Colin Garwood arrived at Fratton Park under no illusion about the task facing him: Fill the boots of prolific striker Dave Kemp.
But having quickly hit the goal trail to become a fans’ favourite in his own right, Garwood left the club disillusioned amid controversial circumstances.
A farcical scenario ensured the in-form hitman, who had fired the Blues to the summit of the fourth division midway through their 1979-80 promotion-winning season, was deemed surplus to requirements.
Inundated with letters of support, a heartbroken Garwood, who had netted 17 goals by the beginning of December, refused to bow to the Blues hierarchy and ruled himself out of a move to Exeter City.
But with the signing of Bury striker David Gregory rubber-stamped, the division’s leading marksman was told in no uncertain terms he would not kick another ball for the club.
Chairman John Deacon forced Garwood out the door to counterparts Aldershot in the new year, although his much-maligned treatment almost came back to haunt the Blues.
With Gregory struggling to justify the decision to offload a proven goalscorer, Garwood continued to find the net with regularity as his former employers’ promotion band wagon veered perilously off course.
Fortunately for a relieved Fratton faithful, the Blues scraped into the third division on the last day of the season as results elsewhere went their way.
Garwood, meanwhile, finished the season as top goalscorer for Pompey, Aldershot and the entire fourth division.
An invitation to the Blues’ promotion party and a confession from manager Frank Burrows that his departure should never have been allowed went some way to ease the pain still felt 34 years on.
Garwood reflected: ‘I was at Colchester and the manager called me into the office and said that Pompey had offered money for me.
‘It was deadline day (March 1978), so I went with Colchester manager Bobby Roberts up to London and we met with Frank Burrows (then assistant to Blues boss Jimmy Dickinson) and Mr Deacon.
‘I signed about an hour before the deadline – it was close so we had to try to rush it through.
‘My first game was against Bury away and we drew 0-0 but I scored on my home debut in a 1-0 win against Shrewsbury Town.
‘A lot of people said to me: “You’ve got to follow Kempy”. I knew the supporters loved him, so it was a good start to score on my debut – especially at the Fratton End.’
Sadly, despite Garwood’s best efforts, the Blues were relegated from the third division – with 16-goal striker Kemp’s earlier departure in the transfer window a fatal blow to the struggling club’s survival hopes.
Garwood, though, had made a good first impression on the Fratton faithful, who were resigned to the fact Pompey would be competing in English football’s basement division.
But with many expecting the Blues would be promoted at the first time of asking, things did not go to plan – not least for Garwood who was kept out of the side by new recruit Steve Davey and Jeff Hemmerman.
Garwood said: ‘It was frustrating but the manager wanted to try different things.
‘Thankfully he moved Steve Davey back to centre-half so I could get back into the side.
‘It was hard fighting for your positions because everyone wanted to play every week but until we got a settled side it was difficult to do so. There was a transition because we got rid of a lot of players and brought new ones in.
‘We thought it would take time to gel as it was a new team really.
‘To be fair we got on ever so well – on and off the pitch we fought for each other.’
Garwood’s return to first-team action brought its inevitable share of goals but only after the striker had ‘shed the pounds’ on the advice of coach Burrows.
‘I came back (from pre-season) a little bit overweight and had to come back in the afternoon for a few sprints and runs around the track,’ confessed Garwood.
‘The club bought me for £25,000 and wanted me to do well and I came back about three or four pounds overweight but they soon got that off me!’
‘It did me the world of good.’
Garwood scored 15 goals in 27 games as the Blues finished just outside the promotion places – with many fans pointing to his early-season exclusion as reason for their failed first attempt to climb out of the division.
With manager Dickinson forced to step down on health reasons, Burrows took the managerial reigns for the 1979-80 campaign and made Garwood a first-team regular.
With 17 goals scored by the beginning of December, promotion appeared a certainty as Garwood delighted the Fratton faithful before the controversial signing of Gregory yielded an unexpected exit from the Blues.
Garwood said: ‘I think they wanted to sign David Gregory from Bury for about £80,000.
‘They said Exeter had offered money for me and wanted to talk.
‘I didn’t want to go down there but I went and asked for stupid money – I knew I wouldn’t go.
‘Then Pompey went and bought David Gregory and I hadn’t signed for anyone – they thought they were going to get more than £50,000 for me and that would help to pay for David.
‘But I didn’t want to go.
‘Mr Deacon said to me: “If you don’t sign for another club soon you are not going to get another game for the side. We’ll leave you out”.
‘I’d got loads of letters from the Pompey fans saying “Don’t go!”.
‘Mr Deacon then told me: “Aldershot have offered £54,000 for you – you won’t be kicking a ball for this football club again”.
‘It broke my heart really because I loved it at Pompey.
‘I was getting on so well with all the players and scoring goals. I wish I’d been there 10 years.
‘It’s the most enjoyable place I’ve ever been but also one of the hardest places.
‘Frank was a hard taskmaster but you knew where you stood with him.
‘You wanted to do well for him as well as the fans but I had the feeling his hands were tied.’
While the Blues stuttered to promotion on the final day of a dramatic season following a 2-0 win at Northampton, Garwood fired Aldershot to a top-10 finish, claiming an unprecedented goalscoring treble.
He said: ‘I ended up as the leading goalscorer for Pompey, and Aldershot in the same season.
‘That was the year I won the golden boot.
‘At the end of the season when Pompey had a bit of a promotion celebration, I was invited to the hotel to get a medal as well.
‘To be fair, Frank got on the microphone and said to all the players and people in the room that he wished he hadn’t sold me, which was nice.’
While Garwood never had the chance to grace Fratton Park again in his career, he was able to play in front of his beloved Blues fans shortly after his shock move.
Garwood said: ‘I remember Pompey came to Aldershot and they brought about 10,000 fans with them.
‘Aldershot made me captain and the Pompey supporters were chanting: “There’s only one Colin Garwood”.
‘That was brilliant .’
Garwood ended his career two years later, aged 33, after injury at Boston United.
A spell in charge of non-league Wisbech Town followed before recent retirement from his job as a Wincanton forklift driver.
Garwood, now 65, returns to PO4 once a year to reunite with old Pompey team-mates and despite his acrimonious exit, the fans’ favourite remains a keen follower of the Blues.