Sammy Igoe: The Big Interview

Sammy Igoe is carried from the field of play by jubilant Pompey fans after inspiring the Blues to a final-day 3-1 win at Bradford City in 1998 ' a result that confirmed Alan Ball's side's division one safety

Sammy Igoe is carried from the field of play by jubilant Pompey fans after inspiring the Blues to a final-day 3-1 win at Bradford City in 1998 ' a result that confirmed Alan Ball's side's division one safety

Pat Neil. Picture: Keith Woodland

Pompey family turn out in force for ex-player

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He may have entered the field of play a diminutive 5ft6in but after inspiring Pompey’s 1998 Great Escape, Sammy Igoe left Bradford City’s Valley Parade pitch on the shoulders of delirious Blues fans feeling 10ft tall.

Small in stature, big of heart, Igoe’s eager running established him as a firm Fratton favourite in a six-year stay yielding 177 games and 11 goals.

That May afternoon in West Yorkshire, though, was a standout memory for the skilful midfielder who pulled the strings as Alan Ball’s side stayed up by the skin of their teeth.

Needing all three points to confirm division one survival, Igoe set up team-mate John Durnin for the visitors’ opener, before netting the Blues’ crucial second goal in a memorable 3-1 victory.

The events that followed the final whistle remain treasured.

Igoe said: ‘We had to win to be sure of staying up.

It was a great occasion – that day was a great day for the club. I have that fantastic picture of me being carried off the pitch by the fans at home which was a great feeling.

Sammy Igoe

‘If we had lost, Man City didn’t even need to win to stay up.

‘Thankfully we ended up winning 3-1 on the day which was a fantastic result.

‘I set up the first goal then scored the second – I still remember it now.

‘It was a fantastic day, amazing.

‘City thumped Stoke 5-2 in their game as well!

‘It felt a bit of a shame to end the season on such a high, though, when we only just survived by the skin of our teeth.

‘But it was a great occasion – that day was a great day for the club.

‘I have that fantastic picture of me being carried off the pitch by the fans at home which was a great feeling.

‘It’s funny because most of my football memorabilia is hidden away in the garage.

‘I have got a two-year-old son, who wont know anything about my career when he gets old enough so I will be showing that to him at some point in the future!’

Igoe’s career, though, was nearly over before it had even begun as doubts about his height left then-Blues boss Jim Smith questioning whether he could make the grade.

He said: ‘I am not very big so there was always a doubt that I was never going to be big enough.

‘I was good at football and good technically but was I going to be big enough to be able to play professionally?

‘I became an apprentice and they (Pompey) were hoping I would grow a bit.

‘I filled out a bit but not a great deal and at the time the manager was Jim Smith, who thought that I was too small.

‘I was coming to the end of my apprenticeship and was allowed to go to Brazil to play in the World Beach Soccer Championships.

‘Someone spoke to the club and asked if I would go and play, which was a great experience.

‘When I came back Jim Smith had been sacked.

‘To be fair, he had already given me a pro deal – I had signed a year.

‘But I thought to myself: “Once this year is up I am going to be released.”

‘I wasn’t his cup of tea.’

Smith’s departure paved the way for Igoe to fluorish under new boss Terry Fenwick, but only after the former England international had shared a few home truths with the Staines-born youngster.

‘After a couple of weeks of Terry Fenwick being manager, I got called into his office,’ said Igoe.

‘He told me a few home truths about the fact that I was a young lad who came from London and was always going back to London and going out.

‘He basically said to me that he had heard I was a fruit loop but that if I could sort myself out I would become a good player.

‘I’ll be honest, like all young lads, I went out and enjoyed myself which is basically what I was doing at the time.

‘But Terry took me under his wing for a few weeks and then after that I ended up signing a four-and-a-half year deal.

The appearances soon racked up for Igoe, who established himself as a regular in the Blues’ division one line-up under both Fenwick and Ball, chipping in with the odd goal along the way.

Sometimes, though, the games he scored in were more memorable for off-the-ball incidents – as one scarring clash with Sunderland in 1998 suggested.

He said: ‘I scored a great volley and got man of the match against Sunderland in a 1-1 draw.

‘But the reason I remember that game is because Kevin Ball almost knocked me out inside the opening 10 minutes!

‘I nutmegged him and then the next time I got the ball, he just absolutely clobbered me.

‘I have a massive scar on my lip that goes down my chin from when he elbowed me.

‘He didn’t get sent off, he was a fantastic pro and a great player who knew exactly what he was doing – he wasn’t going to have this little lad embarrass him back at Fratton Park!’

Another memorable Blues clash began with Igoe on the bench, only to profit from an injury to team-mate Alan McLoughlin.

Premier League Leeds United were the opponents in 1996 as Fenwick’s side pulled of a giantkilling in the FA Cup.

Igoe said: ‘I wasn’t in the starting line-up for the game at Leeds in the FA Cup.

‘I was gutted about that.

‘But Alan McLoughlin got injured after about 15 minutes and I had to go on for him.

‘That was another fantastic day for the club, we ended up beating them 3-2 – Mathias Svensson (tw0) and Lee Bradbury both scored.

‘I played against Carlton Palmer – who played for England – he was about three foot taller than me!’

Igoe had looked to be on his way out of Pompey under first boss Smith, before thriving under both Fenwick and Ball.

But it was the fourth permamanent Fratton Park boss in six years who spelt the end for the youth-team graduate.

Put simply, Tony Pulis’ powerful and direct style of play did not suit Igoe, despite public reassurances to the contrary.

‘Tony Pulis was the nail in my coffin,’ said Igoe.

‘I didn’t figure in his plans at all.

‘All managers have got a way to play football and players they like and I just wasn’t going to fit in.

‘We played Ipswich away which is always a big game because it is a nice stadium.

‘We won 1-0, I crossed it and Claridge scored.

‘Later in the week, Pulis was asked by The News if I was going to be sold on deadline day.

‘He said the usual: “No, he is part of my plans.”

‘Believe it or not, 10 minutes to five on deadline day I was on my way to Reading!

‘He told me he had a bid and had accepted it which gave me no time at all to accept it.

‘I had been at Portsmouth from the age of 14 and turned pro at 18.

‘I had a good five-six years of being in and out of the first team.

‘You can go stale and need a fresh challenge – I felt it was time for me to move on.

‘I have no regrets there.’

A long professional career at the likes of Swindon, Bristol Rovers, Millwall and Bournemouth followed for Igoe, before the local non-league scene beckoned for the versatile veteran.

But at the grand age of 40, Igoe called time on his playing days earlier this year, following spells at the Hawks, Gosport Borough, Bognor and AFC Portchester.

There is one club remembered more fondly than others, though.

‘Only at the end of my career did I truly realise what a great support Portsmouth has got – I played for a lot of good clubs but none were as fanatical as Pompey,’ said Igoe.

‘I was just a kid at the time but I am now able to look back and fully appreciate my time at the club.’

Living in Fareham, Igoe now works for Concise Removals and Storage in Waterlooville.

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