Ten years wasted as Blues finally say goodbye to stopgap

Inquisitor: John Humphrys

ZELLA COMPTON: Why does John Humphrys still have a national platform?

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Harry Redknapp glared at his Eastleigh surroundings before unleashing a withering attack.

‘The pitches here are disgusting – awful,’ he exploded. ‘It’s a fourth-division training ground, not a Premiership training ground.

‘There are pitches out there not playable. You might as well go and play in the marshes.

‘People want to play on a decent surface and not know every time the ball is passed it’s going to bobble up in the air or you’re going to put your foot in six inches of mud.

‘It’s so out of touch with other training grounds. If you’re going to move forwards, you need a training ground.’

It was March 2007 and the issue of Pompey’s training base had sprung up during a press gathering.

Admittedly, words from a footballing lifetime ago, yet the subject today is as relevant as ever.

Particularly as, almost six years on, the club will be bidding goodbye to that same Wellington Sports Ground that Redknapp so despised.

After administrators PKF decided they could no longer afford the £223,000 annual rent, it is time to depart.

Come six days time, the Blues will venture to a venue yet to be rubber-stamped, with HMS Collingwood on the short-list.

Still, on that 2007 occasion, Redknapp had become agitated over delays to create a state-of-the-art base at Titchfield, utilising former owner Sacha Gaydamak’s wealth.

The planning application had been submitted 11 months earlier to Fareham Borough Council but, for a variety of reasons, work hadn’t started.

Having just returned from a six-day training camp in Dubai, the then-Pompey boss decided to go on the attack with customary premeditation in his interviews.

Ironic considering, according to some at the club, it was his decision for Pompey to buy Noe Pamarot rather than the Wellington Sports Ground in January 2006 when the option was available.

Breathtaking short-sightedness from those at Pompey’s helm during those grand Premier League days.

Regardless, such was the ferocity of Redknapp’s stinging attack, The News was subsequently banned by the club from attending the customary Tuesday press conference.

Apparently, as deemed guests of the club, it was deplorable we should write stories using negative words gleaned from such a meeting.

Redknapp had no such complaints. His point had been loudly made, especially to then-chief executive Peter Storrie and Gaydamak.

Months earlier, Pompey had actually invested in a new Portakabin complex at Eastleigh as a temporary measure, providing changing rooms, offices and a gym.

A stopgap, yet the buildings remain at Wellington to this day.

Back then the plan was to develop 55 acres at Titchfield to accommodate training facilities and the club’s Academy.

Utilising land adjacent to Titchfield Abbey, it would see a new building, seven pitches, two three-quarter-length pitches and two mini-soccer pitches.

When the planning application went in, the date of completion was the summer of 2008.

However, the little matter of it being within the green belt, plus a 15th century tithe barn – a grade 1 listed building – and voles put pay to that.

Next up was Lee-on-the-Solent, with the added bonus of plans approved unanimously by Gosport councillors in July 2008.

Work in Cherque Way was scheduled to start within two months, with the development 10 times the size of the Eastleigh training ground.

It consisted of a 35-acre complex housing 10 full-size pitches, two mini pitches and an indoor three-quarter-size pitch.

And to appease Mother Nature, permission was granted on the condition wildlife on the site, including badgers, would be protected.

Then came Gaydamak’s financial meltdown.

So Pompey continued to remain at their SO postcode base, with its ‘disgusting’ pitches.

Although, in fairness, the surfaces were relaid in the summer of 2011 upon CSI’s takeover.

Still, on Thursday, after 10 years it is goodbye.

Those of us regular visitors will recall Richard Hughes losing the tip of his finger in the door and Redknapp struck by an errant Terry Parker shot during a TV interview.

Kev the Kitman twisting Sam Matterface’s considerable nose to such an extent it turned blue or when Gregory Vignal launched himself at The Quay’s Chris Bayliss in a case of mistaken identity, only for Joe Jordan to step in and grab the Frenchman by the scruff of the neck.

The Kanu lift, so-called because the veteran always insisted on using it to get to the first and only floor from ground level.

The epic table-tennis battles between Sean Davis and David Nugent in the canteen and the room which housed Ricardo Rocha’s coffee maker.

And, of course, Hermann Hreidarsson riding in that converted A-Team vehicle.

Whatever Redknapp thought of the place, Eastleigh served Pompey well for a decade.

The real tragedy is this club does not have even a ‘fourth-division training ground’ now thanks to those running it over those past 10 years.