Erik Huseklepp: The Big Interview

Erik Huseklepp scored six goals in 27 Championship appearances for Pompey   Picture: Steve Reid
Erik Huseklepp scored six goals in 27 Championship appearances for Pompey Picture: Steve Reid
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Last week in The News, former Fratton favourite Erik Huseklepp revealed he would consider a return to Pompey – if the timing was right.

Fans on the south coast could perhaps be forgiven for struggling to get their head around that admission, though.

Firstly, at 31, Huseklepp is hardly ‘past it’ in footballing terms and the idea a man who has scored winning goals against France and Portugal in senior internationals for Norway would entertain a move to English football’s lower leagues is something of a talker.

Secondly, the attacker affectionately nicknamed Erik the Viking did not exactly stick around for too long last time out in a bleak stay that saw both administration and relegation befall the Blues.

But football is an illogical and emotional game and there perhaps lies the reason Huseklepp has refused to shut the door on his Pompey past.

Under contract at Norwegian second-division side SK Brann until December, 2016 – the club he left the Blues for three years ago – Huseklepp has mostly fond memories of his whirlwind one-season stay at Fratton Park.

A £1.5m 2011 summer signing from Italian side Bari, the forward believed he was joining a Pompey side set for promotion back to the Premier League.

Six months, 28 games and six goals later and he was on his way out of the door of a club in financial meltdown, with an unwanted loan spell at Birmingham preceding a free transfer to former club SK Brann at the end of the season.

But throughout all of the uncertainty and disappointment, Huseklepp is unable to forget the Fratton faithful and what it meant to play in front of the most passionate fans of his career so far.

And as he looks back on a promising stay cut short by off-the-field problems, Erik the Viking is refusing to rule out a future return to an ‘amazing’ club.

He said: ‘If there was a place I wanted to go back to it is definitely Portsmouth because I really enjoyed my time there.

‘I am very sorry the way that things turned out.

‘If the chance popped up again I would consider it because of the atmosphere there.

‘The club is amazing and the fans are amazing.

‘When I signed, I knew they had recently come down from the Premier League.

‘But the idea when I was coming was to aim for the top-flight again – that is why I joined.

‘The ambition of the club was maybe not to achieve that in my first season there but within two or three years the goal of the club was to go back up again.

‘Steve Cotterill was the man who got me and believed in me and I liked him as a manager.

‘I was a bit disappointed to see him leave so early in my Portsmouth career (for Nottingham Forest) though.

‘Michael Appleton (Cotterill’s replacement) was very fresh in the game and I didn’t understand all of his moves, but it wasn’t like I didn’t like Appleton.

‘I just believed more in what we were doing with Cotterill than Appleton at the time.

‘It’s difficult to say what was the difference but what I liked about Cotterill was that he was very direct in the way that he acted around everybody.

‘You never had to wonder what he was thinking because he was just telling you straight.

‘If it was bad or good, he would say – he would never hold something back.’

Huseklepp was not holding back on the field either, introducing himself to the Fratton faithful in sensational fashion, with his first Blues goal an injury-time acrobatic volley winner against Blackpool.

‘That is one of my best goals of my career – especially with the timing and everything,’ said Huseklepp.

‘It was a very special moment.

‘I was very tired at the time – usually I would try to take a touch before I shoot but then I just put out a foot and it went straight in!

‘I had played a very good game so to top it off with a goal in injury-time, it couldn’t be better.

‘It took a little bit of time to adjust to the kind of football in the Championship, but that goal really kicked me off.

Spectacular strikes followed for Huseklepp in victories against both Nottingham Forest and Peterborough as he continued to endear himself to Blues fans.

In both games, the attacker netted doubles, demonstrating the other side of his game with the less glamorous but equally-important tap-ins.

Huseklepp said: ‘One each against Nottingham (Forest) and Peterborough were tap-ins but the other two goals I was happy with.

‘The first one, against Nottingham, I cut inside and found the far corner with good pace on the ball.

‘And the second goal against Peterborough I had to go past the last defender before I coolly placed it into the bottom corner.

‘I have scored some nice goals for Portsmouth!’

Sadly for Huseklepp, though, the goals were cut short by events off the field of play.

With Michael Appleton in charge following the departure of Steve Cotterill, the Blues boss was forced to offload his top goalscorer to Championship rivals Birmingham in February 2012, in a bid to get Huseklepp off the wage bill at a club in financial crisis.

That’s after Pompey were issued with a winding-up petition by HMRC for more than £1.6m in unpaid taxes, following owner Vladimir Antonov’s resignation after parent company Convers Sports Initiatives entered administration.

While Huseklepp understood his loan move north was important to help Pompey relieve their financial difficulties, it did not make it any easier for the fans’ favourite to depart a club and city he had fallen in love with.

Huseklepp said: ‘That move is the move I regret the most in my career – to leave Portsmouth and join Birmingham at the time.

‘I really didn’t know what to do because the manager told me he wanted me to leave and then I felt I didn’t have any choice.

‘He probably had to say that because of the administration but I think if I could choose again I probably would have stayed.’

Relegation to League One became a sad inevitability for the Blues after a promising start to the season, as players were offloaded in order to ease the wage bill.

For Huseklepp, who returned to the club from an unhappy loan spell at Birmingham, that signalled the end of a whirlwind stay on the south coast as a move back to his homeland and former club SK Brann beckoned.

But only after the Norwegian had played his part in helping to keep the Blues alive by accepting a reduced settlement on his remaining wages.

And it was that gesture, combined with his impressive on-field displays that earned Huseklepp a warm half-time ovation when he came back to visit friends and take in Pompey’s 0-0 League Two draw with Accrington last weekend.

‘When the club was struggling I was one of the players who didn’t demand their outstanding salary,’ said Huseklepp.

‘It was not right to put myself before the club.

‘Since then I always wanted to come back to watch a game because I love the atmosphere and the fans were always extremely nice with me.

’My biggest fear was that it would all turn quiet so thank you to everyone that I got a very warm welcome!

‘I have been to a few clubs outside of Norway and of them Portsmouth is the club that I feel closest to.

‘It almost feels like my second club.’

ERIK HUSEKLEPP ON

...ACTING BANANAS

While on international duty with Norway in 2010, Huseklepp and team-mates Jon-Arne Riise and Morten-Gamst Pedersen starred in a amusing viral commercial to promote fruit.

With Huseklepp set to dig into the pick’n’mix section at a supermarket, Riise and Pedersen were on hand to suggest a healthier alternative for their mate via the medium of song, obviously.

We had to do it because of sponsors!

It is always like that when you are with the national team –I probably had the least worst part as I didn’t have to sing!

They (Riise and Pedersen) didn’t have a problem with the commercial, though, those guys had fun doing it.

n See the funny video online here

...REPRESENTING NORWAY

I have played 37 times and scored seven goals for Norway which is a good achievement for me.

But the last few years I have been disappointed that I haven’t got more caps.

Me and the club I play for now (SK Brann) struggled a lot last year but now I am working myself back to form.

...THE CURRENT BLUES SIDE

Huseklepp returned to Fratton Park to visit friends and watch Pompey’s 0-0 League Two draw with Accrington last weekend.

It was very nice to be back and you could see that there were some qualities in the side.

But I understand that game was probably the worst of the season.

I don’t want to judge them by that.