23 years of hurt never stopped me dreaming
It might not be quite long enough for a Lightning Seeds lyric, but after 23 years of hurt I'm more than ready for redemption from play-off pain.
Like any Pompey fan of a certain vintage, ahead of the two-leg clash with Plymouth Argyle my mind is going back to the last and, before now, only time we’ve made the play-offs.
And I hope beyond hope that this time it’ll be a different story to 1993 when a team that just a few weeks earlier had seemed destined for automatic promotion to the infant Premier League instead were brought crashing down to earth by Leicester City (whatever happened to them?)
I’m absolutely confident as Pompey go into the Fratton Park semi-final first leg against Plymouth tonight - far more so than I was when I joined 5,000 or so other fans on the trip to the East Midlands on May 16, 1993.
We weren’t off to Leicester - the old Filbert Street ground was getting a lick of paint and more - so instead the match against the Foxes was played at the inappropriately red-bedecked City Ground, home of Nottingham Forest.
Pompey were only there because of the infamous 4-1 implosion at Sunderland and Swindon’s rolling over that gave West Ham the promotion edge.
To me, it seemed there was as much trepidation as expectation among the travelling fans as the match began. Guy Whittingham seemed slightly less sharp than the razor-like level he’d been at all season (albeit Walshie made a dynamic contribution, how on earth the record-breaking 42 league goals haul didn’t earn ‘Corporal Punishment’ the player of the year award is still beyond me) but with only four minutes to go, Leicester hadn’t offered much either and we looked set up for the second leg.
Enter substitute Julian Joachim - at a fair rate of knots - and all that was undone in a flash. Joachim, in many ways a player from the mould from which Jermain Defoe was later created, suddenly bore down towards the end at which Pompey’s supporters were massed, defenders trailing in his wake.
The result was inevitable, and Pompey faced a 1-0 deficit going into the deciding leg.
There were more than 25,000 in Fratton Park that night, and they made a tremendous din.
But for all they huffed and puffed, Pompey couldn’t quite blow the Foxes down.
Alan McLoughlin did level the aggregate score shortly after the break, before Ian Ormondroyd equalised with THAT goal.
More than two decades on, estimates from those in the ground as to quite how far offside the lanky striker was seem to vary between six feet and six yards.
I don’t think we can moan - to me, part of the thrill of football is the ups-and-downs lottery provided by officials who mostly but not always get it right.
Pompey will have enjoyed many goals over the years that should not have stood - it’s just a pity that one that went against us came in such a crucial game.
It seemed to temporarily knock the stuffing out of Pompey, and the crowd. Before we knew it Steve Thompson had put the visitors ahead and, despite Benny Kristensen’s booming equaliser at the Fratton End 18 minutes from time, the season which for so long had promised so much for Pompey came to a stuttering and sorry stop.
Looking back, it seemed somehow written in the stars. Pompey had done so well for most of the campaign that the late downer of failing to seal automatic promotion somehow made us feel on the back foot.
Fast forward 23 years, and I’d say that the atmosphere is altogether rosier. Okay, we didn’t get the automatic promotion which many had predicted, but we ended the season with a string of good battling performances (including that fateful home match against Plymouth which on any other day we would have won).
So I for one am going into these play-offs in far more optimistic mood than in 1993.
Twenty-three years of hurt never stopped me dreaming....