Alan McLoughlin: The Big Interview

Alan McLoughlin, right, celebrates after firing Pompey to the 1991-92 FA Cup semi-finals

Alan McLoughlin, right, celebrates after firing Pompey to the 1991-92 FA Cup semi-finals

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Most players are under pressure to impress when they join a new club.

Alan McLoughlin, though, had no choice but to hit the ground running at Pompey.

Our name wasn’t on it that year but we were all absolutely devastated

Alan McLoughlin

That’s after he joined the Blues from arch rivals Southampton.

It’s a seldom-trodden path and one the former Irish international midfielder admits he underestimated upon arrival.

The good news for ‘Macca’, as he is known, was he endeared himself to the Fratton faithful in the best possible way.

In only his third game with the club, the new recruit scored the goal that sent Pompey to a first FA Cup semi-final in 43 years.

That paved the way for a nine-season stay at PO4, which ended with the fans’ favourite inducted into the club’s hall of fame.

But McLoughlin, who became Saints’ first £1m man in December 1990, initially arrived on loan at the Blues in February 1992 with a point to prove.

He said: ‘Southampton deemed I wasn’t capable and didn’t play me in the right position.

‘The best way I saw possible to make them think differently was to make the move over to Pompey!

‘It wasn’t done out of spite – it was done because I wanted to play.

‘I will be honest, I didn’t realise until I stepped into Fratton Park and spoke to the likes of Darryl Powell and other Pompey born-and-bred people what it meant to move from Southampton.

‘I soon knew I would be going out to a cauldron of noise and abuse – the fans didn’t let me down.

‘But there after, it is about sticking your chest out and believing in your ability.’

Thankfully, McLoughlin didn’t have to wait long to get the fans on side, netting the only goal in the Blues’ 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final win over Nottingham Forest.

‘I couldn’t miss,’ he joked.

‘The boss Jim Smith and Graham Paddon had watched Mark Crossley and felt he wasn’t good on crosses, so I was instructed to stand underneath him.

‘I was right where I was supposed to be and thankfully it scraped off my knee, rolled down my shinpad and went in.

‘Everyone was jumping up and down going wild and every boo, hiss and chant that was directed at me was quickly forgotten!’

Pompey’s prize was an epic semi-final showdown with Liverpool, which the Blues were desperately unlucky to lose in a replay penalty shootout.

Smith’s side had led in extra-time in the first game at Highbury before being pegged back at the death – a situation Macca believes he might have helped to avoid.

He said: ‘We were underdogs to Graeme Souness’ team.

‘We knew we weren’t going to dominate the game for long periods, so would have to sit and defend and be organised – we were.

‘I had actually gone off a few minutes before Darren Anderton ran through and fired us ahead.

‘I was marking Ronnie Whelan in the game but after the substitution there was probably a little bit of confusion as to who was picking him up at the free-kick.

‘Knightsy made a great save to tip it on to the post but who was there to tap it in? Whelan!

‘It’s all ifs, buts and why nots.’

The goalless Villa Park replay ended in penalty heartache – but only after Macca had rattled the crossbar late on for the Blues.

He said: ‘I hit the crossbar with my left foot from about seven yards out – I actually thought the ball had gone out for a corner so I was busy appealing for that.

‘When I looked round the ball was virtually at my feet, so I just swung a left foot at it and it crashed against the bar.

‘People conveniently forget the three who unfortunately missed penalties, so you get labelled as the one who hit the bar!’

A scene of devastation ensued but over time, Macca has taken a more philosophical look at defeat.

He said: ‘Our name wasn’t on it that year but we were all absolutely devastated.

‘I am proud to say I was involved in a semi-final, though.

‘I still have my full kit in pride of place at home.’

More frustration followed for the Blues as the 1992-93 season saw Smith’s side narrowly miss out on promotion to the Premier League.

McLoughlin said: ‘We conceded nine goals at home in the league and still didn’t get promoted.

‘It’s an incredible stat.

‘Our problem was we had a very inexperienced group of defenders, obviously we had the likes of Kit Symons and Andy Awford.

‘But we didn’t have that old head to go on long trips away from home and I felt at the time that was the catalyst for why we didn’t go up.

