Sunderland vs Portsmouth ‘Who are You?’: a buildup that began in December

THIS interview, from just before our 3-1 defeat at Fratton Park in December, was among many items lost when the Salut! Sunderland site crashed. It took an expensive repair job to get back to normal but not everything was salvaged. John McCormick edited and posted the original article so what appears below – restored now more than anything because Peter Allen put a lot of thoughts into his responses and it remains a good read despite the passage of time – has been cobbled together from the e-mail exchange of questions and answers and the headline will differ from John’s.

Monsieur Salut writes: Peter Allen* was my favourite confrere among the British continent of foreign correspondents when I lived in Paris. We worked, ate and drank together, often enough finding a televised match to watch. We were even tear-gassed together, covering a student riot outside the Sorbonne. Pete is still in Paris but is a lifelong Pompey supporter. He’s seen good days and miserable days for his club. [Back in December] he thought the League One championship would be decided when our teams met near the end of the season. [That has all changed but here is how he looked forward to that first game between us this season, when Wembley for Checkatrade and maybe even the playoffs were far from our thoughts] …

Salut! Sunderland: Play up Pompey indeed. What has gone right?

Peter Allen: topping League One – [as Pompey then did] – is certainly a pleasant change from cataclysmic collapse. It’s just over seven years to the day since Pompey released a statement reading: “It appears likely that the club will now be closed down and liquidated by the administrators”.

Not much cause for optimism there and – sure enough – the next few months involved winding up orders, numerous visits to London’s High Court to take on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (never a great away fixture) and the entire playing squad resigning en masse. An intervention by Lithuanian prosecutors investigating the bankruptcy of the comically named Bankas Snoras lifted the mood slightly, as did an automatic 10-points deduction in 2012, because it at least proved we were still in existence.

Fan power in the shape of the Pompey Supporters’ Trust then assisted in a miraculously swift exit from administration (every supporter was asked to donate a minimum of £100) before Tornante, an investment company owned by former Hollywood bigwig Michael Eisner, bought the Club in August last year. Tornante means “hairpin turn”, just in case you were wondering.

Kenny Jackett, quite obviously a decent manager, and the US owners with 50 Shades of Disney. All pointing to continued upward progress?

Jackett is an excellent manager, and you’ve got to admire a former Paramount Studios Chairman who was behind the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Trek franchises (we’ll overlook Flashdance and Footloose on this occasion) Eisner isn’t just a money man, either. He once presented a Wonderful World of Disney TV series, and still boasts that he used to get asked for autographs, albeit mainly by excitable American kids wearing hats with Mickey Mouse ears.

I look at your squad as I look at others in League One – including our own at the start of the season – and think “who?” But which players appear, even from your far-off base, to be doing the business?

“Pompey End their Scunthorpe United HooDoo” isn’t the kind of headline you dream about just a few years after regular trips to Wembley, including for two FA Cup Finals, but the current squad is young and ambitious. Ronan Curtis, the 22-year-old Ireland international is scoring regularly and often spectacularly, as is fellow winger Jamal Lowe, 24. Goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray is just a year older, and described as “David de Gea-esque” at times.

Your own highlights as a Pompey fan?

It wasn’t David de Gea between the Old Trafford sticks but the unlikely figure of Rio Ferdinand when Sulley Muntari scored the winner in Pompey’s FA Cup quarter-final victory on March 8 2008. United’s substitute keeper Tomasz Kuszczak had been sent off for upending Milan Baros in the penalty area and, with 12 minutes to go, Muntari took us back to Wembley for the first time since the Second World War.

The unexpected, unadulterated joy of that game easily overshadowed the actual final in terms of excitement, but beating Cardiff 1-0 is clearly a highlight too. So too was the 2010 FA Cup semi-final victory over Spurs at Wembley. We had been relegated, and the financial meltdown had began, yet – almost inexplicably – scored two late goals in extra time to beat the overwhelming favourites.

