Coming to a non-league ground near you

Former Pompey striker Vincent Pericard has joined the Hawks on a short-term deal
Former Pompey striker Vincent Pericard has joined the Hawks on a short-term deal
The drivers' dispute might be over, but at what cost?

CLIVE SMITH: The dressing-up corner is now no longer safe from the PC brigade

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A friend of mine ventured out to watch Welling United play the other day.

Actually, more like a friend of a friend, not that it’s particularly relevant.

Anyhow, he decided to take in his local Blue Square Bet South side.

With it being an international weekend, spared of Premier League and Championship fixtures, it seemed perfectly natural to seek his footballing entertainment elsewhere.

That place was Park View Road, the home of the Wings.

Keep with me here, don’t turn that page.

The opposition that day was fellow Blue Square Bet South side Woking – an encounter sufficiently attractive to draw in a crowd of 1,214.

And among the opposition’s line-up was none other than Paris Cowan-Hall.

Ah yes, Paul Hart’s first-ever Pompey signing.

Well joint-first – he arrived in a double deal with Callum Reynolds from Rushden & Diamonds in April 2007.

Initially recruited for the Academy, the closest Cowan-Hall ever came to stepping out with the Blues’ first team was during the 2009-10 pre-season under Hart.

He even netted in the 6-1 demolition of Eastleigh – a match perhaps more memorable for David Nugent’s hat-trick.

You see, non-league football is full of these supposedly wonderful Pompey prospects who never quite fulfilled the potential others saw in them.

Cowan-Hall is merely one instance, a drop in the ocean.

Take Vincent Pericard as another fine example.

A familiar name who these days can be found over at Havant & Waterlooville.

The former Juventus striker scored nine goals in Pompey’s magnificent march to the division one title in 2002-03.

He later became Tony Pulis’ first signing as Stoke manager during his second spell in charge.

Yet injuries took their toll, while he was imprisoned for four months in 2007 after lying about being the driver of a car caught speeding.

Pericard spent last season at Swindon where he couldn’t prevent them being relegated to League Two.

Recently, he had been trialling at Bournemouth, but has now joined the Hawks on a short-term deal.

Incredibly, he is still only 28.

Does anyone also remember Neil Barrett?

Well, he’s at Westleigh Park as well these days.

He was the teenage midfielder who burst into Graham Rix’s Pompey first team.

Having taken over the Fratton Park hot seat in February 2001, Rix brought in a young player who had impressed in Chelsea’s youth team.

Sporting a spike-topped haircut, scarlet cheeks and a shy demeanour, he became a regular.

Barrett would make 23 starts that season and three substitute appearances, scoring two goals.

When Rix departed, one of Harry Redknapp’s first acts was to axe the youngster.

Barrett never played for Pompey again.

Instead, his career took him to Dundee, Livingston and then into the non-league scene with Woking, Ebbsfleet and York.

After a trial at Luton, he signed on at Westleigh Park last month – immediately evoking misty-eyed reminisces of his time elsewhere on the south coast.

Still in his 20s, Barrett has so far made five appearances for Shaun Gale’s side.

Of course, there was another fellow Chelsea youth teamer who followed Barrett to Pompey.

He also followed him into non-league football.

Courtney Pitt was a pacy left winger blessed with the wonderful ability to infuriate.

Unlike Barrett, Redknapp didn’t bomb him out of his side.

Instead, he turned to the winger at the tail-end of that 2001-02 campaign, with Pitt responding with two goals in three games.

Then he was bombed out.

Still, he made 41 appearances during his first season at Fratton and later drifted through various loan spells and into non-league football.

A tribunal had fixed a fee of £200,000 when the teenager joined from Chelsea.

Barrett would join Oxford United for nothing in the summer of 2004, where Rix had also taken up residency.

He would actually make more than 150 appearances for Cambridge, netting 15 goals.

His other clubs include Boston, York and Weymouth.

He was last heard of at Blue Square Premier side AFC Telford and is still listed on their website as a player.

However, the 29-year-old has yet to make an appearance this season.

Another player in the Conference is the aforementioned Reynolds.

The central defender arrived with Cowan-Hall, yet was well behind him in terms of Pompey progress.

Loaned out to Basingstoke and Luton on occasions, as a result, even his reserve-team appearances were sporadic.

Since being released by the club in the summer of 2010 he has played for Basingstoke.

He turned down the chance to remain there this season and signed for Tamworth following a successful trial.

What’s more, the 21-year-old appears to be playing regularly for the Lambs.

Perhaps his dreams of the Football League aren’t over just yet.

Then there is Nick Jordan, the young Pompey keeper who nowadays is on loan at Salisbury City.

The former Milton Cross schoolboy sat on the bench for the opening match of the 2006-07 campaign against Blackburn.

Aged just 16 and three months at the time, he was thrown into the first-team squad following injuries to Dean Kiely and Jamie Ashdown.

However, he never managed to make a first-team appearance and was released in March 2008.

Since then he has played for Exeter and Crawley in the non-league before joining Weymouth.

Presently, Jordan is team-mates at Salisbury with current Pompey youngster Lewis Stockford, who has joined them on loan, too.

Dropping down to the Isthmian League premier division and Rob Wolleaston is currently plying his trade at Harrow Borough.

The striker made six Pompey appearances while on loan from Chelsea during the 2000-01 campaign.

His career petered out with Bradford, Oxford, Cambridge and Rushden & Diamonds before he was released by Weymouth last month after 40 appearances.

Of course, there are plenty more Pompey players treading the non-league boards.

Closer to home, Luke Nightingale (Bognor), Perry Ryan (Hawks) and Ellis Martin (Gosport) are others who can be watched on a Saturday afternoon at a ground near you.

They may never have fulfilled what was once expected of them, yet they are still playing football at decent levels.

Just keep an eye out for them, you never know when you might see them on a football pitch when you least expect it.