I am refusing to be drawn into The SunвЂ™s вЂPompeygateвЂ™ debate! Well, theyвЂ™re trying to create a debate (and much worse) around the Portsmouth takeover, but the substance of their stories so far lends itself more to the name вЂDrivelgateвЂ™. So letвЂ™s just ignore them until the dealвЂ™s done.
A couple of weeks ago, I featured a classic match against Oxford United from 1984. This was part of the first season of three consecutive pushes for promotion to the first division by Alan BallвЂ™s вЂdogs of warвЂ™ in the mid 1980s. Deservedly, we got there at the third time of asking. But, there was another notorious match against Oxford United wasnвЂ™t there?
Ironically, Jim Smith was our manager this time, having been the Oxford boss in вЂ™84. It was a midweek away fixure in November, and its significance didnвЂ™t become clear until the end of the season. But, even as the result came in, the game was instantly memorable; you would always remember where you were! ThatвЂ™s because it finished 5-5! And not only because it finished 5-5. Portsmouth were 5-3 up going into injury time. Talk about throwing it away! It is the game that must have flashed into every Pompey fanвЂ™s mind the moment end of season playoff heartbreak was confirmed. Those two dropped points would have done it for us.
We would have been up. As it turned out, it was another ten years before we finally made it with only the slightest sniff, in one single season, in all that time. It is easy now to underestimate the frustration and injustice I felt. It was the same feeling brought about by the FA Cup semi final defeat to Liverpool the previous season. That was washed away when we finally won the FA Cup again last year.
Similarly, our Premier League status is now firmly established, but that game haunted me. Granted, I was only young and attached too much significance to these things, but I am willing to bet more than one adult fan was haunted by it too, a victim of success starvation.
The team were playing well that season, the previous seasonвЂ™s FA Cup success acting as a catalyst. But I think IвЂ™m right in recalling that, in a way, it meandered along for a while with Pompey sitting in 9th place or so, always looking threatening, but nevertheless just sitting there. No it was the spectacular run in of twelve wins from the last fourteen that made that season so memorable, along with Guy WhittinghamвЂ™s successful strike partnership with Paul Walsh, and record breaking 42 league goal haul. 42 league goals!
Every fan will have their favorite memories of that season, and there were many. The point when I knew it might really be on was a fantastic 2-0 (Whittingham, 2) midweek away win at Tranmere, which I had the privilege to be at. West Ham lost the same night (at Oxford I think) and the sense that we could do it was palpable. We had to come from a hell of a long way behind though! But the wins kept coming.
A draw at Millwall was a slight setback, but a good result nonetheless. It was the 4-1 defeat to Sunderland at Roker Park in the penultimate game that really did for us. we had actually gone top of the table the previous week with a win at home to Wolves (Newcastle had games in hand), but everything went wrong at Sunderland. Walsh was sent off early on, and it didnвЂ™t get any better. I even let off an air horn as Don Goodman stepped up to take a penalty, but he slotted it home anyway! That win kept them up. Even on the last day, when we needed a favour from Cambridge against West Ham, the Fratton End went delirious over a false Cambridge goal report, but it wasnвЂ™t to be. Leicester City did the rest in the play-offs.
My mind returned to Oxford, but I think IвЂ™m right in saying that this was the era when positions were decided on goals scored rather than goal difference. Two more over the course of the season would have done it for us. A 4-3 defeat at Sunderland for example. But so, of course, would an extra point. Two defeats against West Ham didnвЂ™t help, but I could never get that Oxford game out of my head.