Luckily for us Pompey fans, it`s all fun and games at Fratton these days. But it wasn`t always like this. Most of you will remember walking down Frogmore Road at 6pm on a Saturday after witnessing another home defeat to Wolves or some other no-hopers. A game of missed chances and defensive blunders, goalmouth scrambles and heads hung in disappointment.
I`m not trying to rekindle that feeling in any way, but it`s important to remember those days, and remember how lucky we are that Milan and Harry came along. So, today I present a Pompey team to remind us of how far we`ve come in the past few years. Ladies and gentlemen, The Underachievers?
Goalkeeper – YOSHI KAWAGUCHI
Some said commercial, some said it was an ‘upstairs` transfer. But whatever the hype surrounding Yoshi`s club record £1.8 million signing in 2001, there were certainly some questions to be asked, mainly about the Japanese number one`s frame (he was only 5`10) and whether he was dominating enough for the English game.
Like quite a number of Pompey fans, I travelled down the road to witness Kawaguchi`s first game in the country, as Japan took on Nigeria in a friendly. And we came away happy. He looked bright, and pulled off a couple of cracking reflex saves. But it was not as happy a story for Yoshi once he pulled on the Portsmouth shirt.
It should be noted that he was ‘protected` by one of the shakiest defences we`ve seen in recent times, marshalled by the unconvincing Scott Hiley. But he did go on to concede 24 goals in 12 league games, and was consequently dropped. We never saw much of him again, and the former “Sexiest Man in Japan” was eventually sold to Nordsjaelland in Denmark, before moving back to Japan just 8 months later.
A real shame it didn`t work out for him, but he was largely disappointing between the Pompey sticks.
Right back – ADAM NEWTON
Reminded me of our recent Glen Johnson. Great going forward, and lightning down the right flank, Newton seemed to have it all. Arguably shouldn`t be in this team, as he only made 5 appearances for Pompey in 1999, before West Ham recalled him after an injury crisis at the back, but he looked that impressive when he was with us, that we all thought he would go on to big things at West Ham.
He didn`t, and after a couple more loan spells, eventually ended up at Peterborough, where he is still playing today. Maybe he has made something of his career, but from what we saw at Fratton, he should have made a lot more.
Left back – MATT ROBINSON
77 appearances suggest that Robinson was a certified first choice, but in his years at Pompey, he was up and down like a yo-yo, and I can barely remember a standout performance. For me, he summed up our mediocrity at the time. A 50k ‘bargain` from Saints, and unfortunately his history dogged his Fratton career and he never had the backing of the fans. He only scored once in his tenure, and left little impression on the Blues` fans.
Centre half – SCOTT HILEY
One of my least favourite Pompey players of the pre-promotion days, Scott Hiley was another who depicted our depressing years. Also signed from down the road, for 200k in 1999, Hiley impressed originally as a full back. But his move inside, as well as taking over the captaincy, gave Hiley the belief that he was a world-beater.
Playing in the middle of a back three, he would gracefully attempt to carry the ball out of defence, only to be robbed time and time again on the half-way line, usually resulting in Pompey finding themselves 1-0 down. He did make 80 appearances for the club, but again, this was during the dire years. It was the arrogance that got me. He really believed he wasn`t to blame for our abysmal defence. I guess I may come across as harsh – maybe I just didn`t like the guy.
Centre half – LEWIS BUXTON
I`m not happy about putting Buxton into this team, but it`s another case of what he could have been. Breaking into the side as a 17 year old in 2000, he looked fearless. Classy on the ball, strong in the tackle – he was everything that the more experienced players around him were not.
What happened? A couple of dodgy games, and his head dropped. Consequently, he found himself back in the reserves, and never really found his way back. His career might have found legs again, but he has struggled to set the world alight since, and has had further experience with Bournemouth and Exeter.
Another real shame, and a real disappointment. I really thought he was going places.
Central midfield – ROBBIE ENES
One of the Venables` tip-offs, Enes was seen as an absolute steal when nabbed from Down Under for 175k. Pompey had beaten Benfica to the classy midfielder`s signature, and we were all excited about what to expect. Our enthusiasm was short-lived, however, and Enes failed to shine? at all. He only started one game in 97/98, and made three less than encouraging substitute appearances before disappearing in nothingness.
