Boys of 2003 brings Redknapp’s standing into focus

Pompey celebrate their league title in 2003. Picture: Steve Reid (032070-39)

Pompey celebrate their league title in 2003. Picture: Steve Reid (032070-39)

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It remains one of the most divisive issues for fans until this day.

Which is quite something seeing as his status as Pompey’s most successful manager of the modern era remains assured.

Harry Redknapp and Lassan Diarra after the FA Cup success in 2008

Harry Redknapp and Lassan Diarra after the FA Cup success in 2008

Now, the time arrives to assess his standing and place in the club’s history once again.

The wheels are firmly in motion to laud one of greatest sides to don royal blue: ’Arry’s team.

On July 30, the Boys of 2003 will gather at the Marriott Hotel in North Harbour and be joined by those who cheered them to the Division One title in that never-to-be-forgotten campaign.

Linvoy Primus is leading the inviting on behalf of the Pompey Former Players’ Association as the process of gathering the players gathers pace.

Merse, De Zeeuw, Taylor, O’Neil, Stone, Yak, Quashie, Toddy & Co will be seeing the call to come and savour those halcyon days fall on their doormat.

And Linvoy will be requesting the pleasure of Harry’s company in 18 weeks’ time.

‘Linvoy will be asking him,’ said association secretary Jake Payne.

‘He deserves that. I’d hate him to come and get stick. You don’t want him to have that.

‘He got us to our first Wembley final in over 60 years and he got us to the first division.

‘The 2002-03 season was one of my all-time favourites and he was the man behind that. You’ve just got to move on sometimes.’

And time has been a great healer for the many Pompey fans who were left hurting by his defection along the M27 to Southampton in 2004.

A relationship with chairman Milan Mandaric had completely broken down but Redknapp, as he later admitted, underestimated the strength of feeling between the south coast rivals.

Redknapp was having trouble fathoming why he was being subjected to abuse from Pompey fans on passing boats, as he took a dip outside his Sandbanks home each morning.

It took someone making the very perceptive point the situation was akin to a scorned lover taking retribution to give him clarity.

Pompey may have stormed to the title in record-breaking fashion in ’03 but it certainly wasn’t all plain sailing.

One win in nine through December and January saw some jitters develop among fans and Redknapp made his frustrations known about that.

‘The last time anything was won here Jimmy Dickinson was playing,’ was his oft-quoted phrase. It stuck in the throat for supporters.

The condescending tones have long since dissipated in the intervening years, however.

Even during his second spell at Fratton Park, the appreciation of Portsmouth’s island mentality was a lot more evident.

‘It has great fans to the extent that, if you live in Portsmouth, you are a Portsmouth supporter,’ he said.

‘If you walk around in that town, you don’t see people wearing Manchester United or Arsenal shirts.’

There’s an undoubted pride which exists today for the 69-year-old and his achievements at PO4.

Those words resurfaced as he spoke of his desire to search for investment, as the club faced their second period of administration four years ago.

Some fans would view that as a bit rich, seeing as it was Redknapp who spent the cash creating the most talented Pompey side they are ever likely to see as the debts were built.

But those who take that position overlook it’s not a manager’s lot to oversee the handling of a club’s purse strings.

It was never down to Redknapp to call for restraint on spending as the financial crisis loomed under Sacha Gaydamak.

As Pompey toured South Africa in the summer of 2008, the tap was turned off when a bid was made to bring in Shaun Wright-Phillips.

The riches being lavished upon the team disappeared and the first cracks appeared in the Gaydamak regime. By October, Redknapp was gone.

Spurs offered the opportunity of better prospects and security with Pompey on the brink of meltdown.

Emotive though it was deserting the club for a second time, it’s a move, in all probability, we’d have all made.

Your place of employment looks to be going under and you are offered a lucrative escape route. What would you do?

The temperature was still running high, however, as Redknapp returned to Portsmouth three days after his exit to receive the freedom of the city.

But even with feelings so raw back then boos and heckles were turned to cheers at the Guildhall that afternoon.

There are some who simply can’t forgive, however.

And one of Redknapp’s keenest critics will have the table he always purchases for the ‘Boys of’ events.

Eddie Crispin spent 18 months following Pompey on the road after Redknapp’s return at the end of 2005.

He refused to watch one of his team’s play, however.

Instead, Crispin would travel and not enter the ground when the action took place. He was outside the JJB Stadium when Redknapp’s side completed the Great Escape in 2006.

Eventually, his stance softened when a £2,000 payment to the Tom Prince Cancer Trust was offered up for him to end his protest.

Crispin’s position over Redknapp hasn’t changed a jot to this day, though.

He said: ‘I’d never forgive him. When he told the kid outside Fratton Park he wouldn’t go up the road and then did, that was it for me.

‘He was a big part of everything we achieved, of course he was, but I can’t forgive him for what he did.

‘He didn’t have to take that (Southampton) job. He said he didn’t want to uproot his family but he hasn’t done that for the Derby job he’s taken this week.

‘So, no, I can’t forgive him. Would you forgive someone who went off with your missus?’

So the hard-line position still exits but Crispin, it’s fair to say, now finds himself in a shrinking group in his militancy.

He’s promised to keep it to ‘a bit of abuse’ and no more at the end of July.

But what of the rest? What of those at the Boys of 2003 dinner and those who refused to shake Redknapp’s hand when he went out of his way to meet them as Pompey played in Nigeria after the FA Cup win?

What of those who celebrate being able to witness Sol lifting the FA Cup in their lifetime and those who cherish beating Redknapp’s Spurs two years after that victory?

The intervening years appear to have afforded a context to how Redknapp is seen by fans and, likewise, how the man himself views his Pompey achievements.

And, for both, those memories are undoubtedly cherished.

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