Thanks for the Boys of 2003 memories

Paul Merson leads the celebrations at Fratton Park by lifting aloft the Division One championship trophy after victory against Rotherham Picture: Steve Reid
Paul Merson leads the celebrations at Fratton Park by lifting aloft the Division One championship trophy after victory against Rotherham Picture: Steve Reid
Pompey captain Brett Pitman Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey sweat on Pitman and Chaplin injuries

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Harry Redknapp’s calm exterior belied his irritation.

But, increasingly, his features told of his annoyance at what he saw as being overlooked for the Boys of 2003 gathering.

‘It’s not as if I did anything is it?’, the former Pompey boss ironically stated when told of the grand event taking place tomorrow night.

As it is, the invite was sent Redknapp’s way via Linvoy Primus ahead of the evening which will celebrate one of the great Pompey sides.

Redknapp did air the reservation a ‘nutter’ could also make his mark if he did show his face at the Marriott Hotel.

That was a reference to those who will never forgive what they perceive as the ultimate betrayal of crossing the south coast divide to manage Southampton in 2004.

The fact he returned to deliver one of the most successful passages in Pompey’s history is by the by for the hardcore fan.

One well-placed onlooker described the emotions akin to that felt by a scorned lover, when explaining the strength of feeling over his exit to Redknapp.

Twelve years on from that departure, however, we should surely now view what unfolded through different eyes.

It may have been one of the most tumultuous and dramatic periods in the club’s history – but it also delivered some of the best football ever produced by Pompey.

And the sight of the Boys in 2003 in full flow remains one of the most beautiful in the club’s 118-year history.

It all began promisingly enough with four points from two opening games, leading into a trip to Crystal Palace.

Forty-five minutes in at Selhurst Park and the wheels were threatening to come off in dramatic style, however.

Pompey were 2-0 down and Palace owner Simon Jordan was sneering to Milan Mandaric over the lack of impact of his ‘precious Harry Redknapp’.

A switch to a 3-5-2 formation and three goals in four second-half minutes later marked the true dawning of a great team.

From there, Redknapp’s wing-back wonders carved through Division One in systematic and relentless fashion.

The Palace success was the first of eight wins on the bounce to confirm something magical was unfolding.

And the memories of the signifiers of that side remain vivid to this day.

The indefatigable Matt Taylor charging incessantly down the left flank, defying biology as his energy levels grew with each passing minute.

Primus and Arjan De Zeeuw providing an impenetrable wall in front of the assured presence of Shaka Hislop – Hayden Foxe the ball-playing beacon to compliment their rugged qualities.

Then came Toddy. The arch-predator. The assassin. The darling of the Fratton End.

His 26 goals were a testament to his wily skills, with Yakubu later arriving and showcasing the talent which marks him out as one of the very best strikers to wear royal blue.

And then came Merse. The puppeteer pulling the strings, the heartbeat of Redknapp’s heroes – the man who made the difference.

The games make for a glorious tapestry – 5-0 at Millwall, 6-2 against Derby, 4-0 at Coventry, 5-0 at Bradford and the rest.

Promotion against Burnley with Toddy diving in the Fratton end. The title against Rotherham with Merse exultant.

Record points and record goals – say no more.

‘They were one of the greatest sides,’ said Pompey former players’ association secretary Jake Payne. No argument there.

In all likelihood, it’s unlikely Redknapp will make his presence felt tomorrow.

But, if he does, I’ll be the first to thank him for a kaleidoscope of moments to forever cherish.