Promotion seasons and successful relegation battles are all up there too, as was AC Milan’s visit to Fratton Park for a 2-2 Uefa Cup draw a decade ago. Watching Ronaldinho curling in an exquisite free kick from 25 yards to keep the Rossoneri in with a chance of getting a result was incredible.

Does the Pompey-Saints rivalry compare in intensity with Wear-Tyne, North London, Steel City (I deliberately exclude Glasgow)?

It’s heartfelt and pretty ferocious at times, although there have actually been relatively few South Coast derbies over the years. The last was more than six years ago, believe it or not (Southampton 2 Portsmouth 2, April 7 2012), but Pompey’s overwhelming historical success (Champions of England twice, two FA Cups) against Saints (a single FA Cup) has never been in doubt.

I went to see the Rolling Stones at Southampton’s tin pot stadium last summer, and was amused when Mick Jagger asked: “Any Scummers here tonight?” There were a few ironic jeers, before the Street Fighting Man added: “What about Skates?” Cue an eruption of noise from by far the best supporters in Hampshire.

Do you get to see much football in France and, if so, what do you make of Ligue 1?

Supporting Pompey means I’ve nothing left to give to club football, least of all in France. Ligue 1 in particular bores me to tears. I go to Paris St-Germain very occasionally, but only to check out what flavour vol-au-vent they’re serving up to the Qatari Royal Family and Nicolas Sarkozy in hospitality.

Peter Allen: ‘These days, my Saturdays are spent dodging Gilets Jaunes missiles on the boulevards of Paris’

Did Sunderland’s sharp decline surprise you?

It did. Our demise was straight out of a Frederick Forsyth blockbuster, complete with convicted arms dealers and dodgy Lithuanian bankers (see above), not to mention Harry “King of the Jungle” Redknapp himself (absolutely innocent of any wrong doing, of course, as Southwark Crown Court heard in 2012, m’lud) Sunderland’s decline has been far less bling-bling, as they say in France, although I doubt that makes it any easier to cope with.

Any other thoughts on the club, fans, city, region, Jack Ross?

I’ve pencilled in April 27 for my first visit to the Stadium of Light, in what I hope will be an end-of-season classic. I’d love to visit Sunderland properly, so will make a weekend of it, with luck with the Salut! Massive [we’ll see later this week if he still plans to go]. Have often been charmed by Sunderland fans at Fratton Park, especially the one who once asked if programmes were discounted at the end of the game, and if so could be buy one then…Am sure Jack Ross is a very competent manager, but I have to admit I have even less interest in Scottish football than French football, so know next to nothing about his career path.

Hand on heart, where will our clubs finish bearing in mind there’s a return game to come at the Stadium of Light as the season nears its end?

Don’t like to make rash predictions at this time of year but – Hey, it’s Christmas! – so let’s say one and two. Don’t want to sound too complacent though, so I’ll settle for either. In fact I’ll settle for any kind of promotion, even if it’s via the playoffs.

Will VAR help eliminate diving or is that – and other forms of cheating – a lost cause?

I was in Russia for the World Cup over the summer, and saw enough VAR cock-ups to leave me far from convinced it can wipe out cheating. It’s all a sign of football becoming too micromanaged, with the big clubs thinking money and technology will make sure they always win. Who wants to support a team that always wins?

You won’t make the game at Fratton Park. How will you keep tabs and what will be the score?

I’ll be following online, and would love to predict a resounding home win, but Fratton is by no means a fortress, despite our lofty position. Am going to be really boring and say 1-1.

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*Peter Allen on himself:I’m a British freelance journalist based in Paris, covering France for British newspapers and other outlets. I’m not a natural-born Portsmuthian (childhood home countries included Morocco and Spain), but Fratton Park was the first ground where I watched a game in the 1980s. My glory years as a fan were 2003 until 2010, when I got to a huge number of matches, despite still living abroad. Because of its strong Royal Navy links, Pompey tends to have lots of fans living in very distant countries, so I never feel very far away. To misquote Brian Clough in The Damned United: ‘Portsmouth? If you go any further South you’ll be in bloody France!’

Interview: Colin Randall

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