The Big Interview: Keith Viney

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Kal Naismith was gaffer for a day Phil Whyte's man of the match against Cambridge United. Photo by Joe Pepler

Pompey 2 Cambridge United 1: Gaffer for a day

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Fans rally to raise money to ensure financially-stricken Pompey’s future.

Key players are offloaded with no money for replacements, while inexperienced youngsters are handed a chance to shine as the club spirals towards the lowest tier of English football.

It all sounds terribly familiar, doesn’t it?

Keith Viney experienced it all before in 1976.

And the former Fratton favourite is living proof that the current crop of homegrown starlets can flourish after a tough introduction to the professional ranks.

A local boy and Pompey fan, Viney was thrown into the action as an 18-year-old by Ian St John as the Blues fought a losing battle in the old second division.

An impressive 1-0 win at FA Cup finalists Fulham on debut was followed by a 2-0 success over Blackpool on his home bow.

But the good times were not to last for the defender and, as expected, the Blues were swiftly relegated to the third division.

A season of struggle followed as the heartache of successive relegations was avoided by one solitary point.

The reprieve was temporary, though, as Jimmy Dickinson’s newly-inherited side fell to the fourth division for the first time in the club’s Football League history in 1978.

An inability to reverse the embarrassing slide ensured a third manager in as many years, Frank Burrows, took the helm for the 1979-80 season.

But it is that particular second-season, bottom-tier success which now serves as inspiration to the Blues’ current crop of Academy graduates.

Viney reflected: ‘I was born in Paulsgrove and grew up in Stamshaw, so I’m Portsmouth through and through.

‘Ray Crawford was the youth-team manager who signed me as an apprentice and I broke into the first team with a number of other lads such as Fozzy (Steve Foster) and Kammy (Chris Kamara), who came out of the navy.

‘The club had financial problems and oddly, in that respect, it was a good club to be at, as obviously we didn’t cost a lot of money.

‘There were no players because they were all being released, so there were plenty of opportunities to get first-team football.

‘It was tough times because we didn’t know from week to week whether we would be paid or not.

‘The crowd throughout were brilliant, though, and had the Save Pompey SOS appeal which raised enough money to keep us going.

‘It was touch and go. We did our best but we were youngsters playing a man’s game.

‘It’s almost like now – going through a time of having no money, going down to the fourth division but then getting ourselves promoted out of it.

‘Hopefully that’s what the Pompey of today will do and it will be the start of the comeback.’

Despite Pompey’s on and off-the-field perils, Viney is able to look back on his Blues bow with pride.

He said: ‘We were struggling in the old second division.

‘I didn’t know I was playing until I actually got to the ground and Ian St John pulled me aside and said: “You’re playing today”.

‘That’s when my knees started to shake. I was very nervous!

‘But we won that game 1-0 – Norman Piper scored the goal – and I got some good write-ups in The News and Sports Mail which was very pleasing, obviously!

‘It was nice to play at that standard and with some of the older pros before they left – Norman was a very good pro – and it was great to make my debut with a win at a place like Fulham.

‘They were more or less the same side that had played in the FA Cup final against West Ham, so there were a fair few names there.

‘Although we were down the bottom and nearing relegation we actually won two games in a row, so on form we were top!’

After featuring heavily as the Blues battled to avoid successive relegations the following season, Viney played just four games, – through a mixture of injury and non selection – as the Blues fell into the basement division for the first time in their history in 1978.

Viney added: ‘I was struggling with an eye infection which lingered on but I still didn’t get picked to play many games in the 1977-78 season.’

Better times were to come, though, as Burrows’ men earned promotion at the second time of asking, to reward their suffering but incredibly loyal fans in 1980.

Viney said: ‘I got back into the team and despite what had gone on before, there remained a great team spirit within the group.

‘We used to work hard and play hard together – we weren’t angels and we liked a drink but we all gave everything on the pitch.

‘You had Joe Laidlaw, Colin Garwood, Knightsie (Alan Knight) – there were a few of us who played and worked hard.

‘We were like the Wimbledon Crazy Gang but we were proper athletes just like they are today!

‘We were storming the league up to Christmas (1979-80) and then there was a bit of a freeze up.

‘The club took us to Malta for five days to train and relax.

‘But when we came back we couldn’t win a game for love nor money.

‘It got to the last six games and we needed to win five or so to get promoted.

‘We were going to places like Port Vale away and needing to win which wasn’t easy.

‘And then as everybody knows, we went to Northampton on the last day of the season and got promoted which was absolutely fantastic.

‘We were never going to do it the easy way!’

More good news was to follow for Viney the following campaign as the impressive full-back was an extremely proud recipient of the Blues’ player-of-the-season trophy.

He said: ‘I still think I am the only born-and-bred Pompey player to have won that award.

‘Being voted by the fans as the best player for your hometown club – it doesn’t get any better.

‘I remember to this day

receiving that trophy and it’s fantastic.’

A year later, though, and the reliable and versatile Viney was surprisingly on his way out of the club he represented 194 times – including two impressive substitute goalkeeping stints and three free-kick goals (See below for Viney’s memories on these two particular topics).

He explained: ‘It was strange really because I think Frank Burrows was under a bit of pressure as manager – the club brought Bobby Campbell in alongside him.

‘Frank offered me a contract in December the year before I left and I said I’d think about it and maybe sign it in the summer.

‘But he then left the club and Bobby wanted to bring his own people in.

‘There were 10 of us whose contracts were up and all 10 of us left the club. It was just timing really.

‘Had I signed the contract, things would have probably been different.

‘But you can’t look back. I left and went to Exeter and had eight really good years down there.’

Now aged 56, Viney has moved back to the south coast and is a regular visitor to Fratton Park.

He said: ‘I finished my football career in 1990 and went into financial services, which I have been training and in compliance with since then.

‘I’m still involved with Pompey’s ex-professionals and did a little bit of radio commentary recently, so I am involved with the club still – it’s a big part of my life.’

Keith Viney on:

...GOALKEEPING HEROICS

I had two stints in goal for Pompey and take pride in both performances.

The first was at home to Preston (December 1976) – I took over from Grahame Lloyd with five minutes to go, the game was goalless – and that’s the way it remained.

Alan Knight was my brother-in-law – though he and my sister are divorced now – but is still a very good friend.

We were playing Exeter away (May 1982) and were 2-1 down at half-time.

Alan was injured so I went in goal and we ended up drawing 3-3.

My claim to fame is that he let two goals in and was on the fringes of the England squad and I only let one in, so I’m clearly a better goalkeeper than him – I’m still waiting for that England call!

...GREAT GOALS – NOT GREAT GOALSCORING

I wasn’t a great goalscorer – three in 194 for Pompey shows that but I think I used to be a scorer of great goals instead.

I was a left-footer and most left-footers have got a sweet strike on them so my Blues goals were all free-kicks.

I can remember them all actually – they are all 40-yarders in my mind!

...FRATTON FANS

In the times when the club needed them they have been there – there’s no other team in the country that’d get 16,000 fans turning up to support them in the old fourth division.

I don’t care who they are – no-one gets support like Portsmouth.

The club has been saved by the fans on more than one occasion. 
They are phenomenal.

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