Alan Stephenson: The Big Interview

Alan Stephenson, left, arrived at Pompey in May 1972 from West Ham in a �32,000 deal.
Alan Stephenson, left, arrived at Pompey in May 1972 from West Ham in a �32,000 deal.
Brett Pitman celebrates his winner against Blackpool. Picture: Joe Pepler

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When Alan Stephenson arrived at Pompey in May 1972, only Mike Trebilcock and Norman Piper had cost the club more money.

Blues boss Ron Tindall was so keen to recruit the defender, though, that he journeyed to Upton Park to instigate the £32,000 deal himself.

Stephenson, then aged 27, had played more than 100 times for West Ham, most of them alongside England World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore, and for many Blues fans represented great value for money.

Indeed, when Stephenson joined the Hammers from hometown club Crystal Palace four years previously, he broke the British transfer record for a centre-half at £90,000.

But having fallen out of favour in the capital, the former England under-23 international was happy to leave top-flight football behind for regular game-time in the second division at Fratton Park.

Stephenson said: ‘I wasn’t a regular in the West Ham side in my last season.

‘But the manager at the time Ron Greenwood told me he was going to play me in our last game against Southampton and that Ron Tindall was coming up from Pompey, if I was interested.

‘I tended to play well against Southampton, so it was a good game for Ron to pick to watch me!

‘After the game I met up with him and we arranged to meet down in Portsmouth.

‘I was looking for a new start and a new career down at Pompey.

‘They weren’t in dire straights, so I dropped out of the first division to play for them in the second division and that wasn’t a problem for me.

‘I knew Ron from my cricketing days because I played against him for Essex seconds at Surrey.

‘Back in our day, footballers didn’t go on tours to America, so our summers were spent in our cricketing whites!’

It was the blue of Pompey that Stephenson wore with regularity in his first season at the club.

Results on the field were mixed, though, and despite an impressive personal campaign, Stephenson was unable to keep the man who recruited him in a job.

The summer of 1973 brought a change at the helm and in the boardroom, as new chairman John Deacon brought in John Mortimore to replace Tindall.

Things appeared to be going well for Stephenson, who was fast becoming a fans’ favourite with his composed displays at the heart of the back four.

Mortimore was quick to realise this by handing him the captain’s armband and, with Deacon splashing the cash in a bid for top-flight football, great things were expected from the club in their 75th anniversary season.

Sadly, though, Stephenson suffered from second-season syndrome.

The Blues ended the campaign with the worst defensive record in the division with the skipper missing a number of games through injury and non-selection.

He said: ‘I settled in well and was made to feel very welcome by the lads down there.

‘I had a good first season and actually declined Ron’s offer to become captain as I wanted to settle into the side.

‘It wasn’t until John Mortimore came in that I took up the armband – and that was a time when the club brought in some more players.

‘Mr Deacon had a bit of cash floating around and brought in Peter Marinello, Phil Roberts, Malcolm Manley and Paul Went.

‘The money spent didn’t guarantee success, though.

‘We just couldn’t get in or around the top half-a-dozen teams.

‘We seemed to have some very good players but not gel as a team.

‘The fans were very supportive of the team although crowds weren’t particularly high at that time, I think there were around 10,000 on the gate.

‘Both Ron and John wanted nice passing football, but again, that doesn’t necessarily get you results.’

The Blues ended the campaign in the bottom half for the second successive season.

For Stephenson, it was one of great frustration.

He said: ‘I had a cartilage out and went into hospital.

‘When I managed to get fit again I struggled to get back in the side.

‘I had issues with injuries but that was not an excuse – maybe I hadn’t been playing so well.

‘The club signed Paul and Malcolm but I regained my place come the season’s end and was still very happy at the club.’

While results may not have been great on the pitch, the camaraderie and togetherness of the group could not be questioned.

Indeed, the 1973-74 pre-season testimonial for Albert McCann was one that threw up great – if slightly unusual – memories for Stephenson.

He said: ‘We all put on a show for Albert McCann’s testimonial.

‘We all got dressed up and went on the stage. Peter Price was chief entertainer and balanced a broomstick on his chin.

‘The rest of us were dressed up as women and that sort of thing.

‘It was a fantastic evening for Albert and showed the social side of the group.

‘We all got on very well as colleagues and friends.

‘Those who had come from other clubs were always made to feel very welcome by the likes of Ray Hiron and John Milkins.

‘And on the social scene the likes of Peter Marinello and George Graham who joined later on, were always a lot of fun to be around.’

Graham arrived midway through the Blues’ 1974-75 campaign which unexpectedly proved to be Stephenson’s last.

Back in his regular central-defensive slot, though, playing under a third manager in as many seasons, the Blues again failed to find the consistency required to mount a meaningful promotion challenge.

A third-successive bottom-half finish beckoned, this time under Ian St John’s tuition.

Stephenson produced arguably his best form as a Pompey player.

But owing to financial necessity, he was one of seven players given a surprise free transfer at the end of the season.

Stephenson said: ‘I always gave my best for the shirt.

‘But it was difficult at times because the club changed the manager every year, they went from Ron to John to Ian St John.

‘My departure was never explained to me.

‘I was just called in by Ian St John to say they were going to let me go – I was expecting him to maybe offer me another contract.’

With an off-season summer switch to Denver Colorados all but agreed prior to his Blues exit, Stephenson was forced to reassess his own situation.

He took his young family out to South Africa to play for Durban United before retiring from the game at the age of 33.

Though the Blues may not have reached their expected heights with Stephenson in the side, or indeed seen the best of a defender with undoubted talent, he is able to look back on a four-year 106 game spell with great pride.

He said: ‘I was privileged to play for a club with such history.

‘I don’t regret my time at Fratton Park at all. It was an amazing experience – okay I didn’t win anything but I didn’t get relegated with the club so that was a bonus!’

Now aged 70, Stephenson is enjoying retirement in Colchester, after working as a pub landlord and education and welfare officer.

He said: ‘I’ve been blessed in life to have enjoyed three very different careers.’