Farewell to a man with Pompey in his DNA

Blink and you'll miss his five seconds of fame.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 29th November 2017, 3:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 4:24 am
Mikey Harris has left Pompey Academy to take up a similar role at Brighton & Hove Albion. Picture: Joe Pepler
Mikey Harris has left Pompey Academy to take up a similar role at Brighton & Hove Albion. Picture: Joe Pepler

But there he is walking out on to the Highbury turf with the heroes of ‘92, as a starstruck eight-year-old.

‘One of my earliest memories is watching Match of the Day to see if I was on it,’ said Mikey Harris, who left his role as professional development phase lead coach at Fratton Park last week.

‘You can just about see me coming out of the tunnel for my big moment!’

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It’s been a lifetime love affair with Pompey for Harris, a man with royal-blue blood coursing through his veins if ever there was one.

Fan, aspiring player and academy coach on three occasions, the 33-year-old has the club in his DNA with father, John, involved in the youth set-up in the 1980s.

And there was no chance even a move from Gosport to an SO postcode as a child would sway Harris’ allegiance.

He said: ‘I was there when the youth team beat Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup in 1990. I must have been four or five.

‘I used to go to all the home games with dad, who was involved in the club. He was involved in the youth team with Alan Ball, Peter Osgood and Graham Paddon. That was around the time I was born.

‘Dad looked after the likes of Kells (Mark Kelly), Kit Symons, Andy Awford, Darryl Powell and Stuey Doling.

‘I was brought into it, I suppose I didn’t have a choice!

‘I had the challenges of having to move to Romsey quite young and having the guile to go into school and football training with my Pompey gear on. There was plenty of conversations about that growing up!

‘I used to come to the games with dad and was mascot quite a few times – most notably the 1992 FA Cup semi-final.

‘I’ve had a huge long-standing association with the club, so it’s strange to be leaving.’

Harris’ most recent Pompey incarnation has stretched three-and-a-half years after leaving Salisbury in 2014, where he was the English game’s youngest manager at 28.

Previously, he worked at the club’s satellite centres in Basingstoke and Ferndown with close pal and current Bristol Rovers boss Darrell Clarke, before returning with the under-12s when Andy Awford was heading up the academy.

It’s the under-18s which have been his focus in his most recent position, with Harris an upbeat fixture at the club’s Roko training base.

‘I’ve loved it. Loved it,’ Harris said, of his role.

‘Looking back, going from a first team to development environment took me a while to transition.

‘The two roles are different but once I adjusted I really enjoyed it.

‘I was fortunate to come into a good group and I’ve been fortunate with every group since I’ve been here.

‘There has been some good people on the playing front and staff. I’ve learnt a lot from the people I’ve worked with.

‘It’s been a great journey and we’ve managed to see some lads come through. I’ve managed to be there for most of their debuts.

‘There’s a real intense happiness for a player when it happens. It must be like winning a massive game when you’re a first-team manager.

‘It’s nice to be there for those moments, but it’s more than the football. It’s seeing how they’ve grown as human beings.’

Brandon Haunstrup, Adam May, Alex Bass, Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jez Bedford, Theo Widdrington and a certain Conor Chaplin are among the names Harris has helped transition into the first-team set-up.

Those players have all been central figures in some of Harris’ most memorable nights in his most recent Pompey stay.

The FA Youth Cup has offered highlights with the under-18s progressing to the third round in each of his years in charge of the side.

Category One clubs Bolton, Manchester City and Newcastle provided the substantial opposition as the emerging young guns tested themselves against the best fledgling stars in the business.

‘The youth cup games are brilliant,’ said Harris as he reflected on the nights under the Fratton lights.

‘Everyone always remembers those games in later years.

‘The boys had some great experiences there.

‘It doesn’t get any better than that for a young player. We’ve got to the third round every time over four seasons.

‘To play Manchester City we had a great second-round game against Bristol Rovers. We were 2-0 down at half-time and I’ll never forget the half-time team-talk

‘I had a bit of a chat and looked at things tactically. Then there were some inspiring words, shall we say, from (academy boss) Mark Kelly.

‘That gave the boys some motivation and it did the trick, because we got back into it and won on penalties. It was one of Kells’ finest moments!

‘The City game was like a first-team environment. We pushed them all the way. I know (City academy manager) Jason Wilcox said it was their toughest game until the final against Chelsea.

‘You want to get to where the big boys come in and the boys have done that. Every year the boys rose to the occasion and put in outstanding performances.’

Harris was also the driving force behind Pompey entering the Premier League Cup – a move which was to reap dividends as they reached the semi-finals of the under-23 competition last season.

As well as giving the platform for emerging first-team squad members to gain valuable experience, it provided Kal Naismith a chance to rejuvenate his Pompey fortunes before scoring seven goals in the final nine games in a key contribution to the League Two title success.

But it’s Brighton where Harris will now progress his career, as he takes up a role in the Premier League club’s Category One set-up.

It’s a move shrouded with emotion as the man who was scouted for Pompey’s centre of excellence as an eight-year-old departs his club.

‘I’ve been blown away by people, both in and out of the club, who’ve sent messages,’ said Harris of his farewell.

‘The club were brilliant with me and I had a really nice send-off. They did a lot of nice things.

‘You hope you’re doing a half-decent job and people appreciate what you do, but the reaction from the staff – both football and non-football – has been overwhelming.

‘I’m joining a Premier League club now who are progressive on and off the pitch. The academy is strong with a strong philosophy and values.

‘It’s an opportunity to test myself in a new games programme against coaches and players who will arguably take me out of my comfort zone. I want to get better and stretch myself to see how far I can go.’

Don’t bet against that journey including a return to PO4 one day for a man with Pompey in his soul.