Peter Mellor: The Big Interview

Matt Clarke Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey pair scrap it out for centre-half spot

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For Peter Mellor it was a time for acceptance – resistance was truly futile.

The goalkeeper had started 53 of Pompey’s 54 matches during the 1980-81 Division Three campaign, an automatic first choice.

Yet his long-time understudy was about to take the leading role in Frank Burrows’ eyes.

Mellor had mentored Alan Knight in his three seasons on the south coast following a free transfer arrival from Hereford.

Having scrutinised the blossoming talent of the young pretender, the 33-year-old knew the outcome was inevitable.

That fateful day arrived in the summer of 1981 and, following 146 appearances and a Division Four promotion campaign, his Fratton Park career was effectively over.

Mellor months later departed for America, where to this day he remains, living in Florida and still heavily involved in coaching.

During his years across the Atlantic, he identified a 14-year-old Tim Howard as a star of the future and also coached Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller for 10 years with the USA side.

And in Knight – the player who went on to play 801 games for the Blues over four decades – Mellor recognised a worthy successor for him to step aside for.

He said: ‘At the end of the third season Frank called me into the office and said “Peter, I know you’ve had a great season but we have a young guy that you’ve been mentoring who has done very well and we think is ready to play”.

‘It didn’t surprise me, even if I did have a year left on my contract.

‘Frank continued: “You don’t deserve not to play but we feel Alan Knight is ready to make a push for the future as a starter”.

‘I had worked with Alan from day one when he was a snotty-nosed whatever. We had a great, great relationship.

‘Now we all have egos but you have got to look at it with a business perspective – and it made total sense.

‘Frank knew I wanted to go to play in America before I retired but also said he had no problem with me staying put and fighting for my position.

‘I was told I was more than welcome to continue but as a number two in case Knightsie slipped up.

‘My response was “Frank, not a problem, that is the reality of the game” – and when I did leave it was very, very amicable.

‘I have nothing negative to say how I was treated by anyone at the club, whether it was Jimmy Dickinson, Frank Burrows, his assistant Stan Harland, or Mr Deacon.

‘In fact Mr Deacon and his wife were very, very nice to me – and my wife whenever she was at games. They were both outstanding people in my eyes.

‘As for Knightsie, I’d like to think I always had time for young goalkeepers coming up through the ranks.

‘We worked together and I believe I helped mentor him in his early days at Pompey.

‘He showed he was very courageous, technically very solid and always showed willingness to learn. And I could tell – I could tell he would go on to have a tremendous career.

‘You get that feeling, you sense when somebody is a bit special, it’s just about whether a player with that talent is going to continue.

‘It doesn’t happen very often, but I saw it with Knightsie and Frank made the right decision.’

Mellor saw out his career at Edmonton Drillers in the old North American Soccer League before retiring a year later.

He then turned to coaching, progressing to becoming the goalkeeping coach of the USA national team for more than 10 years and at several World Cup finals.

Along the journey, Mellor spotted current Everton keeper Howard in an Olympic Development Player camp. He has now amassed 105 caps.

Mellor was also involved in helping Howard win his work permit appeal after joining Manchester United from MetroStars in 2003.

Such is his standing in the American game, the ex-Pompey man became the US Soccer Federation’s first full-time national goalkeeping coach in 1997 and later developed the curriculum for the national goalkeeping license.

Yet Mellor’s desire to enter coaching and management – in addition to his ambition of moving to the States – almost conspired to prevent him from joining Pompey in the summer of 1978.

The keeper had been crowned Hereford’s player of the year in his maiden season, despite relegation from Division Three.

Half-way through that ill-fated campaign, John Sillett was dismissed as manager with his assistant Tony Ford taking over as caretaker boss.

Mellor applied to be a player/manager, yet it was ex-Wolves midfielder Mike Bailey who got the job, with Mellor subsequently turning down the chance to become his coach.

Instead a switch to Fratton Park appealed.

Manager Jimmy Dickinson 
had his goalkeeping replacement for Phil Figgins and Steve Middleton.

Mellor added: ‘Portsmouth should never have been in Division Four, it was a start to try to build for the future.

‘I was at Hereford and had an interview for the manager’s job following Sillett’s departure – coaching and managing was something I really wanted to get into.

‘I missed out and that summer my family and I were holidaying in Brixham, Devon, when I received a telegram from Frank Burrows saying Portsmouth were interested in signing me.

‘So Frank came down along with Mr Deacon and we sat down and negotiated a contract.

‘Days later, Bailey got the Hereford job and wanted me to be his coach but I was a man of my word and went to Portsmouth.

‘It was a fantastic opportunity to go to a good club and I was very, very excited thinking that, at the twilight of my career, I would have the chance to help the club move forward.

‘Jimmy Dickinson was manager with Frank as his assistant and I felt I had a good first season, even captaining the side on occasions.

‘I was there in the dressing room when he had his heart attack at Barnsley, then Frank stepped up so well to take charge.

‘It was just a very, very good time at Pompey, trying to kickstart them back to the top and a great opportunity in my career to play in a fantastic stadium with some wonderful fans.’

Mellor established an affinity with the supporters, leading to him chosen as first The News/Sports Mail player of the season for 1977-78.

He later hosted his own show on Radio Victory titled ‘Mellow Mellor’, while a routine of throwing sweets into the Fratton end pre-match won favour.

And it is an affiliation with the Fratton faithful the 67-year-old still treasures.

He said: ‘I enjoyed being involved with the fans, playing to them a little bit, giving them the stuff they wanted to see.

‘My philosophy was if you make a mistake as a goalkeeper then your relationship with the fans can dictate whether you will play the following week because it is the fans who can get you dropped.

‘I enjoyed it anyway, that relationship wasn’t forced, no way.

‘The day you had a bad game they were still behind you.

‘They may also stay behind you after two bad games.

‘But they won’t after three.’

But ultimately it was a certain Alan Knight who dislodged the likeable Mellor.