‘We had myself, Paul Walsh and Guy Whittingham – a front three who could score, create and cause any team any sort of problems.

‘Sadly, West Ham pipped us to the Premier League by two goals.’

Third-placed Pompey instead came unstuck in the play-offs to Leicester, with suspended Walsh a big loss to the Blues’ cause.

McLoughlin said: ‘The biggest thing for us was to not have Paul Walsh available for those games.

‘He was a fantastic player and to have him missing on the teamsheet put us at a disadvantage.’

Macca remained at Fratton Park for a further seven seasons but nothing was to match the excitement of his first two, with Pompey unable to mount another serious promotion push under Smith, Terry Fenwick or Alan Ball.

He said: ‘Mismanagement and poor decisions on reinvestment in players meant it wasn’t until Bally came back we steadied the ship.

‘Terry Fenwick was underrated and, although we had a couple of run-ins, I liked what he was trying to do. He was a very good coach.

‘I only had three managers in nearly 10 years at Pompey.

‘We had some great players, like John Aloisi and Mathias Svensson to replace the likes of Whittingham and Walsh.

‘But again it was always a case of being able to score goals and excite the fans but never quite being able to get it right at the back. It is what it is and you can’t change it.

‘What goes on behind the scenes is not in the players’ control.’

Not in either player or manager’s control, however, was Macca’s Blues departure as he was forced out of the club he loved.

He said: ‘It wasn’t Alan Ball who sold me, it was a case of Milan Mandaric, the chairman, wanting to get rid of Bally and his coaching staff and the only way he could finance that deal was to sell me.

‘I had just built a house in Warsash and the day I moved in, was the day I signed for Wigan.

‘I was told I wouldn’t play again if I didn’t leave.’

While Mandaric may have shown McLoughlin a lack of respect, Pompey’s fans didn’t, with the midfielder’s Southampton links firmly forgotten with his 2010 Hall of Fame induction.

Former team-mate Awford then brought Macca – who scored 67 goals in 354 games – back to the Blues to work in the Academy set-up before he made the step up to first-team coaching duties.

He said: ‘Andy Awford contacted me as Pompey Academy manager and I have to thank him for that.

‘He reintroduced me to football and back to the club I love.

‘Myself, Ian Buckman, John Slater, Andy and Paul Hardyman all shared the belief we could turn these kids into good players.

‘We fought tooth and nail to keep the Academy together – there was talk in administration that we needed to save money.

‘But fair play to the club they went with our predictions that we had talented kids here who could make Pompey a lot of money.

‘It was great to become a first-team coach and see these players given their debuts. Paul Cook is bearing the fruit now.’

Following his departure from the Blues’ coaching staff in 2014, Macca is now lead development coach for Swindon, where he lives.

‘It’s not a 6am leave to go down to work now,’ he joked.

‘It’s a five-minute drive to training rather than an hour and a half – but it is what it is and I enjoy what I do.’

ALAN McLOUGHLIN ON...

...A WEEK TO REMEMBER

We played Blackburn on the Saturday and Manchester United on the Wednesday in the 1992-93 season, both away cup ties.

At Rovers, we drew 3-3 and played great as a team on the day.

Individually, to score a hat-trick at the side who were the champions with Shearer and Sutton up front was a special achievement.

And then to go to Old Trafford in our blue shirts, blue shorts and white socks and earn a 2-2 draw in front of 8,000 travelling fans was special.

I had a nailed on penalty not given and to this day whenever I see Paul Parker he even admits it was a penalty!

Walshy scored a couple that night and we took them to a replay as well.

They were great times.

...FAMOUS FRIENDS

Noel Gallagher knows me and I know Noel – we went to St Mark’s Catholic School in Manchester together.

Pompey played Man City in the 1995-96 season and Noel came and jumped on me.

I am so proud of what he has achieved – we sat in class together and little did I know he would be writing tunes.

...FREE GUINNESS

In the final game of the qualifying campaign for the 1994 World Cup – Spain were playing in Denmark and we were playing Northern Ireland and we had to match their result.

I scored the equalising goal for the Republic of Ireland and we went through.

For those old enough to remember I still manage to get the odd free Guinness in Dublin!

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