‘There’s nothing like football rivalry’ – The Football Coffee Break
Before I moved to Portsmouth in 2007 until 2010 I had never considered adopting a ‘second team’, certainly not one that plied it’s trade in the same league as my usual preference. However, the events that took place at Portsmouth Football Club over the years in which I resided just five minutes from Fratton Park made it very difficult to ignore my new local team. It all started when I decided to introduce an American friend to actual football and not the variation from across the pond that consists of very little foot-to-ball action. He reluctantly agreed to accompany me to a live match at Fratton Park but required so much convincing as to why our national sport was worth watching it seemed only El Classico would be deemed worthy enough of his attention. However, the ticket read Portsmouth vs. Reading; a fixture that (and no disrespect to either side) doesn’t exactly scream “feast of football.” The match ended 7-4 to the home side and he went home with a new found love for soccer (This was soon undone when he attended subsequent fixtures against West Ham and Man City, which both finished goalless.) For me, it started a long series of events that actually made me feel a little guilty. No, I didn’t defecate behind the bins outside the stadium, I just started to really like Portsmouth FC. I wondered if I should feel dirty for my frequent attendance of matches and purchase of a replica shirt but unlike a steamy Catherine Cookson novel, it wasn’t as if I wanted to make love to this new and exciting person in my life, I just wanted to give them a prolonged hug and stroke their hair for a bit. Terrible analogies aside, it was a very exciting time to live in the town.
Harry Redknapp was back at the helm and the club had a very competitive squad; from the experienced David James and Sol Campbell at the back to an exciting midfield that consisted of Sulley Muntari and Lassana Diarra. Add to that the January acquisition of Jermain Defoe and it seemed the only way was up. A first FA Cup in 50 years was reward for an excellent 2007/2008 campaign and the season that followed saw the team come within touching distance of progressing to the (then) UEFA Cup knockout stages were it not for a last minute Fillipo Inzaghi equaliser at Fratton Park to make it 2-2. However, that season also saw Redknapp depart for Tottenham and an unprecedented slump began. The team just about avoided relegation but even at that point, no one could have predicted the events that would follow months later. Administration and a 10 point deduction crippled the club on and off the pitch and heralded the end of their Premier League adventure. Any doubts about whether Portsmouth had subconciously become my second team were compounded when they managed to reach a second FA Cup final in what will go down as one of the bleakest periods in the club’s history. Sadly however, not the bleakest as we’ve learned in this what could be, final season for the club.
The fans and the players have been truly magnificent in the face of adversity, yet salt in the wound comes courtesy of the resurgence of their fiercest rivals Southampton. The Saints will feel hard done by if they don’t secure Premiership football for next season and with Portsmouth going down, it will represent an incredible twist of fate for both clubs since Portsmouth’s triumph at Wembley in 2008. David James cited that moment as the catalyst for Portsmouth’s demise owing to unrealistic bonus payments to players. The change in fortunes over the last four years for the South Coast pair has been a saga of epic proportions. Given the intensity of the rivalry between the two it will certainly go down as an extraordinary period in the history of English football. So much so, I have devoted 5 whole minutes of video to it.