30 years on: The day Pompey were crowned at The Dell
Wednesday, 3rd Jan 2018 20:41 by Steve Bone
Thirty years ago today, it was. Hard to believe. Jan the third, 88, hallelujah (as the song goes).
Of all the great Pompey days I’ve experienced in my time as a fan, that one has to be up there in the top 10. And yet, the funny thing is I can’t actually remember much about it.
To set the scene for today’s young readers, there we were in the top flight (the first division, we actually called it in those days) for the first time in 28 years. It wasn’t going terribly well.
We’d had a bad start – in fact our first point came in a 2-2 draw at home to Southampton three games into the campaign – and although Alan Ball’s team had eked out the odd win here and there, we knew by the time 1987 ended that we were in a relegation battle.
A New Year’s Day draw with Arsenal, which would have been a win had Deadeye Dill lived up to his name from 12 yards, gave us a decent start to 1988 but that result – that game in fact, big though it was – mattered little because central to all fans’ thoughts was the next fixture: Southampton away.
The Hants Constabulary had decreed, probably wisely, it should be a midday kick-off on a Sunday.
Off we trooped on the day, with barely time for breakfast before we left, to be greeted by a very tightly-policed and stewarded scene, although nothin like the whole locked-down district on the level you’d expect to see today at the same fixture (well, perhaps, we’ll find out next season how they enforce south-coast crowd control these days).
Given that this was still in the days when The Dell (one described tremendously by a visiting manager, I forget which one, as a pokey old hole) was SFC’s home, there were not a huge number of Pompey fans permitted.
We had part (I don’t think it was the whole lot) of the Archers Road End and I seem to recall we were in quietly confident mood beforehand.
Pompey had not set division one alight that season but nor had Southampton. And there were enough survivors of Bally’s team of hard nuts from the previous three seasons in division two to be confident we’d take no prisoners.
The game could barely have gone better. I remember us taking a second or two to register that the first goal – by Barry Horne – had gone in at the other end of the ground, then going mental.
And if we thought we’d be hanging on from then til the whistle, both teams proved us wrong as Pompey soon seized on hesitanct in the home defence to strike again, this time through Terry Connor. 23 minutes gone, 2-0 up. Dreamland.
You can see some wonderfully-grainy, and quite rare, footbage of both goals on Youtube if you search for ‘pompeytheriddle’.
I recall Southampton having plenty of possession after that but being very wasteful in their finishing, particularly when Colin Clarke or Danny Wallace had the ball at their feet, and the longer the clock ticked, the more comfortable we became in the knowledge we were about to be crowned Kings of the South Coast.
And crowned we were as the home fans did a ‘let’s beat the full-time traffic’ routine that Spurs fans must have noted and used 22 years later at Wembley in fine style.
The end, I remember, was quite an anti-climax. Of course we saluted the heroes on the pitch as they took our plaudit, but before long we were being herded back to our various modes of transport.
I do wonder if my memory of the day has been tarnished somewhat by what followed – the sale, confirmed the next day, of Mick Kennedy to Bradford, which represented the heart being ripped out of the team, a surrender by John Deacon that seemed to say ‘we’re not staying up, so let’s balance the books’.
Six days later we did have another great awayday, winning 2-1 at Blackburn in the FA Cup thanks to what remains one of the greatest Pompey goals I’ve ever seen, a Kevin Dillon volley from virtually the centre circle.
But, despite a run to the Cup quarter-finals, things were never as good again that season, or for some years after it, as they had been on January 3, 1988.
About seven years later, I and a couple of fellow fans launched a new Pompey fanzine and we named it Jan 3, 88. It ran for about five years and I even opened a bank account for it in the name of the publication, which confused a few bank clerks when we were writing or paying in cheques.
Someone pointed out this week that the 30-year-old game was the last time a Pompey-Southampton league game was won by the away side – though of course a certain FA Cup tie did not go the way of the hosts when we went to St Mary’s in February 2010.
Days like Jan 3, 88 are why we do football, aren’t they?
For some, that result was all that counted that season. They were happy to trade the relegation we suffered four months later in return for that result. And fair play to them for it.
You never know, the way things are going, we might get another chance to win at their place again next season - a prospect that’s got some fans who were previously happy with a mid-table finish this year for the Blues now demanding that Michael Eisner shells out for eight new players this month.
Yes, perhaps, we’ll have a new date to devote a song to.
“Jan the third, 88, hallelujah, Jan the third, 88, halle-lu-u-jah...”
STEVE BONE @stevebone1 on Twitter
(Picture - @parkerTandA on Twitter)
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