This is a special edition of Salut! Sunderland‘s ‘Who are You?’ series because Sunday will be a special day for two sets of fans supporting grand old clubs that have known better times but are both recovering from the horrors of recent seasons.
Our Pompey interviewee Steve Bone, from the Portsmouth Fans Network, freely admits he is going to Wembley because it’s the final and wouldn’t bother with any game earlier in the Checkatrade Trophy competition. That hardly makes him less passionate than the 80,000-odd others who will be there on Sunday. It’s a cup that matters when you reach the final and the EFL and Checkatrade are naturally chuffed at the idea of for once filling the national stadium …
Salut! Sunderland: Hand on heart, did the Checkatrade Trophy mean much to you until you beat Bury to reach the final and what does it mean now?
Steve Bone: No – I’ve never been to a single game in it.
As a competition it has never interested me. I didn’t go to the semi-final and wouldn’t have done even if it had been at home. But this is different – this is the chance to see Pompey at Wembley and it is a competitive game. And I would not miss that for the world – especially as my son, who is 16, has yet to see to the Blues play at HQ.
And I’m quite open about the fact that whenever we are next in the Checkatrade, I shall treat it the same way. There’s not a chance I’ll go to any game other than the final.
The season’s goal for both Pompey and Sunderland is to win promotion. Would you trade losing in the final for going up one way or the other?
I probably would – promotion has been the big aim since the start, as it has for the Black Cats, and if you offered me promotion instead of this final I think I’d take it.
Having said that, some fans say they’d have given up our 2008 FA Cup final win in return for the club not having gone through all the rogue owners and brushes with going out of business, and I must say I wouldn’t. Wouldn’t swap that day and that trophy for anything.
Earlier in the season, you looked capable of staying top and going up as champions. Did Pompey’s form collapse or do we just have to accept that Luton and Barnsley have been very good?
Bit of both I think. Pompey were never 100 per cent convincing even when top and churning out win after win. We probably had a dodgy spell coming, we just didn’t think it would last so long.
We suffered through losing a few key players all at once in January – a couple were loanees recalled and a couple more were injured – but we seem to have got over that.
You’d have to say Barnsley are favourites to end second behind Luton, who are surely bound to win it, but I think Sunderland and Pompey will take the automatic race to the final weekend, or close to it.
Ronan Curtis’s bizarre injury (trapping a finger in a door at his home and losing a piece of it) at one point looked like missing the final. Is Jamal Lowe otherwise the main threat or do you have plenty of others capable of scoring?
As I type it looks like Ronan Curtis may just about make it. Curtis and Jamal Lowe on their day are excellent on either side of the lone striker, whoever that may be, but they have not been as consistent since the turn of the year. Either of them has a goal in them at any time and generally speaking Pompey fans will go into a game a lot more confident if both are playing.
I was impressed by Oli Hawkins at Fratton Park. Who are your choices as important players this season ?
Hawkins – yes, a vital player in the first half of the season, along with Lowe, Curtis and Gareth Evans. As an attacking four, they just clicked. Others – the goalie Craig MacGillivray – watch that spelling – has been excellent, as has Matt Clarke in the centre of defence. Tom Naylor has been a good addition in midfield and in recent weeks one of our homegrown heroes, Ben Close, has really come into his own.
Anyone you’d take from our squad?
Give me a minute while I look up your squad list – I must admit I don’t keep up very well with opposition squads………………
… right then, I’d say I’d take Chris Maguire (as he once scored for us v Southampton and therefore deserves the freedom of Portsmouth), Josh Maja (seems to have a very good season) and Will Grigg (as I have heard of him). Sorry I can’t be a better scout [no, Steve, not when you mention Josh! – Ed]
Pompey’s recent history is a turbulent one. What have been your own high and low points, previous Wembley visits presumably featuring among the former?
The high points – yes the Wembley visits, particularly the 2008 FA Cup final and 2010 semi-final, but also the promotions we have witnessed before and since those times – from division one in 2003 and League Two in 2017, when we were top for 20 minutes all season and won the title.
The lows – for me, one such downer was at a Pompey v Sunderland game. Feb 2009. I looked around at the people, the seats, the stands, the pitch, the floodlights and didn’t know if I’d ever see them again as the next day we were in court under threat of being wound up. We survived and came out, in time, stronger. Which I and many others will remember when the teams come out at Wembley.
Best players you have seen in your colours?
Too many to mention but to pick out four – Mark Hateley, Paul Walsh, Robert Prosinecki, Paul Merson. All legends in my eyes. Apologies to the thousands of others I have also enjoyed watching.
And who should have been allowed nowhere near Fratton Park?
I’ve never been one to name my least favourite players. We’ve had our share of dobbers and donkeys, but none have set out to be bad and none forced Pompey to sign them.
What did you make of Sunderland’s sharp decline?
I couldn’t help thinking of the similarities between Sunderland’s fall and ours. I know little of the reason(s) behind it but can guess it comes down to a mixture of poor ownership, poor management and a bit of bad luck. I hope Pompey and Sunderland continue to move up the leagues together and in the short term have some good tussles in the second tier.
Any other thoughts on our clubs and/or its fans, the city and region, Jack Ross?
Who’s Jack Ross?
I just hope both sets of fans enjoy the fact that between them they will make it a fantastic day and a remarkable atmosphere for a game in what is essentially a tinpot competition! There are plenty of problems being suffered by cities like Portsomuth and Sunderland but this is one day when perhaps those afflictions can be forgotten. A chance to show those watching – all 250 – that these are two great clubs that are on the up again, from two big cities whose time will come again.
As for Jack Ross, again I know little of him but he strikes me as the type of boss who should be allowed to build up the club over time – the sort of long-term project few football club owners seem to have patience for.
You’ll be at the game? Your score prediction?
Yes, I will be there. I can see a 1-1 draw after extra time, and a 4-3 Pompey win on pens.
* Steve Bone on himself: I am a Pompey fan of 38 years’ service, journalist, contributor to the Pompey programme, Sports Mail and Pompey’s fansnetwork site, and anyone else who will have me.
Interview: Colin Randall