Last time I saw Peter Allen* was in Paris, where for a couple of years we worked together, took food and drink together, watched televised football together and were even tear-gassed together (while covering a student riot at the Sorbonne, for which dubious pleasure I had been dragged from free music, champagne and Guinness at an Irish Embassy shindig). Peter has written about football (or loosely written about it; his book – An Amber Glow – tells the story of the actual ball with which England won the 1966 World Cup and over which Fleet Street’s finest staged a bizarre battle in Bavaria).
He loves the game for its own sake as well as for his beloved Portsmouth and, previewing our game at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, gives the most pro-country response to the Club vs Country question that Salut! Sunderland can recall. Let us hope he is wrong in tipping Pompey to win. Suddenly, we need points in a hurry….
There’s a woman who sits near me at Fratton Park who’s a massive Sunderland fan. She turns up at every home game to cheer Pompey on, but admits we’re only her second team.
Get her going on her complicated – and often highly dramatic – reasons why and you’ll soon lose in interest in what’s going on down on the pitch below.
I won’t re-tell her epic tale, except to say that it inevitably involves a roguish sailor from the north east. He was a Roker Park regular the last time a team wearing striped shirts won the league (1936, to save you looking it up) but – to the anguish of family and friends – had to export his love of the game down south after getting a job in Hampshire’s most famous dockyard.
It’s such stories which make our two clubs what they are.
At Portsmouth, compelling quirkiness extends far beyond our relic of a stadium which dates back to 1898, the same year Roker Park was built.
The city is imbued with a footballing folklore to rival any of the nautical tales you usually hear about the place.
For example, little is made of the fact that Charles Dickens was born a few streets away from Fratton Park, albeit slightly too early (Forget moving tales of orphan Pip, but for a few decades Great Expectations would have been about a Victorian pre-season). Sherlock Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, was our first goalkeeper.
Throw in the Pompey connections of numerous other national icons including Field Marshal ‘”Monty” Montgomery of Alamein (a past president known for his distinctive exclamation: “Pway up Pompey”) and you can see that the great and the good were supporting us long before we became fashionable.
Not that we are fashionable, of course.
Despite being the current FA Cup holders and boasting four England internationals we’re still about as trendy as a barnacle encrusted diving bell, or naval flares.
Sunderland might have celebrity fans including Sir Tim Rice, Lord David Puttnam, and the scandalously as yet untitled Colin Randall but, with due respect, Roy Keane won’t ever be complaining about a prawn sandwich eating brigade at the Stadium of Light.
Portsmouth and Sunderland are about far more than passing commercial fancies.
We’re not brand names, but historic institutions, fired by passion and eccentricity. That’s why anybody should feel free to support us both.
And now for the questions….
What did you think of our respective clubs’ prospects before the season
started? Have the first few games altered your thoughts?
I though there would be some predictably embarrassing losses against one or other of the Big Four (Chelsea appears to have emerged as a….ahem… ‘bogey team’ for both of us this season), the possibility of a cup run, and a respectable finish above the bottom three. And, for Pompey if not Sunderland, the promise of balmy nights in Europe for Harry Rednapp’s blue-and-white-army.
Nobody warned us that we’d be expected to travel to sinister east German industrial towns which no-one has ever heard of.
And certainly nobody mentioned Harry walking out on us. Our FA Cup winning manager had come to personify Pompey’s rugged charm. He built the club’s success at the beginning of the 21st Century and was set to lead us on a season-long charge through Europe, the possibility of another cup final appearance, and into a new stadium.
Instead he’s disappeared off to Tottenham; perennial under-achievers whose ‘small town in Arsenal’ tag defies their big club aspirations.
We all know that football is big business nowadays, and that the lure of big bucks can persuade any dewy-eyed badge kisser to suddenly find a deep-found passion for another club, but why on earth has he gone there?
I thought that Sunderland had good prospects of appearing more on French TV screens, thanks to Djibril Cissé, but also because of players like Steed Malbranque (who, despite being Belgium-born made his name at Lyon) and El Hadji Diouf (from French-speaking Senegal). This means I’ve seen a lot more of them than usual. Hope we get you in the FA Cup Final this year, as we should have done in 1992.
When did you last see SAFC v Pompey home or away, and what happened?
Last season at Fratton Park. It was an awful game, with a Jermain Defoe penalty being the difference between the two sides. The highlight of the day was a Sunderland fan asking if he could buy his programme at the end of the game. ‘They’ll be cheaper then’ he reasoned.
Have you been to the Stadium of Light. Roker Park?
Shamefully, I’ve never been to Sunderland. It was always considered one of those far away entities which – like the FA Cup and Europe – you could admire on television, but never get anywhere near. Now that we’ve done Wembley in May, and Wolfsburg in November is on the horizon, my first visit to the fairest city in Tyne and Wear might come sooner rather than later.
