No lip service from Pompey’s past – instead the heart spoke

Dejan Stefanovic features in Played Up Pompey Too. Picture: Tony O'Brien

The flight comfortably exceeds three hours, an onerous journey whose 1,079-mile stretch carves a passageway through Europe’s heart.

It has been five years since Dejan Stefanovic reunited with Belgrade, now he’s on a return trip.

For the likes of the classy defender, existence as a Pompey player may be fleeting, yet its grip is lifelong.

They may not sit alongside the Fratton faithful, nonetheless there are footballers who proudly parade the badge upon their heart long after the legs have slowed.

That immortal bond is the driving force behind Stefanovic’s return to the city next weekend.

He stands alongside 23 Fratton favourites interviewed for new book Played Up Pompey Too, providing candid – and often emotional – recollections of south-coast days.

As a result of his involvement, the 42-year-old is venturing from Serbia with wife Maria and daughter Jenny to attend the book’s September 15 launch in the Victory Lounge.

He won’t be alone at the top table. Bobby Kellard, Colin Garwood, Paul Walsh, Mike Trebilcock, John Milkins and John McClelland have also indicated attendance that evening.

It has been little more than a decade since Stefanovic’s four-and-a-half-year Pompey love affair ended at the hands of Harry Redknapp following 125 games and three goals.

His account of those Fratton days is frank and forthright, particularly on the subject of Alain Perrin.

Stefanovic was instrumental in the Frenchman’s removal, pleading with Milan Mandaric to act.

In a March 2017 phone interview conducted from his Belgrade home, he recalled: ‘“Mr Chairman,” I said. “If you want to stay alive and remain in the Premier League there is only one way – you need to get rid of Alain Perrin and to bring back Harry”.

‘He looked at me, he was shocked, maybe he was thinking “Wow, not Harry Redknapp again!”.’

Interviews for the book often involved face-to-face meetings surpassing two hours, while phone calls regularly stretched past 90 minutes.

Stefanovic’s former team-mate, Steve Stone, also contributed, yet cannot be present on Friday.

This summer he was employed by Burnley’s scouting department.

The immensely-popular player never featured for the club after the memorable 4-1 humiliation of Southampton in April 2005.

Perrin’s desire for Stone not to meet a contract clause entitling him to an extension upon reaching 23 Premier League appearances ensured his exit was amid acrimony.

‘Nearly all of us hated that manager,’ said the 46-year-old during a November 2016 interview at Close House, a golf club outside Newcastle.

‘He tried to rule with an iron fist but there was no need to be like that.

‘We were decent people, good pros, we understood if we had to move on but the way he handled the changing room was wrong.

‘More than a decade after my departure, it sticks in my throat.’

Honest contributions form the spine of Played Up Pompey Too.

Garwood’s Blues career almost ended after two matches having pursued John Deacon for money pledged during talks in his March 1978 transfer from Colchester.

Pompey’s chairman had promised a lump sum to enable the striker to put a deposit on a home – and didn’t appreciate being reminded of it.

Deacon had his revenge, of course, ejecting Garwood for Aldershot following 34 goals in 78 appearances.

‘I had just scored in a 3-1 victory (against Halifax). Everything was going really well, I was loving life,’ said Garwood during an April 2017 interview at Southsea’s Holiday Inn.

‘Then Deacon did that to me. I couldn’t believe it and I was extremely angry.

‘Poor Frank (Burrows), I don’t think he wanted to sell me, but he didn’t have a choice.’

Garwood is another attending the book launch, travelling from Wisbech, in Cambridgeshire, with his wife.

Elsewhere, the evening presence of David Norris was curtailed by an FA Cup fixture with Shaw Lane AFC.

The source of that iconic St Mary’s moment is still playing at the age of 36 for the Barnsley-based Northern League premier division side.

His goal in last weekend’s 3-1 triumph over Radcliffe Borough represented a first FA Cup win in the club’s history.

Next weekend the Ducks head to Blyth Spartans in the second qualifying round.

Still, making his first appearance at Fratton Park since leaving in February 1975 will be Kellard.

In June 2016 we met at Rossi’s Cafe on the seafront of Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex.

The straight-talking 74-year-old delivered bruising observations between mouthfuls of egg and chips.

He said: ‘(Ian) St John was a terrible boss and in love with himself.

‘He kept looking in the mirror – there was only one person in his world and that was him.

‘One day St John got the ball (in five-a-side), I tackled him and he jumped out of the way and shouted.

‘I said “If you can’t take it mate, you had better not play. When I train this is where I get my time in for tackling, I am not going to avoid tackling you”.’

Of course, plain-speaking is not monopolised by those already mentioned.

Others in the book include Jed Wallace, Svetoslav Todorov, Kevin Dillon, Mick Quinn, Linvoy Primus, Peter Mellor, Jamie O’Hara, Steve Claridge, John Aloisi, Nick Jennings, Paul Walsh and Eoin Hand, with a foreword by Ray Crawford.

There was no lip service from any, the heart spoke.

Played Up Pompey Too is priced at £17.99 and available from Waterstones or Amazon at amazon.co.uk/Played-Pompey-Too-Neil-Allen/dp/191042112X

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