sadly mistaken. It probably wasn't even the end of the beginning. Less than six months after taking control, Antonov was arrested for alleged large-scale bank fraud and forgery while the company that owns Portsmouth, Convers Sports Initiatives, went into administration. Antonov resigned soon after.

At that point, the club itself was not in administration but that all changed last week. Portsmouth have debts of around £4m but HMRC will at least today withdraw a petition to have the club wound up.


Tough job: Michael Appleton must keep Portsmouth in the Championship

Manager Michael Appleton will fancy his chances of keeping Pompey in the league given the number of struggling sides at the bottom of the table and in any case, relegation would surely bring the club one step closer to going out of business for good.

It's hard to imagine anyone would want to buy this ailing club but if a buyer is found, let's hope a thorough background check is undertaken. Portsmouth certainly don't need another charlatan in charge.

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League 2 Season 2013-2014

Saturday December 14, 2013
Pompey 0 Newport County 2 (HT 0-0)

Wednesday December 4, 2013
Pompey 2 Wycombe Wanderers 2 (HT 0-1)

Saturday November 30, 2013
Hartlepool United 0 Pompey 0 (HT 0-0)

Tuesday November 26, 2013
Pompey 1 Southend 2 (HT 1-0)

Saturday November 23, 2013
Pompey 1 Scunthorpe United 2 (HT 1-1)

Saturday November 16, 2013
AFC Wimbledon 4 Pompey 0 (HT 1-0)

Tuesday November 12, 2013
Newport County 3 Pompey 0 (HT 2-0)
Johnstone's Paint Trophy (3rd Round)

Saturday November 9, 2013
Stevenage 2 Pompey 1 (HT 2-0)
FA Cup Round 1

Saturday November 2, 2013
Pompey 3 Exeter City 2 (HT 1-0)

Saturday October 26, 2013
Torquay United 1 Pompey 1 (HT 1-0)

Saturday October 19, 2013
Pompey 1 Bury 0 (HT 1-0)

Saturday October 12, 2013
Plymouth Argyle 1 Pompey 1 (HT 0-0)

Tuesday Oct 8, 2013
Oxford United 1 Pompey 2 (JPT) (HT 0-0)

Saturday, Oct 5, 2013
Pompey 3 Rochdale 0 (HT 1-0)

Saturday, Sep 28, 2013
York City 4 Pompey 2 (HT 1-0)

Saturday, Sep 21, 2013
Pompey 0 Fleetwood Town 1 (HT 0-0)

Saturday, Sep 14, 2013
Burton Albion 1 Pompey 2 (HT 0-1)

Saturday, Sep 7, 2013
Cheltenham Town 2 Pompey 2 (HT 1-2)

Tuesday, Sep 3, 2013
JP Trophy Round 1
Torquay United 0 Pompey 0 (HT 0-0)
(Pompey win 5-3 on penalties)

Saturday, Aug 31, 2013
Pompey 0 Chesterfield 2 (HT 0-0)

Saturday, Aug 24, 2013
Mansfield Town 2 Pompey 2 (HT 1-2)

Saturday, Aug 17, 2013
Pompey 3 Morecambe 0 (HT 3-0)

Saturday, Aug 10, 2013
Accrington Stanley 2 Pompey 2  (HT 0-0)

Tuesday, Aug 6, 2013
Bournemouth 1 Pompey 0  (HT 0-0)

Saturday, Aug 3, 2013
Pompey 1 Oxford United 4  (HT 1-2)

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