Dave Waterman: The Big Interview

Former Pompey utility player Dave Waterman with son Oakley, who died from a rare form of cancer in 2005
Former Pompey utility player Dave Waterman with son Oakley, who died from a rare form of cancer in 2005
Pompey's Brett Pitman scores a penalty in the Blues' 1-1 draw against Walsall at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South.

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Cut him open and he’ll bleed blue.

It’s a phrase which has come to be associated with Dave Waterman and his passion for Pompey.

He may hail from Guernsey – where his uncle has a house called the ‘Fratton End’ – but PO4 is firmly ingrained in Waterman’s heart.

And there is no one who better understands the power of the Blues people.

In tragic times they have rallied around Waterman and his family, following the loss of his son, Oakley, to cancer.

Now the far-reaching power of the Portsmouth community is changing lives through Oakley’s Wish – the dream of his son to help young children like himself.

Waterman’s own dream of turning out for the club he loves can be traced back to a representative match in Gosport as a teenager.

That helped cement a link which has remained in place ever since – and made the utility man’s Channel Islands family very happy.

‘I would have been 13 when I came over,’ Waterman said, as he outlined how his Pompey journey began.

‘I was playing for a Guernsey side against Gosport and Fareham.

‘Dave Hurst came along, watched the game and then came up to me afterwards.

‘I’ve always been a Pompey fan. My uncles and cousins are Pompey fans. So when he introduced himself and asked if I’d like a trial I couldn’t have been happier.

‘There were scouts watching me, and I was always hoping one day there’d be a Pompey scout.

‘Luckily, Hursty gave me that opportunity.’

The Pompey connection with the Channel Islands is perhaps one which isn’t well known.

It’s one keenly felt by Waterman from a young age, however, and only grew deeper when he got to wear the star and crescent on his chest 88 times.

Waterman said: ‘People work on the docks in Guernsey and the first port of call is Pompey.

‘There’s quite a big following.

‘My uncle, Monty Waterman, is a mad Pompey fan. His house is called “Fratton End” with a big memorial on the door.

‘People send post to Monty Waterman, Fratton End – and it goes straight to the house!

‘He was involved in SOS Pompey in the 70s. My uncle and dad would come over and play for a side against Pompey pub sides and we’d come over to watch them.

‘So we’ve been into Pompey from an early age.

‘As a kid, once you go into Fratton Park it just grips you.

‘That’s why a lot of the players end up connected with the club.

‘It’s because of the fans and the atmosphere it creates.

‘People said I’d bleed blue, and I got linked with that.

‘I don’t know about that, but Pompey’s in my heart. To play for the club you love is just fantastic.’

After emerging in a youth set-up along with the likes of Deon Burton, Aaron Flahavan and Sammy Igoe, it was Terry Fenwick who was handed Waterman his Pompey bow in 1996.

The post-Euro 96 influence of Terry Venables was also being felt at Fratton, and the whole experience proved an eye-opener for a young and hungry player.

But then came a start on the opening day of the season at Manchester City, a tussle with one of his best friends in football and some exchanges with the kings of Britpop.

‘When Jim Smith was pushed out Terry Fenwick came on board,’ Waterman explained.

‘Fen was good for me. He liked hungry young players who’d put themselves on the line and work hard on the training pitch.

‘We went to Norway for my first pre-season. It was a bit manic and an eye opener to a youngster!

‘It was a crazy time but I wanted to just play football. There were all these parties going on and we had a game the next day.

‘We had Terry Venables come out in a sea plane and land on a lake. There’s Venables and Fenwick, an England defender.

‘I really wanted to impress and I started at Manchester City at Maine Road in the first game.

‘Oasis turned up and were giving it the large one in the corridor.

‘It was all part of the experience and Bradders (Lee Bradbury) was making his debut for City, and he is one my best friends. It’s stuff you won’t forget.’

It was the 1997-98 season which saw Waterman involved in his most seminal moment in Fratton folklore. The 38-year-old was in Alan Ball’s side as survival was sealed with the famous 3-1 success at Bradford.

