Now that the dust has settled on the semis and we’re all excited/nervous about Wembley, all that furore with Portsmouth is dissipating. Were they really that bad? I should declare my bias instantly and say that the behaviour of both the players and supporters of Portsmouth left me with more than a little bit of venom in my pen, or should that be keyboard now? However, in the days that have passed I have steeled myself to actually look at things a bit more pragmatically.
Before the Checkatrade final I wrote a blog which compared both the cities and the clubs. There are huge similarities. Portsmouth are a proper club and the fans feel passionately about them. The city itself is probably more blue collar than white collar and, of course, they don’t have an airport. Does this excuse the smoke bomb? No. Does it explain a fan kicking Luke 09? No. The latter incident has inspired some frankly hilarious content from cheeses of Nazareth on twitter and in that we can mark a turning of position.
When we arrived in League One we were tagged as the big boys. The arrogant team with an ostentatious wage bill and players way above the standard of the division. We were identified as a club with swagger, there to be put in our place by the bullying and shithousery that League One offers. Pompey were the club scrapping back to the position their history deserves. After years of financial mismanagement, they had a core of players who were prepared to fight at any cost to give the fans success. When Jamal Lowe celebrated at Wembley he meant it. Few people spotted that he almost had a scrap with one of his own players at the Stadium of Light in the first leg, frustrated at the lack of commitment perhaps. Then there’s Burgess. The much-maligned man bun of the team. It’s tempting to say he doesn’t have the quality, so he makes up for that with intimidation and cheating. When he dodged away from Wyke and Maguire at the SoL it looked like he had been exposed. He does however want to do everything in his power for success, whether that’s personal success or team success is a moot point. He was also the only Pompey player to console the Sunderland players at Wembley, a fact which perhaps says more about the rest of the Pompey players than it does Burgess.
In December we went to Portsmouth and a win would have probably pushed the momentum. A soft red card and a goal down and suddenly we were up against it. Losing that game was bigger than any of us could have realised and in my opinion was a tipping point in our season. From then on in the “we haven’t beaten Portsmouth” mantra was on the cards. The Checkatrade final bolstered it. The league draw frustrated us but built the animosity. We still hadn’t beaten them. At the fourth time of asking Sunderland delivered, not just on the pitch but on the terraces. Our crowd was comparatively small in number but more vociferous than it has been all season. The aforementioned incident at the final whistle with Wyke and Maguire against Burgess signalled a defiance. This is a team and if you’re using your height advantage against the King big old Charlie will step in.
In the end we went to Fratton Park and two idiots gained infamy. It’s worth pointing out that the Pompey fans have poured scorn on the fella who we have come to know as Sloth from the Goonies too. Similarly, with the smoke bomb incident Pompey fans identified the culprit who was swiftly arrested. They aren’t all that different to us, just a few bad apples. What is far more important is that, at Fratton Park, we wasted time. We played the ball into the corners. We became League One. And with that we accepted our draw as a success. The tables turned. Now we go into a play-off final with a very poor Wembley record. We have the unlucky end. We are playing Charlton, again. This team has proved that they can turn against the norm and they can fight with the best of them. We all have our thoughts about “Lyle Taylor is bound to grab the winner after turning us down to sign for Charlton” or “Lee Bowyer man”. I get the sense that this team doesn’t care about all of that. This team only cares about the swagger that they need and the scars they have acquired over this very long season.
Lessons learned, team spirit abounds. Ha’Way the lads.