Pompey’s record breakers long since forgotten

Alan McLoughlin in action for Pompey against Bristol City in 1993
Alan McLoughlin in action for Pompey against Bristol City in 1993
Joe Hancott in action for Pompey Reserves against Southend. Picture: Colin Farmery

Harris hails Pompey Reserves’ performance

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Flushed from the mind and banished from the memory, yet the undesirable statistic remains entrenched in the history of Pompey.

‘It was that eventful that I cannot remember playing in it – and I’m normally pretty good at recalling my matches,’ said Alan McLoughlin.

‘Perhaps with it being such an inconsequential game it doesn’t stick in the mind like an FA Cup fixture. You generally tend to remember when something significant happens.’

The midfielder had indeed been present, a member of Jim Smith’s starting line-up on August 31, 1993.

That midweek visit of Bristol City in the Anglo-Italian Cup attracted a crowd of 2,318 – Fratton Park’s lowest attendance in the post-war era.

The statistic has been unrivalled during the subsequent 26 years – that is until this coming Tuesday.

Advanced tickets sales indicate the arrival of Reading under-23s in the much-maligned Checkatrade Trophy will see figures sink considerably lower.

Currently, 381 have been sold, with an additional 91 set aside as complementaries for sponsors and players.

Reading have yet to reveal the success of unloading their allocation of 100 – but haven’t asked for more.

Unquestionably, those at Fratton Park on October 4, 2016, will be participating in a new Pompey record.

Curiously, though, the reigning entry stirs little recognition from those involved in its creation.

McLoughlin added: ‘It is impossible to remember every match considering I made more than 600 competitive appearances in my career.

‘I do recall losing at home to Fiorentina in the competition that season, I suppose the Italian teams held more interest for the players.

‘The previous year we played at Ascoli in an afternoon kick-off with literally nobody there. Although you could see John Westwood at the top of one of the stands with a bugle.

‘I never realised we even played Bristol City.’

For that Robins encounter, boss Smith made six changes to a side embarrassingly demolished 5-1 at Crystal Palace days earlier.

Only McLoughlin, Brian Horne, Andy Awford, Mark Blake and Paul Walsh retained their places, while the likes of Guy Butters, Chris Price and Chris Burns earned recalls.

There was also a maiden outing for summer signing Jon Gittens – and a full debut for John Durnin.

‘I don’t remember that game at all, I honestly don’t,’ said Durnin.

‘When I signed, Jim Smith didn’t realise I would be missing four games having been sent off the previous season for Oxford, so belatedly made my debut.

‘My first Pompey match was against Real Sociedad in pre-season, but my first competitive appearance was as a substitute in that heavy defeat at Palace. It was a shambles.

‘It was a lovely sunny day at Selhurst Park. They had one open end during those days and it always looked vast.

‘Funnily enough, I remember playing Stoke in the league after Palace, it was a 3-3 draw and I scored.

‘Before the match I spoke to Mark Stein, who had been my partner up front at Oxford, and told him: “we’ll score today, me and you”. And we did!

‘I do recall a very low crowd on my full debut and saying a comment to somebody about not being many there. It is that long ago, though, I didn’t know who it was against. That must have been Bristol City.’

Pompey ran out 3-1 winners, with Burns, Ray Daniel and substitute Darryl Powell the scorers.

Durnin would net in the following Anglo-Italian Cup match – a 2-0 victory at Oxford United, to ensure qualification from the group stages.

Cue the entrance of Italian clubs into the competition, with Padova, Pescara, Cosenza and Fiorentina forming the Blues’ opponents.

Yet while two members of the Blues’ team cannot remember the Bristol City fixture, neither can some of that 2,318 crowd.

‘I would definitely have been at that game, 100 per cent, I went to all the Anglo-Italian matches that year,’ said Basher Benfield – a Pompey regular since March 1972.

‘I can’t remember it, though!

‘The following round at Oxford, John Durnin dribbled round the keeper for a goal, with their central defender pulling his hamstring while giving chase.

‘Padova was a rather lively trip, I’d better not say any more in case I incriminate others! At Pescara, I sat next to that area’s chief of police – and also bought one of the club shirts.

‘I have a good memory, but can’t recall all the games.’

The familiar figure of John Westwood also cannot place that history-making match.

He added: ‘I would have been there, but can’t remember anything about it.

‘I know it sounds bizarre, but I find a lot of games in the past merge into one. You attend, then move onto the next match forgetting all about it.

‘The Checkatrade Trophy really isn’t credible but I’ll go Tuesday because Pompey are playing.

‘Everyone has their own opinions and ways of dealing with things and I shall show my disillusionment vocally. Sometimes they need to hear it and I’ll protest by singing anti-Checkatrade songs.’

As for Chris Gibbs, a veteran of more than 2,000 Pompey matches, a blank is also drawn.

He said: ‘I was there, but couldn’t tell you anything about it.

‘It was just a normal game, having a low attendance didn’t have any sort of meaning at the time.

‘My memory of matches is atrocious, I cannot recall most of them. It normally only remains with you if something happens, such as a good goal or controversy.

‘I’ll be going on Tuesday, though, just as I did for the fixture at Yeovil. Pompey are playing, so I’ll be there.’

Not many will, of course, as the fans’ boycott continues to gather heavy backing over a competition destined to be forgotten.