Bally’s boys are still on top

Pompey's 1986-87 division two winning team celebrate their success. Left to right: Paul Marriner, Alan Knight, Kevin O'Callaghan, Vince Hilaire and Mick Kennedy
Pompey's 1986-87 division two winning team celebrate their success. Left to right: Paul Marriner, Alan Knight, Kevin O'Callaghan, Vince Hilaire and Mick Kennedy
Sonny Bradley, right, will face his old side this weekend. Picture: Joe Pepler

Bradley: Pompey clash is the one I look forward to

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It was 28 years ago last Sunday Pompey went top of Division Two.

‘Another win, another clean-sheet – and another two-goal strike by the predatory Mick Quinn,’ was how the incomparable Mike Neasom described Birmingham being defeated 2-0 in Going Up, the definitive chronicle of an unforgettable season.

It was the first time Alan Ball’s men had topped the table and a clear indication the 1986-87 campaign was really going somewhere.

Maybe it was a year later the Great Storm ravaged the country but this team was like a hurricane to the senses of an impressionable youngster like myself.

And rivals were finding this rag-tag bunch of ‘Gremlins’, as their manager described them, weren’t scared of exerting their influence with gale force, either.

It seems incredible to say what the Boys of ’87 achieved took place longer ago than the 27-year absence from the summit of English football they were ending for their club.

But the memories will remain vivid for those star and crescent followers who witnessed it (even if an anchor, sword and football made up the crest which adorned the players’ chests back then).

The components of the starting 11 made for a whole which was everything a successful English football team should be.

There was Alan Knight’s unsurpassed shot-stopping between the sticks and the back four in front of him which would, at times, make him a virtual spectator.

Noel Blake and Billy Gilbert’s central partnership would defeat strikers before a ball was kicked, such was their fearsome reputation.

‘Let the winger know you’re there with the first tackle,’ was the message from my old man to me as a young left-back. That meant flying in with the authority of Paul Hardyman in my mind’s eye.

Captain Kenny Swain completed the back four with that dependable voice of experience, which comes from being a European Cup winner.

In front of them was a midfield with the perfect blend of silk and steel. Kevin Dillon’s range of passing, eye for the spectacular and, of course, ‘dead-eye’ penalty skills were perfectly complimented by Mick Kennedy’s legendary generalship.

Outside of them was Kevin O’Callaghan’s nous and class, while we all know Vince Hilaire’s searing pace carried him here, there and everywhere...

Paul Mariner was dismissed as a has-been but went on to make 40 appearances and prove the perfect foil for a certain Mick Quinn up front.

It was Quinn who was the poster boy of the side, and the hero to Pompey youngsters – even if he did spend three weeks detained in Winchester Prison for driving offences.

He still managed to bang in 28 goals – harvested in pairs like against Birmingham, a trait which earned him his ‘Noah’ moniker.

Some sneered at Pompey’s success that season and the way they achieved it. It was levelled by rivals Ball was handed an empty chequebook to go about his business.

The reality, however, was he took Pompey to the promised land without paying for a player for 14 months.

And he did so relying largely on just 12 players – with 10 of them appearing 40 or more times. These men didn’t need a rest.

The no-nonsense approach of the team sat perfectly in the image of the city and the fans they represented.

Then there was the partying off the pitch which generated that unity and explosive fighting spirit.

Success is relative, and just as the achievements of recent years is seen within the context of the millions spent, so should the efforts of Bally’s heroes be judged on their constraints.

It’s that – and the way they are so ingrained in the spirit of Pompey – which makes them my best side of the modern era.