|Matches of Yesteryear - Pompey v U's 21/8/01|
Written by wessex_exile on Friday, 18th Oct 2019 19:26
Portsmouth v Colchester United
Tuesday 21st August 2001
Worthington Cup (First Round)
Match #19 of the series, and a day after my birthday. What better way to celebrate a birthday than a trip to Fratton Park on a balmy summer’s evening, my first visit to Portsmouth FC. The Milton Road End was uncovered back in those days, which made generating much of an atmosphere problematic, even though a decent 150-200 (I reckon) had made the long trip from Colchester. For me, it was a simple train journey from Salisbury, straight through to Fratton Station, just down the road from the ground.
Back then, there weren’t many away fan friendly pubs in the general area of Fratton Park, and with a somewhat well-deserved reputation for being a bit ‘tasty’, visiting supporters usually exercised caution and circumspection around Fratton Park. That being said, Pompey fans also enjoy a very well-deserved reputation for the passion of their support, and I certainly had no problems before or after the match, happily wandering around in my U’s shirt. Having sampled a few wet ones on the train over, I opted to visit The Rifle before the match. These days, it’s a swanky nightclub, dubbed “Portsmouth’s leading venue for live music and function hire” (a rather grand claim it has to be said), but back then it was a simple working men’s club who were quite happy to admit non-members for the princely sum of £1 – and as I said, without any hassle or aggravation from home supporters.
Suitably refreshed and ready for the match, I wandered up to the Milton Rd end turnstiles, ready to take my place amongst the faithful. Now, some of you might think this is a bit of a thing, and I honestly can’t remember how this came about, but when I pulled the programme off the shelf and discovered my ticket stub was still in the programme, it would appear I somehow blagged yet another complimentary ticket. Don’t ask me how, maybe I’ve just got that needy impoverished look nailed?
The U’s lined up:
2….Joe Dunne (Alan White 28’)
20..Micky Stockwell (Bobby Bowry 62’)
The U’s were managed by Steve Whitton, who was doing a pretty decent job of consolidating us as a solid mid-Tier 3 team – something that was much needed after taking over from Wadsworth. Considering the trend these days to ‘rest’ players for unfashionable cup competitions, this was a strong line-up for the U’s – in fact identical to the starting XI in our previous match against Tranmere at Layer Rd (U’s winning 2-1). There were plenty of household and soon-to-be household names in the Pompey squad that season – Dave Beasant in goal, Peter Crouch, Lee Bradbury, Nigel Quashie, Justin Edinburgh, even a young Rowan Vine at no. 32. However, the name on everyone’s lips was the unexpected signing of Robert Prosinečki at the start of the season. The outrageously gifted chain-smoking Croatian was signed (basically) by Pompey owner Milan Mandarić, and although he had made a substitute appearance in Portsmouth’s previous match (a home defeat to Bradford City), this was his full home debut in the starting XI.
I have a reasonable recollection of the game, and an excellent recollection of two key aspects, which I’ll come on to. The U’s started well, more than holding their own against higher league opposition. Not altogether unexpected though, we shouldn’t forget at the time the U’s were a decent Tier 3 side and Pompey were a poor Tier 2 side – they had avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth in the last match of the previous season. An injury to Joe Dunne had forced Whitton into making an early substitution, replacing him with Alan White with less than half an hour on the clock, but the U’s went in at half-time drawing 0-0. This was despite the presence off Prosinečki, who was clearly a world-class player, and head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch – the first of my strong recollections.
Playing towards the U’s faithful in the second half, we went one step further when Micky Stockwell arrived unmarked in the box to power a header past Beasant and give the U’s a not-undeserved 1-0 lead. Pompey, under Prosinečki’s influence came back strongly, with Quashie going close from a Crouch pass. Clearly in an attempt to bolster our defensive capabilities, Whitton replaced our goal-scorer with Sideways Bob ten minutes later. Graham Rix, the Pompey manager, responded almost immediately with a double substitution, bring on Bradbury and Harper, and eventually the pressure told. In the 77th minute, a Crouch flying header from a Pitt cross brought the home side back on level terms.
With Pompey pressing hard for the winner, we come to the second and most memorable moment of the game. In the 83rd minute of the game, and during a rare foray forward for the U’s, Portsmouth captain Darren Moore went down injured under a fair challenge on the edge of his own penalty area. The Portsmouth players were expecting the ball to be put out of play by the U’s, the crowd were expecting the ball to be put out of play by the U’s – so Kemi duly obliged by rounding Beasant and burying it in the back of the net. Despite the howls of outrage and protestations, the goal quite rightly stood – it wasn’t a head injury, it hadn’t been a foul, and most importantly, the ref was happy for play to continue – if ever the adage play to the whistle rang true, it was at Fratton Park that night.
Despite their best efforts, it was too late in the game for Pompey to rescue the situation, and the U’s progressed to the next round of the Worthington Cup.
Portsmouth 1 (Crouch 77’) Colchester United 2 (Stockwell 53’, Izzet 83’)
To their credit, and despite the somewhat controversial circumstances surrounding our winner, Pompey fans in the Rifle after the match were just as accommodating, and quite happy to discuss football over a friendly pint or two. The Rifle even sold me a cheeky take-out for the train journey home.
In the news recently, after taking over as manager of Brightlingsea Regent, Kemi was never a prolific scorer of goals for the U’s during his long and distinguished career with us, so being present to see one of them was a bit of a collector’s item for me. I can’t say with any honesty it is the only time I’ve seen one, but it’s certainly the only that I can remember.
Prosinečki would complete the season with Portsmouth, and is largely credited with again saving them from relegation. To this day he is still considered one of the all-time greats to have ever pulled on a Pompey shirt, and a hero amongst the Fratton Park faithful.
It is fitting therefore that I have managed to find a photo online of two great players contesting with each other on the pitch that night!
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