A wasted talent and career.
That’s the damning self-assessment of former Pompey midfielder Stuart Doling on an ill-fated Blues stay that began with great promise but ended in regret.
A graduate of the club’s famed early 1990s youth-team set-up, Doling had been expected to follow in the footsteps of peers Darren Anderton, Andy Awford, Kit Symons and Darryl Powell by establishing himself in the Fratton first team.
But the impressionable teenager was guilty of believing his own hype after signing an attractive five-year contract at the south-coast club.
The lure of alcohol, women and the city’s nightlife were Doling’s downfall as off-field distractions undermined on-field progress.
Nurtured under the watchful eye of ex-Blues boss Alan Ball – who became a father figure to Doling, following the death of his dad at 13 – hopes were high for the Isle of Wight schoolboy, first spotted by youth development officer Dave Hurst.
But having earned his big break under Jim Smith in 1991, Doling squandered it.
He said: ‘I was in the youth-team set-up and at 17, signed a five-year deal with Pompey.
‘They expected big things from me and looked after me but I went off the rails.
‘I was being paid a good wage and training with the first team but thought it was easy enough to go out, be one of the boys, have a drink and meet the girls.
‘I had a superb time but I didn’t concentrate on my football and wasted the talent and career that I had.
‘I am not blowing my own trumpet but everyone can’t be wrong to say how good I was.
‘Outside interests seemed to be more important to me, though, and I didn’t apply myself like an athlete should.’
Doling was given his debut as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in the Blues’ first home game of the 1991-92 first division campaign against Port Vale and made an immediate impression, assisting Colin Clarke for the only goal of the game.
It seemed a matter of when, not if, he established himself in Pompey’s new-look youthful side.
But while his contemporaries were vying for a place in the FA Cup final come the season’s end, Doling was left on the outside looking in.
He said: ‘The day before the FA Cup semi-final with Liverpool at Highbury, I was playing a reserve-team game against Southampton at Fratton Park.
‘I was 19 years old but Jim Smith came and said to me: ‘“You’re in the squad and I want you to feel part of this because you might never be involved in it again”.
‘The trouble with the squad back then was that you only had two substitutes, though.’
With Guy Whittingham and Warren Aspinall given the nod to enter the fray, Doling watched on with the rest of the travelling Blues fans as Smith’s side were cruelly denied an unexpected Wembley appearance.
A late extra-time goal earned the Reds a Villa Park replay, which they won on penalties.
Sporadic Pompey appearances followed for troubled Doling, who spent the majority of his time in the manager’s office, rather than his first-team plans.
He said: ‘I had the utmost respect for Jim – we didn’t always see eye-to-eye because he was hotheaded, like I was.
‘But he was the boss and I never undermined him, although that’s not to say I never let him down.
‘I used to spend afternoons in his office. He probably spent more time with me than anyone else trying to get the best out of me.
‘But I had certain demons to do with the drink.
‘Jim knew and did everything he could for me – including making me live with Neil Sillett (Pompey’s physio) to make sure I came to training and what have you.’
Doling, who shared his manager’s frustrations, teased the Fratton faithful with glimpses of his ability in fits and starts.
But, unfortunately for both club and player, he also picked up his fair share of injuries and suspensions.
Doling said: ‘I am lucky enough to have played at both Old Trafford and St James Park for Pompey.
‘I also scored up at Sunderland’s old Roker Park ground and apparently silenced the home crowd – a lot of people remind me of that, which isn’t easily done!
‘So there were high points but they just weren’t regular enough for my liking.
‘I tried to get my game back together, but I’ve now had 10 operations on my groin.
‘The hernia injury, Gilmore’s groin, used to be a big thing at the time and maybe I was guilty of wanting to come back too soon from that.
‘If I wasnt right, then I would get frustrated, get booked, get sent off.
‘But just as I was turning things around, Jim got sacked.
‘I am not blaming what came next on that but I think that if Jim had stayed I would have really got my head together.’
Having amassed a total of 40 appearances (17 as a substitute) and scored three goals in as many seasons under Smith, Doling was effectively handed a fresh start and opportunity to prove himself under new boss Terry Fenwick.
But while he continued to get along with his fellow players, Doling’s inability to see eye-to-eye with Fenwick came to an explosive conclusion.
Doling said: ‘I got on with the players – it was a very good club with a close-knit squad.
‘My best mate was Knightsy (goalkeeper Alan Knight) – they used to call us father and son.
‘And despite everything, I also got on very well with the fans.
‘I know it probably sounds terrible but I went to a lot of the functions.
‘I was going with Knightsy at the time, so you can see how that might look.
‘Fair play to him, though, because he has beaten his demons and I have beaten mine.’
While Doling can speak with pride at overcoming his battle with the bottle, the manner of his all-too hasty Pompey exit and subsequent departure from professional football is a less desirable topic of conversation.
He reflected: ‘I felt my groin go in pre-season training on a Saturday and was told to go in for treatment if it was still bad on the Sunday.
‘I didn’t go in but turned up for training as usual on the Monday,
‘I then felt my groin go again and was being called this that and the other by Terry Fenwick,
‘I told him the injury came and went and that I hadn’t felt it (the previous day) or else I would’ve gone in for treatment.
‘He just kept going, throwing all manner of insults my way in language that cannot be printed.
‘I thought to myself: “I can do without this.”
‘So I told him exactly what I thought and just walked away.
‘The football club thought I had somewhere else lined up so wouldn’t let me go.
‘In the end I told them to tear my deal up and that was it – I walked away.
‘It’s the biggest regret of my life.’
Aged just 22 Doling sensationally departed his boyhood club having netted four times in 45 games.
Further injuries and disagreements at Doncaster resulted in Doling plying his trade with non-league side Lymington.
Now aged 42, Doling, who has ‘grown up’, recently enjoyed a spell as manager of Lymington and is currently the owner of a fruit and veg shop in the New Forest town.