The night Pompey sat atop English football

Teddy Sheringham completes his hat-trick against Bolton
Teddy Sheringham completes his hat-trick against Bolton
Stuart O'Keefe. Picture: Joe Pepler

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It was the zenith of Pompey’s hurtling ascent.

So my thanks goes to former News colleague Steve Bone for highlighting it took place 14 years ago last weekend.

Hard to believe it’s that long ago really with the memories so vivid – as it undoubtedly still is for the vast majority of 20,113 present at Fratton Park that night.

August 26, 2003. Pompey 4 Bolton 0.

And, yes, they were. It really happened. We were top of the Premiership.

It was 51 years since they were last there and The News heralded the occasion with a front-page splash the next morning. In the end, it lasted for just 24 hours as Arsenal and Manchester United picked up wins the next night to knock the Blues all the way down to third...

For however a fleeting moment it was, though, we sat atop of the pile. Looking down on the rest of the 92 from our perch at the apex of English football.

It was a giddying night under the lights at Fratton Park. That old truism about the special feeling created at floodlit games at PO4 continues to ring true – but this was one which had the Chimes clanging at their best.

The ascent began at the start of the previous season, as we all know. But to remind you of the stats, it took Pompey 15 months to go from a 17th-placed finish in Division One to proudly sitting top of the pile in English football. Hurtling doesn’t begin to cover it.

Supporters just about daring to come back to earth from winning the second-tier title were pinching themselves once again, as the Premier League campaign began with victory over Aston Villa. A decent point at Manchester City’s palatial new home followed and then, three days later, they were in la-la-land.

The visit of Sam Allardyce’s Bolton promised to be a welcome to the harsh realities of the top-flight, as a club seasoned in its rigours came to town. It ended with Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha and Co sent on their way by a display of irresistible attacking football.

And it was a 37-year-old deemed way past his best at the top level who was the chief architect of the success.

When Teddy Sheringham signed for the top-flight new boys after being released by Spurs that summer, Redknapp was asked what he offered his side. ‘Class,’ came the reply in a heartbeat. ‘Absolute class.’

Three games into their first Premiership campaign everyone emphatically saw what the former England man brought to the table.

A finish on the opening day was followed up with a 23-minute second-half hat-trick against the Trotters which had Fratton rocking.

All of the goals arrived after the break with the second the pick of them – a bullet Sheringham header in front of the Fratton End from Boris Zivkovic’s centre.

It was Bone who wrote the match report as readers revelled in the success the next day. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the writer, though, as he gathered his quotes.

‘I didn’t have much luck with Teddy,’ Bone admitted of his interviews with the striker. ‘Afterwards when he was speaking, I asked if he had a target after scoring four goals already. He said he didn’t set targets and walked off. That was the end of the interview!’

Before that setback there was just a slight moment when The News team let their professional masks slip in the press box. With Pompey rampant in the second half, Amdy Faye let fly with a shot from the half-way line which was narrowly off target.

It was a moment to get all those with royal-blue blood blinking in disbelief. Was all this really happening? The sentiment was no different among the laptops.

‘We were all still getting used to the Premier League,’ Bone reflected.

‘We had to win by four goals at the start of the night to go top. No one even gave a thought it could happen.

‘To witness it happening with the Champagne football we played was quite a thing.’