The hype had once again completely outweighed the reality, and Pompey fans` were left disappointed and disillusioned once more.
Central midfield – LEE SHARPE
I can`t believe he`s made the list, since he is (without question) my favourite English player of all time. Really could have answered England`s left side problem throughout the 90s, but injury, partying and a doobie habit ruined any chance of that.
By the time he got to Fratton, he was past it. The odd sublime through-ball, neat flick or long-ranger off the bar were not enough to convince the fans (or management) of his ten grand a week wages, and Sharpe only graced the Pompey midfield for 17 games. Another real shame – if his development had continued at United, he could have been one of the greats.
Left midfield – MARTIN PHILLIPS
Met the curse of Alan Ball on a couple of occasions. The Ginger Squealer predicted that Phillips would be the first £10 million player in the country, and he never lived it down. Phillips flattered to deceive at both Manchester City and Pompey. He signed for the Blues in 1998 for £100k, starting only 4 games, with 20 substitute appearances.
He definitely had pace, skill, could beat a player and cross a ball? he just never did any of them. Having said that, he did chalk up a goal in Pompey colours, before disappearing back down to his hometown Exeter, currently with West Country rivals Torquay. Still, that`s a big fall from grace? £10 million?
Right midfield – MLADEN RUDONJA
I struggled to fill the right midfield role. We`ve rarely really suffered there. Jimmy Carter was ok at times; Jeff Peron was excellent. Paul Hall made it his own for a number of years. So, I`ve gone for a winger who was predominantly left-sided but would have done well to get in the Pompey side wherever he was picked.
A real waste for the Slovenian international, who rarely featured after earning rave reviews for his country. ‘Turbo` will argue that he never got his chance, but there must always be a reason why these guys don`t get picked. Faster than lightning, so we were told. If only we`d seen him, or not as the case may be. Another real disappointment, if not completely his fault.
Striker – HAMILTON THORP
Another Venables` bargain, Hamilton looked a snip at 75k. However, I`m still not convinced we got the full story on these Aussies. You get the feeling there was certainly an ulterior motive or 4 when we saw the influx. Aloisi was obviously class, and Foster wasn`t too bad, but the rest were certainly suspect (Paul Harries couldn`t even make it at Basingstoke).
Thorp was the one who got me worried though. He didn`t even look like a footballer. He looked like he`d won an El Tel holiday competition to shoot over to pommy land and grab as many sheilas as you can. He made one start (albeit in the League Cup) and, although he scored, did not show enough promise to earn more than seven cameo substitute appearances when we were lumping it upfield, desperate for an equaliser.
Altogether a bizarre signing, and another man who won`t remain in the history books for too much longer.
Striker – RORY ALLEN
And what a man to finish on. Possibly our most frustrating player of the last decade, mainly due to the fact that he couldn`t remain on the pitch for 20 minutes without limping off clutching his ankle.
£1 million from Spurs suggested Pompey really meant business in an attempt to break into the play-offs, but it wasn`t to be, and Rory managed a huge total of 3 goals in 16 games. An ankle break didn`t help his case, and things didn`t improve when he returned to fitness, as the other one snapped in two, and off he hobbled.
But the main disappointment had to be Rory`s third return to fitness, when instead of running along happily to pre-season training, off he went to Australia to watch the Ashes. Top commitment Ror. Brilliant stuff. After that, there was no coming back, and Allen retired to a life of playing golf and watching cricket. It`s a hard life when you can`t be @rsed to play professional football.
Once again, people, thanks for reading, and sorry about the delay. Don`t want to get us in trouble, so I will in no way claim that NTL have a disgustingly terrible Internet service. I repeat, they`re brilliant, and I`ll probably stay with them for life.
Feel free to discuss more names on the board. I`ve purposefully left a few names out (including poor old Robbie Simpson), so feel free to add to our depressing list of Pre-Premiership underachievers!
*The second instalment in Pete Alexander`s fantastic weekly column, I think you`ll agree more than worth the wait*