You arrive at Reebok Stadium by car or train. A few months ago I visited by car after suffering from concussion and couldn't remember where the car was parked until 90 minutes after the match was over. This time I arrive at Horwich Parkway Station 200 yds from the entrance. We were in the Roy Hartle Suite prior to kick-off for a snack, and then in the Away Directors Box.
Well, there were NO away Directors present. The visitors, Portsmouth were already relegated, and in administration with previous owners, directors etc. long gone to the Middle East, Far East, Middle Earth....!! who knows? A few interested Premier managers including Everton's David Moyes joined us Goodfellas for what turned out to be an interesting match. I was with the always interesting Francisco Marcos, President of the USL who entertained me most handsomely in his native Portugal 14 months ago with lavish hospitality and sardines the size of dolphins.
To our right at one end, in The South Stand, 200 brave Pompey fans were in full voice in a stand that had the other 6,000 seats empty. I counted 22 police being paid double time and 42 stewards in bright yellow. Banners such as 'Pompey European Tour' were meaningless as the F.A. and E.P.L. have banned them from playing in the Europa League next season. I sat next to Peter Mellor the very experienced goalkeeper coach who is the new National Technical Director of the United Soccer Leagues.
Earlier in the season chairman Phil Gartside, a controversial figure in the game, 'pinched' manager Owen Coyle from Burnley, up the road in East Lancashire. Coyle has proved to be very popular with the fans and the players, much more so than the former manager Gary Megson who was sacked on December 30th, a week before Coyle arrived and I month after I was last at The Reebok.
It looked all over by half-time as The Wanderers went ahead 2-0 with two wonderfully worked goals in a couple of minutes. This after England hopeful David James had made some incredible saves earlier on. Ivan Klasnic put in a neat cross from the mercurial Jack Wilshere, on loan from Arsenal. I hadn't realised how small the lad was but he can hold his own. Kevin Davies fired in the second after a wizardly run from Slovak Vladimir Weiss,
This didn't stop the singing, chanting Pompey Army, more a platoon than a battalion. 'Were Going to Win the Cup', 'Play on Pompey' and more. Too few to do the wave, they made their presence known. The second half belonged to them and Aruna Dindane. His outings have been limited because the club owe Lens FC £4 million but the 29 year old has been cleared to play, now, in the F.A. Cup Final against Chelsea, and in South Africa for the Ivory Coast. He converted a pass from Frederic Piquionne and then another from John Utaka's assist, to earn a point.
Avram Grant on the sideline was pleasantly suprised. What a great spirit he has show in adversity these past few months
The official programme has won awards and is a very good read, packed with articles about the club, the opponents, and even what's happening overseas. Well done editors Paul Holiday and Rob Urbani, and designers Simon Pringle and David Morris.