Barry’s the soul of Pompey

Barry Harris celebrates the 2008 FA Cup final victory over Cardiff with Sean Davies
Barry Harris celebrates the 2008 FA Cup final victory over Cardiff with Sean Davies

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It will be the good folk of Pompey who will keep this club alive – and they don’t come any better than Barry Harris.

When we talk about people who are the heartbeat of Portsmouth Football Club, Harris is the mental image which springs to mind.

For good reason, too. The term ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ must have been coined to describe the 68-year-old’s relationship with his team.

After all, this is a man who thought it was a no-brainer to take the cane from his schoolteacher to see his beloved Blues play as a child (he did call him a ‘fatty’ as well, though).

This is a Pompey lover who was given a week’s punishment peeling potatoes at sea school in the 1950s, after ducking out to travel the country and see his team play.

And this is a character who commands such respect within the game he received a phone call from none other than Sir Alex Ferguson, in recognition of a lifetime’s service to the club that is his passion.

Harris last weekend celebrated a landmark 60 years at Fratton Park, with a gathering at a Southsea pub.

It’s an association which has much to do with the captain of Pompey’s two-time Championship side, with Reg Flewin the man to get the young fan involved as the club’s boy mascot.

That led to a starry-eyed eight-year-old taking to the pitch with Stanley Matthews in the opening game of the 1952 season. The rest, as they say, is star and crescent history.

Anyone who has anything to do with the club will know exactly who Harris is.

Most modern Pompey fans will recognise his trademark one-armed pumped-fist celebration, as he takes to the pitch after a game to revel in a success.

Today he works alongside Kev McCormack (on a voluntary basis, of course) as his kit assistant – although those who come across the pair will tell you they also make a decent slapstick comedy duo.

But there have been many and varied roles for Harris since he first walked down Frogmore Road.

Fans of a certain vintage will remember Harris as the Pompey sailor, who would walk around the perimeter of the pitch and rally fans before a game.

And there have been other jobs from reserve-team physio in the 70s and 80s, to first-team food caterer under Jim Smith in the 90s.

Whatever his posting, a passion for all things Pompey has resonated through his life.

Woe betide if an incorrect statistic makes its way into print in The News or Sports Mail – it will never escape the eagle eye of this encyclopaedia of all things royal blue. A football historian, indeed.

There can be few, if any, people who have survived as long in the game as Harris, and remained as universally loved.

That’s why the likes of Manchester City hero Mike Summerbee – a lifelong pal of Barry’s – Joe Jordan and many other football folk were on the phone and sending gifts on his special night.

Pompey staff and pals packed the boozer which held his weekend gathering – mixed with Harris’ friends from his childhood days working on the fairgrounds and later the Dockyard.

That was a few hours after a certain Scottish football manager had picked up the phone to pay his own tribute to Harris.

Maybe Sir Alex would have thought twice about doing that if he’d had to put up with Barry’s jokes over the years but it shows the esteem he’s held in at the very top of the game.

It’s a view which is echoed all the way down the football ladder for a man who has Pompey in his soul – and is the soul of Pompey.