Barry Horne: The Big Interview

Barry Horne with his Pompey player-of-the-year trophy for the Blues' 1987-88 top-flight campaign which ended in relegation
Barry Horne with his Pompey player-of-the-year trophy for the Blues' 1987-88 top-flight campaign which ended in relegation
Matty Kennedy. Picture: Joe Pepler

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Barry Horne didn’t make life easy for himself.

That’s not an outsider’s observation but a confession from a man whose footballing journey was unparalleled in so many ways.

A student of the game, Horne gained a first-class degree in chemistry and materials science from the University of Liverpool before swapping neutrons for new boots at fourth-division Wrexham.

But a self-imposed three-year time frame for progression in the professional game was then jeopardised by a puzzling decision to spurn the advances of higher-league club Gillingham for no apparent reason.

When that gamble paid off and newly-promoted Pompey offered the rarely-afforded opportunity to jump from the lowest to highest league of English football in 1987, Horne faced another obvious hurdle – regular game time.

Starting out on the sidelines at the age of 25, the £60,000 Welsh midfielder admirably forced his way into boss Alan Ball’s reckoning to not only survive but thrive in a Blues shirt in the top flight.

So much so, in fact, that he was to claim full international honours and earned Pompey’s player-of-the-year trophy for the 1987-88 season in the process.

The Blues’ 29-year wait to play against the county’s biggest and best sides was to end in heartache, however, as Ball’s men were relegated at the first time of asking.

Horne had made himself into an instant fans’ favourite, though, not least because of his opening goal in the south-coast derby 2-0 win at fierce rivals Southampton.

But fast-foward one season and it was the red and white half of Hampshire Horne inhabited after making the switch between the arch enemies.

In doing so, he became the first man since Bill Rochford in 1946 to move from Fratton Park to The Dell and received hate mail from both sets of fans along the way.

Perhaps inevitably, hardy Horne was to overcome the adversity to be a success at both Southampton and boyhood club Everton, with whom he won the FA Cup in 1995, the highlight of a distinguished career.

But it is his journey to and from the Blues which is still a topic of conversation among the Fratton faithful a quarter of a century on.

Horne reflected: ‘I left university with a degree, halfway through a PhD to join Wrexham who were struggling in the old fourth division.

‘I gave myself three years to see if I could make a career in the game and that for me meant I had to get out of that division.

‘Gillingham, who were a third-division side looking to get promoted to division two, came in for me and agreed a fee.

‘I turned them down, not really knowing why.

‘It just didn’t quite feel right but the very next day, Alan Ball came in for me.

‘I jumped in the car and drove down and signed there and then.

‘As an Evertonian there was a draw there for me (World Cup winner Ball played for the Toffees more than 200 times) but I didn’t need any convincing – Pompey were in the first division after narrowly missing out in the seasons before.

‘It mattered not to me that the team were possibly going to struggle but that it was my chance to play in the big time.’

It was not expected that Horne would be a regular choice but once given his first-team chance he was never out of the side.

He said: ‘That was a great dressing room.

‘I walked into it with lads who had been through thick and thin, scrapping on the pitch and going out socialising together.

‘There were no shrinking violets in Billy Gilbert, Noel Blake, Kevin Dillon and Micky Kennedy.

‘I had to prove myself, down on the training ground the tackles would be raining in on me.

‘You just had to respond in kind and stand up and give as good as you got – they appreciated that.

‘But I was sub for my two first games at the club against Oxford and Chelsea.

‘I got my chance against West Ham a few games later – Liam Brady was returning for them and I played up against him.

‘I got man of the match and we beat them 2-1 – it was our first win of the season.’

For tough-tackling Horne, it was the first of many impressive displays in a Blues shirt – not least the derby victory at Southampton.

He said: ‘I had experienced a Chester-Wrexham derby but that was my first south-coast derby, having missed the game at Fratton Park (2-2) earlier in the season.

‘My goal was a big moment and to score was absolutely fantastic.

‘All three of my goals that season came in away-day victories (Saints, Norwich and Spurs).

‘I got into the Wales squad as well and I think I ended up winning all of the player-of-the-year awards, which was incredible.

‘The only bad thing – and it’s a big thing – was our relegation.

‘We also got to the quarter-final of the FA Cup and lost on a plastic pitch at Luton (3-1) which was a travesty – we could have gone further.

‘We beat them at home in the league on grass.

‘We slid into the relegation zone, though, and couldn’t quite get our heads above the parapet.

‘I remember a game at home to Newcastle, we had to win – Paul Gascoigne played – but we couldn’t.

‘Relegation just seemed to sneak up on us a little bit and before we knew we were in it we couldn’t get out of it.’

With the Blues struggling in their attempt to bounce back to the top flight at the first time of asking, boss Ball was sacked in January 1989 and John Gregory replaced him at the helm.

Just two months later, Horne – craving a return to first-division football – was also on his way out of PO4 for £700,000, a huge return on the £60,000 bargain picked up a year-and-a-half previously.

But to the dismay of the Fratton faithful who had taken him into their hearts, his destination was a little too close to home.

Horne said: ‘I tended to make things difficult for myself.

‘Who in their right mind would do that?

‘Player of the year at Pompey goes up the road to their rivals.

‘I got hate mail from both sets of fans.

‘But I would like to say to the Pompey fans, that at no point did I ever ask to leave.

‘I got on well with the Pompey fans, as players we would go out in Southsea regularly together as a group and there was a bond between us and them (the fans).

‘Put it this way, if any other club who was watching me had come in and stumped up the cash, I would have gone to them – trust me.

‘There were bigger clubs and there wouldn’t have been the Portsmouth-Southampton rivalry problem but they stumped up the cash and the club accepted it.

‘It was deadline day and it was Southampton or Portsmouth.

‘First division or second division?

‘We were mid-table and weren’t threatening the promotion places, so that was the choice really.’

Horne’s controversial move to Southampton ended an eventful 70-game, seven-goal spell at Fratton Park, as the midfield

ball-winner went on to play more than 100 games for the Blues’ rivals.

A transfer to boyhood club Everton followed, where Horne lifted the FA Cup in 1995 before assuming the role of PFA chairman when his playing days were over.

Now aged 52, Horne – who also won 59 Wales international caps – is now a teacher of chemistry and physics and director of football at The King’s School in Chester.

BARRY HORNE ON:

...BEING CHAIRMAN OF THE PFA

I was the PFA representative at every club that I played for.

I was asked to join the managing committee in the early 90s and was elected chairman in 1995 at Everton.

With the rise and rise of the Premier League and the influx of foreign footballers, the PFA has almost become irrelevant but as an organisation it still does have some functions.

But way back when, it was a very important body in football.

The players were going to go on strike about the distribution of television revenue (2001) and the last thing I did was resolve that and I was very proud of that.

That left the PFA a legacy which guaranteed their future.

...BATTLING BRAINS WITH BRAWN

I was halfway through a PhD when I walked into a pro football dressing room, which is one of the hardest things to do anyway – never mind the fact that you’ve got something slightly strange about you.

I took some stick but at the end of the day all that mattered was whether you performed on a Saturday afternoon.

...ALAN BALL HITTING HOME

I remember vividly one of the first team talks Alan Ball gave – and I’m not sure many of the other lads in the dressing room would have felt it the way I did.

He compared the Portsmouth fans and people to Liverpudlians and Evertonians in their passion, support and expectations for the team – it really hit home for me.