But it’s a less-heralded pre-season clash which also remains vivid in Waterman’s memory. When you go up against Gianfranco Zola, Mark Hughes and Gianluca Vialli across 90 minutes, it’s not a game you’re likely to forget, though.

‘Maybe it was my age, but I didn’t realise how significant the Bradford game was,’ Waterman said, as he looked back to the famous afternoon in Yorkshire.

‘I just felt like we’d get a result and results would go our way.

‘The game passed me by a bit after we got a couple of goals. It was just a case of hanging in there.

‘To this day, it’s the game fans want to talk to me about and the celebrations afterwards.

‘One I remember is playing Chelsea in pre-season.

‘I came up against Zola and had to man-mark him. He went off at half-time after I caught him.

‘Then they brought on Mark Hughes and I had a bit of a tussle with him. We squared up to each other and he said he was going to hurt me.

‘I just had to stand up to him. Fen pulled me after the game and said not many do that to him. He seemed proud.

‘But they took Hughes off and then Gianluca Vialli came – and it was Vialli who straight-armed me and gave me a cracked nose!

‘I had to deal with three world beaters in 90 minutes! That was an experience.’

Waterman’s Pompey career came to a close under Harry Redknapp in 2002, as he moved to Oxford United. It was shortly after that switch Oakley was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

The little fighter lost his battle in 2005. But through the pain of that loss, the Waterman family have seen the galvanising effect it has had on the community.

Now Oakley’s dying wish – through the Oakley Waterman Caravan Foundation – is coming true.

Waterman said: ‘When Oakley was terminal he said to myself and my wife Lorraine he wanted us to buy a caravan for children like him to use.

‘It seems children going through these things become young adults. They are resilient and show a strength of character.

‘It’s Oakley’s strength which has brought me and Lorraine as far as we’ve come.

‘It would have been easy to give up, dwell and be miserable for the rest of our lives.

‘I never thought I’d be able to smile. We’d laugh with people but we were never really laughing. The pain was there.

‘But it’s Oakley’s character and his vision which changed it.

‘It’s basically Oaks’ community.

‘I think it was a plan of his, if I’m honest, and he knew what we’d have now.’

There’s around 350,000 reasons to admire what has been achieved in Oakley’s name since 2005.

That’s the awe-inspiring figure raised as Oakley’s spirit lives on in some outrageous fundraisers.

‘These challenges are quite serious,’ Waterman said.

‘The 24-hour run, a 450-mile bike ride, charity boxing, we swum the Solent and are doing it again on Tuesday. It’s incredible.

‘People in the past were living different lives and they say Oakley’s charity has changed theirs.

‘It’s hard at times. Five years ago we were heavily grieving and the recession kicked in.

‘The funds weren’t there and it became difficult.

‘But then you receive letters from the families and children of those who use the caravans.

‘Oakley came alive in that family time we had there.

‘The memories will last forever for those families, too – and that’s when you know it’s worth it.’

DAVE WATERMAN ON...

...OAKS’ COMMUNITY

If there’s a problem there’s an Oaks’ Army member willing to help and it’s a special group.

There’s people who would walk past each other in the street who have become close.

When times are hard I have Oakley on my shoulder.

But these people are physically putting themselves out for Oaks.

We need to raise between £80-100,000 for the new caravan.

At the moment we are 70 per cent of the way there this year.

We’ve had 10 challenges and people doing other things.

We’ve still got a way to go but it keeps me out of the pub!

...GETTING PLASTERED

These days I’m a plasterer.

I’m up at 5.30am in the morning – a bit different to starting at 10am in my playing days!

I’ve always been a plasterer anyway and even when I was playing would help out in the summer.

As long as I had a trade I was happy.

...THE NOBLE ART

We have a lot of help from the boxing community and Ballys Gym.

My brother Lee is boxing for Football For Cancer and Oakley in November.

And Floyd Moore is going to wear a Pompey shirt in the ring for his next fight and donate it to us auction off. That’s really good of him.