What about the signings each club have made? Had you heard of Kenwyne Jones before he left the Saints for us?
Must admit I never followed Jones’s progress at Southampton. I’d have been more likely to follow the fortunes of his first club, Joe Public FC from Trinidad and Tobago. Keane had brought in some great players at Sunderland, and he’s doing a fair job making them play for him.
Harry made his usual excellent signings, as he always did, but I can see the best of them following him up the A3 to a small town in Arsenal come January. I particularly hope that Lassana Diarra and Sylvan Distain remain, as they’re both from Paris and have earned lots of French fans for Pompey (the word makes many of them think of their ex president Georges Pompidou, which always amuses me. I always tell them that he has as much to do with the club as Bobby Charlton has with Charlton Athletic. This leaves them even more confused) Pompey’s French connection means I don’t feel so embarrassed when I ask the barmaid in my local if she can empty the lounge bar by sticking our meaningless mid-tabler against Aston Villa on the box.
Do you regard Southampton much as we regard Newcastle? Or are you more
grown-up about such things?
Southampton is a dreary, lifeless city – Portsmouth without the passion and heritage; a Solent cruise ship compared to an invincible man-o-war steaming into Europe and beyond…. I remember doing work experience as a cub news reporter in Soton (compare that limp abbreviation to a proud, classically poetic description like ‘Pompey’), and couldn’t wait to get out. We had to start every news article report with the cliché ‘A Southampton man/woman’ but I used to leave out the second word. Never got a single story in the paper during my fortnight there… As to the football club, well I couldn’t name a single player nowadays, or tell you where they’re positioned in the league. Who cares. There are serious problems in the world at the moment, and childish prejudices against second division cities are the last thing we should be concerning ourselves with….That said, did you hear the one about the dominatrix whose uniforms and chains weren’t having the desired effect on punters who screamed: ‘Humiliate me!’ She got them to wear a Southampton shirt instead….
Kevin “The Hatchet” Ball (pictured courtesy of A Love Supreme) and his tackles are a vague memory. And so, increasingly, is poor old David Nugent, who chose us instead of you.
What do you make of the big takeovers, such as Man City and, before them, Chelsea, yours, Man Utd, Fulham and QPR?
There’s something far more than not-quite-right about these takeovers. In the short term they’ve meant success, but nobody is really sure where it’s all leading. Our owner’s father is currently on trial here in Paris for arms dealing and related offences (that’s a fact, not an opinion, for any lawyers reading). Harry Rednapp is, as everybody seems to have forgotten, still under investigation, with the Crown Prosecution Service currently examining City of London police files about his case. Harry’s spending following huge injections of foreign cash is at the heart of the enquiry. There are similarly dark sides to all of the above takeovers. Most of us take the futures of our clubs for granted, just as we used to take the futures of our banks for granted…
Best moment as a Pompey fan? And worst?
Best was going to Wembley for the Cup final last season, although the quarter final victory at Old Trafford comes a very close second. Worst was losing to Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final in 1992. We would have played Sunderland in the final, ensuring that our pre-Harry recent history could have been very different.
Club vs country. Who wins for you?
I don’t think there’s any need for a choice, in that I associate England with hugely enjoyable summer knock-out tournaments, while Pompey slog on week in, week out through autumn, winter and spring. England are a delightful – if ultimately frustrating – distraction from what it really means to be a football fan. I’ve followed them away a number of times, including to Germany for the 5-1 victory in 2001, and was at all their matches at Wembley for the Euro’96 campaign. I think those running England are disgracefully inept at the moment, however, with the money they pay to an effectively part-time manager quite scandalous. Playing world cups in places like Japan and South Africa has also demeaned international football, with Pompey’s day-to-day fortunes a far more enticing prospect.
Who will win? Score? How will you keep tabs?
Tony Adams is desperately in need of a first win and I hope he’s going to get one, with a Crouch header winning the game. Sadly I’ll be preparing for 90th anniversary commemorations of the end of World War I in Picardy, northern France. Everyone’s entitled to a hobby, but in this case I’m on duty for one of the newspapers I work for. I doubt there’ll be a television out on the former battlefields but, in keeping with the spirit of history, am hoping to arrange for a gutsy northern carrier pigeon to fly the result in from North-east England.
* Peter Allen on Peter Allen:
I’m a journalist based in Paris who regularly takes the Eurostar, London underground, and train to Fratton Park to support Pompey. He first visited the ground as a schoolboy in the 1980s when, he admits, ‘the intimidating chants and subsequent punch ups were often the only entertainment on offer.’ The world changes, of course (though not the woefully outdated stadium) and Peter is currently planning his first ever journey to a glorious night of European football….in Wolfsburg, east Germany. Wolfsburg, for those who have never been there, was purpose built by Nazi slave workers in the 1930s as a home for local car factory workers. It’s twinned with Luton.
**** Colin Randall