Counting Back The Days For D Iii Football Start Date Portsmouth Promotion Season 1986-87

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Portsmouth Promotion Season 1986-87

As I write, I’m staring at a giant Portsmouth poster on my office wall at home. That’s a team picture. Not from the 2008 FA Cup winning side. Nor did the 2003 championship winning side. Neither did the 1992 FA Cup semi-finalists. The poster features my real heroes, the 1987 promotion winning team.

They represent what first attracted me to Pompey and football at around the age of seven. Yes, they were a good team, but they were essentially the same team that had come so close to promotion the previous two seasons, only to miss out at the death. Yet they had the courage to go one more time and succeed. It wasn’t all plain sailing the third time either, but it was third time lucky. The entire city was proud of their achievement in delivering top flight football for the first time in 28 years.

Alan Ball was under pressure after underachieving in the previous two campaigns and verbally attacked the players following the League Cup win at Fourth Division Wrexham. He ended the upset by informing the players that he was planning to resign. The next day, training continued as usual and no more was said! Characteristic of this group of players and managers at the time.

Obviously, the fans were not aware of these developments at the time, but there were also many memorable matches during that season. Kevin Dillon scored a hat-trick of penalties in the Full Members Cup (!) game against Millwall at Fratton Park. Pompey also sent on three players before half-time in a league game at Bramall Lane at Sheffield United, only to lose 1-0! There was also a memorable 3-2 Boxing Day win at Plymouth. Strange things seemed to happen during that season. Leading scorer Mick Quinn was jailed for three weeks for driving without a license in January, but he’s still back to take part in our final promotion!

A famous match that season was the FA Cup Fourth Round at Wimbledon. It was a rare televised game for Pompey in those days and was inevitably a complete disaster. Wimbledon had got us promoted the previous season and played uncompromising football. In fact, they were ‘unhinged’ and Alan Ball hated losing to them. But after going 1-0 down, Alan Knight bent down to lift the shoelace on the restart. The ball quickly found its way to Noel Blake in the middle of the defence, who (this was in the days when the goalkeeper was allowed to pick up a backpass) flicked it back to Knight without looking. The knight was still doing his laces! It was 2-0 and Pompey eventually lost 4-0.

Pompey were in contention as usual at the end of the season and played two more games at home to Millwall. In a famous victory, Paul Mariner scored before Kevin O’Callaghan added a memorable winner after an indirect free kick in the penalty area. Some thought that was enough for promotion that day, but we wanted one more point. They looked to be going at Crystal Palace in the next game, but a late Ian Wright winner grabbed it. Normally, it’s never going to be easy with that Pompey team and we need help from Shrewsbury Town next night against Oldham. They duly delivered and the promotion was finally ours.

Although the promotion was not secured in front of our own fans, I’m sure everyone remembers where they were when it was confirmed. I was visiting family in Cambridge. I was only ten years old, but the memory was so powerful for me that I still remember it. I was supposed to go to the final against Sheffield United at Fratton Park with a friend and his uncle, but there was a mix-up with tickets and I regret not having 28,000 others there to celebrate that day.

But, that disappointment is not my memory of that season. I went to the civil reception with the same friend and his uncle (no doubt a little guilty). But despite all the on-pitch developments (some taken from Alan Knight’s autobiography, ‘Legend’) and memorable matches mentioned, the team’s meaning to me is very simple. I spent the first two seasons of my Pompey life watching us finish fourth and narrowly miss out on promotion, only to see the team bounce back and succeed at the third attempt. He told me that if you keep trying and never give up, you can achieve your goals. It was pretty easy for me as a ten-year-old boy, and that’s why they’re still stuck on my wall.

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