A city formerly known as a town famous for its naval tradition. A working-class city with a fervent football fanbase. A city with snooty neighbours who think they are better. A city with no airport. Sound familiar? The fact that Portsmouth's airport closed in 1973 is a stretch for a connection I'm sure.
In 1992 while faces of children were being painted in red and white stripes in a pub a stone's throw from Hillsborough the grown-ups watched the other semi-final. A match between a Second Division team and the team most glory hunters preferred in Liverpool. The upstarts against the giants. We watched as the reasonably unknown Darren Anderton scored a free kick to surely send Portsmouth to Wembley, only for Ronnie Whelan to equalise with 4 minutes to go. This was all against the backdrop of the top-flight clubs offering their resignations to the football league to form a breakaway Premier League. This felt a little like rebellion. Indeed, when we beat Norwich hours later we embraced Portsmouth's draw and sang about sticking the Premier League where the sun shines rarely. It was a rare moment of unity between two working class cities against the elite.
A year or so later and Portsmouth came to Roker Park. They appeared runaway leaders and they came to our ground expecting to celebrate. The Roker End was packed with south coast fans in party spirit and it was a party that was laid out with bells and whistles. Sunderland were struggling. We had just lost the derby in swamp like conditions after Terry Butcher had encouraged all the players to have their heads ready for battle. It didn't work. We were staring relegation in the face and the Keegan era mags were storming the league. Typical Sunderland however put in a brilliant performance, helped in no measure by Paul Walsh losing his head, and romped home 4-1. Portsmouth faltered and stayed down. Later in a back alley close to Roker Park I heard the cry to "STAND" as the opposite end of the alley invited us forward and likened us to a particular part of the female anatomy. I went for some chips.
Portsmouth of course did eventually reach the promised land and they struggled for a while. A brief spell with Venables as chairman coupled with stadium revamps left the club on the brink of ruin only for Milan Mandaric to come in and rescue them and then Redknapp arrived to lift the club up to the top tier. The relationship was short lived though and 'Arry allegedly stormed out after Mandaric appointed a director of football in Velimir Zajec before returning a year later when Zajec was reieved of his duties and 'Arry had relegated Pompey's rivals. Gaydamack took over from Mandaric and the good times rolled. Fortunes were spent on players and suddenly Portsmouth were contenders. Indeed they lifted the FA Cup. An ultimate word of caution to any fan or shop shouter asking for chairman to chuck money at the team without a long-term plan for sustainability though, just over a year after winning the cup Portsmouth found themselves unable to pay their players. If you're in financial peril you probably should not spend huge wages on players like Kaboul, or Benjani, or… well Defoe is a different story.
In 09/10 Balram Chennai passed the fit and proper persons test before selling the club to Vladimir Anotonov who, shortly afterwards had a European arrest warrant issued for alleged asset stripping. Several years and another administration later they found themselves in the lowest tier of league football and an entire squad walking out. Not only that but no manager wanted to take the job. The point to all of this is that but for the grace of god we could be Pompey. It appears on the face of it that ego overpowered sense and the people who suffered most were the Pompey fans. As we struggle with our position in League One it pales in comparison to what they have been through, but it could easily have been us. Next season it could be Villa, or Wolves or...them up the road. At the time the Portsmouth fans loved the fact they were rubbing shoulders but the financial plan has to be part of the overall strategy. Portsmouth are an unfortunate marker for all clubs.