‘Six foot two, eyes of blue, big Paul Went is after you!’ I sang as I huddled together with the big boys and the ‘ard nuts on the Fratton End terracing.
I was ten years old at the time but to this day I remember the sights, the sounds, the smells and my overwhelming sense of ‘grown-up-ness’ at one of my first ‘solo’ visits to Fratton Park in early ’74
Pompey were on the up. At the end of the previous season a bloke from Southampton called John Deacon had taken control of the club and despite rumours that he was going re-develop Fratton Park into a housing estate said he was going to take us, Pompey, the perennial under achievers, out of the second division within three years. Who was I to argue with a man so wealthy that he could buy a football club, I was only ten !
Changes were afoot. some new big money signings had arrived; Ron Davies from Southampton, Phil Roberts from Bristol Rovers, and a certain Peter Marinello (dubbed by many as the new George Best) broke Pompey’s transfer record when he signed from the mighty Arsenal. A new manager (John Mortimore) was also appointed. The new season was going to be great I thought, Mr Deacon is going to lead us to Division One.
A Bright New Beginning ? Or Not
The season started with a tad more optimism than the previous few but things did not go as planned and results did not go the way Deacon and everybody else who had bought into his dream expected. In early December Pompey were lying in a disappointing 15th place. Deacon stuck his hand in his pocket again and paid Orient £155,000 for Centre Back Paul Went and a smaller fee to Leicester for fellow defender Malcolm Manley. Looking at a picture of Went in The News I remember thinking that he was nothing short of a Colossus and with the experienced Manley by his side Deacon had bought every Pompey fan an early Christmas present. A new defence.
Paul Went’s history was impressive. He had played at Wembley for England at Schoolboy & Youth level and also held the honour of being the youngest player ever to play for Orient. At just 17 with 50 first team games already under his belt he was transferred to Charlton where he spent five solid years before hopping across to Craven Cottage in the summer of ’72 to become Fulham`s record transfer. Now just 18 months after that lucrative move, thanks to Mr Deacon’s ambitious regeneration plan Paul Went was a Pompey player.
Went and Manley made their debuts at Fratton Park against a Bristol City side who in comparison to Deacons superstars were assembled for just over a quarter of the price Pompey had paid for Went alone. A volley by Ron Davis secured a 1-0 victory but more importantly Pompey had not conceded.
The new central defensive partnership gelled quickly and as performances and results began to improve even the most cynical of Pompey fans had to admit that Deacons promises were showing signs of baring fruit.
As is all too common in Pompey’s history, as things start to improve disaster strikes and in this instance Manley got injured. In what was only his 11th league game the Scotsman severed a cartilage in his knee and despite intensive surgery was eventually forced to retire. The partnership that promised so much was over as quickly as it had started and despite Went putting in some impressive solo performances ending with him being voted Player of the Year in his first season, the defence just wasn’t the same without the two of them together and despite spending all that money Pompey finished the season in the same position they had been in when Went joined, 15th
A Saint At Fratton !
Within a few weeks of the following season Deacon instigated a managerial change. Mortimore was shown the door and eventually replaced by former Liverpool legend Ian St John. ‘The Saint’ famous (then) from his playing days promised to inject some firepower in the club but found out all too quickly that Pompey or in fact Deacon was unable to sustain the level of investment he had allowed Mortimore. The club clocked up losses both on and off the field and a cash strapped Pompey finished the season in 17th position. Hardly the dream of promised land Deacon had sold us.
St. Johns second season 75/76 marked the end of a dream and a beginning of a nightmare. As the season wore on, St. John having lost the big named signings and being unable to buy was now heavily dependent on youth and bargain free transfers. Pompey sank to the bottom of the league and come Spring John Deacon’s prophesy of taking the club out of the second division came true, but in a way he and certainly I had never imagined. Pompey were relegated.
By the Autumn of ’76 Pompey were in a severe financial crisis and St John, who already having been forced to sell the majority of his squad, had to cut the wage bill further. Cardiff City took advantage of Pompey’s plight and a growing rift between St. John and Went and offered a measly £30,000 for Went’s signature. Deacon had no other option but to accept. He had creditors to pay. The 4-1 away defeat to Shrewsbury was to be Paul Went’s last game for Pompey.
Cardiff And Then Home
Went had two eventful years at Cardiff, giving away a penalty within ten minutes of his debut, and then going on to score a goal which later secured their divisional status, He then returned to his home town to rejoin his first club, Orient, where as his playing career drew to an end, was appointed Assistant Manager and then Manager (just for a day) of the Brisbane Road club.
As the years have passed Paul Went along with the likes of Marinello, Manley, Davies, Roberts et al symbolise the start of era which promised so much and yet delivered so little and although Pompey now stand proud as an established Premiership outfit and FA Cup holders, the speed at which things can come tumbling down is never far from the back of my mind. Fingers crossed a bright future lies ahead but maybe some of the younger supporters will now understand why this ten year old kid has a very modest ’38 point’ dream each season and is so grateful just to see Pompey play in the Premier League.