Berry failed to enjoy fruits of Pompey labour

Steve Berry played 31 times for Pompey, scoring three goals before Bobby Campbells arrival at the club signalled the end of the teenage talents all-too-brief Blues career
Steve Berry played 31 times for Pompey, scoring three goals before Bobby Campbells arrival at the club signalled the end of the teenage talents all-too-brief Blues career
Milan Lalkovic celebrates his goal at Newport. Picture: Neil Marshall

Free-scoring Pompey’s slice of pre-season history

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Different managers like different players.

It’s an inescapable fact of football.

For Steve Berry, though, it was the defining reason behind his unfulfilled Pompey promise.

Heralded after an impressive first season in the professional ranks, which saw the teenager play 30 times and score three goals, Berry looked set for a long south-coast stay.

But with Frank Burrows shown the door, incoming boss Bobby Campbell had other ideas and failed to see what the fuss surrounding the local lad, who had joined from Gosport Borough, was all about.

Given money to spend, Campbell set about building a third-division title-winning side.

Emerging talent Berry, who had top-flight scouts watching on with interest the previous season, was written off and forced to lament his misfortune.

Bullish Campbell was vindicated by his ability to deliver promotion at the first time of asking, although his sacking less than a season later offered Berry a glimpse of redemption.

Incoming manager Alan Ball liked the soon-to-be released player but under orders from chairman John Deacon was forced to abide by Campbell’s already-penned list of retained players.

At the age of 21, shocked Berry made the step up for first-division football with Sunderland.

Ball could only send a regretful telegram after an impressive Mackems debut affirmed his opinion Campbell had erred in not retaining the player.

For Berry, though, it was a demonstration of the harsh realities of the game.

He said: ‘It was frustrating to be cast aside, dispatched to the reserves and not offered any first-team chances.

‘As a local lad, I really wanted to stay at Portsmouth and had no intention to leave. But when Bobby Campbell came in, he had his own way of wanting to play,

‘There was a job to be done and he did it well, I have to say, bringing the likes of Neil Webb and Mark Hateley to the club.

‘I can’t complain about not playing in front of those guys.

‘But I wasn’t involved at all – that is what was so frustrating.

‘Any player will tell you if they feel involved and they have a chance to impress, then a chance will come if they play well enough.

‘With Bobby and me it was a case of: “You are not going to play for this club again. I don’t like you, believe in you or see what the fuss is all about”.

‘That was tough and the problem with Bobby, for me, was the manner in which he did that.

‘He was quite ruthless in the way he treated the young players – it was a change in style from the way Frank and his staff worked.’

While Pompey enjoyed a season to remember as Campbell delivered on his bold pre-season promotion prediction, exiled Berry was unable to bring himself to join in the celebrations.

The following campaign did not go so well for the Blues, though, with Campbell shown the door with one game left to play.

Berry, loaned to Aldershot and with his contract coming to an end, sensed a reprieve under Alan Ball, only for Campbell’s judgement to return to haunt him.

‘For the club, the supporters and some of the players I was close to, I was delighted we were promoted,’ said Berry.

‘But I wouldn’t hide the fact that, from a personal perspective, I was hacked off not to be celebrating in the same way as the other players.

‘I had not contributed at all, which was such a hollow feeling.

‘When Bobby was sacked a day before the last game of the following season, I had huge hopes Alan Ball would keep me at the club.

‘But of course there was a retained list already drawn up and Alan didn’t have the job permanently – he only had it on a caretaker basis, so I was released.

‘My contract was up and there were changes made at the top, it was Mr Deacon who was the chairman at the time.

‘He said to Alan to go by Bobby’s retained list when he took over for the last game.

‘I was on loan at Aldershot at the time so I felt withdrawn from what was going on at Portsmouth.

‘But when Alan called me in and told me I was not being retained, I was shocked.

‘It was horrible, for a week or two it was a real numb, disappointing feeling.’

Despite strong interest from Southampton, Berry made the trip north to play for Sunderland in the top flight – testament to the regard in which he was held in by those who had seen him play.

An impressive debut, against Saints, reaffirmed Ball’s belief in the player.

Berry said: ‘The first telephone call after I played for Sunderland, in fact it was a telegram, was from Alan Ball.

‘He said: “Congratulations Steve, you proved everybody wrong and me right. I couldn’t have kept you, as you know, because of certain things that were going on but best of luck. I am delighted for you.”

‘That was a measure of the man, it was fabulous.’

Also fabulous was Berry’s start to life with the Blues as the teenager grasped the opportunity given to him by Burrows at the start of the 1981-82 campaign.

Berry said: ‘It was a brilliant time for me under Frank, who developed the youth side pretty much from nothing because of the financial problems we’d had.

‘Alongside Alan Knight, who was a couple of years older, I was one of the few local boys who broke through into the first team.

‘I was hugely privileged and excited to be told I was going to start the season.

‘The first game we ended up drawing 1-1 with Lincoln – it was all a blur.

‘I was a young player with a lot of old heads in the team, the likes of Steve Aizlewood, Andy Rollings, Micky Tait, Bobby Doyle and Billy Rafferty – there were a lot of good players around me who helped to keep me calm and included.

‘Frank managed me well and eased me in and out of the team to help me stay fresh.

‘He took care of me and supported me.

‘Halfway through the season there were a number of clubs who were taking an interest in what I was doing by virtue of the fact I was holding down a first-team place at that age.’

His first league goal did little to dissuade impressed onlookers he was a potential star in the making.

Playing against Bristol City, Berry started and finished a move which began in Pompey’s penalty area – firing a stunning 35-yard effort into the roof of the net to the delight of the Fratton faithful.

He joked: ‘A few people have since asked if I actually meant it!

‘When you shoot from that distance, you don’t pick a spot, you just put as much power as you can behind it and hope it dips!

‘The goalkeeper, Jan Moller, stood at 6ft5in and it flew over his head and into the top corner.

‘It was certainly a highlight of my time at Pompey.

‘I had scored at home in the League Cup and away at Walsall but that goal was special to me as it was my first at Fratton Park in the league and bit of a spectacular one, which was nice!’

Sadly for Berry, his Pompey potential was left unfulfilled as he went on to make just one subsitute appearance after his breakthrough season under Burrows.

At Sunderland, he played at Wembley in a League Cup final before spells in both Hong Kong and Germany followed in a 25-year career, which ended with a successful player-manager stay at non-league Kettering Town.

Now aged 53, Berry, who lives in France, runs his own Paris-based executive search business, Tillerman.