Hap-pie days! Ten years on, why Pompey's Great Escape is still a tasty memory
It was the best pre-match pie I've ever had - and it was just a taste of the wonderful afternoon to come as Pompey achieved their Great Escape.
Hard to believe then that it’s ten years today since I devoured that succulent snack at Wigan’s JJB stadium before watching the glorious end to an incredible never-say-die scramble to safety.
Like 5,000 or more other Pompey fans, I’d made the long journey to Lancashire on April 29, 2006, full of hope and trying to dismiss the nagging fear that we might falter at the final hurdle.
A few weeks earlier, it had seemed impossible that Pompey would escape to fight another season in the Premier League.
But then that late,late winner from Pedro Mendes against Manchester City at Fratton Park lit the fuse for an improbable yet heroic escape from the jaws of relegation.
The team just kept picking up results, the crowd just kept believing and, on a tidal wave of emotion, Pompey and their fans rolled into Wigan for on last mighty effort.
And what an effort it was!
Okay, though my pie stayed firmly in my stomach my heart was most definitely in my mouth as Henri Camara put the home side ahead just after the half-hour mark.
Deep was the discussion in the away end at half-time on whether or not Pompey could grab the two goals they needed for the victory that would ensure survival.
We needn’t have worried. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
It’s perhaps forgotten now that Benjani, already a massive favourite among fans after his arrival at the club earlier in the season, hadn’t actually scored in the dozen-plus matches he’d played so far. The chant of ‘He comes from Zimbabwe, he’s gonna score today’ seemed increasingly like a hope rather than a prediction.
But ten years ago today came a new chant. ‘He comes from Zimbabwe, we saw him score today!’ rang out from the Pompey hordes Benjani’s 63rd minute strike levelled the score.
Eight minute later, history was made and Matty Taylor was sprinting the length of the pitch to celebrate with the Pompey fans after scoring the penalty that proved to be the winner.
No matter that the nervous excitement before the game was almost too much to bear, no matter that Pompey wore that hideous red strip and no matter that the long celebration in the ground after the final whistle meant we’d almost missed last orders when we got home to Portsmouth - this was one of the good days.
Some fans say that Pompey always let down supporters on the biggest occasions - actually, often they don’t.
This was one of those times when fans and players combined for a tremendous joint performance, and one that put the seal on The Great Escape.
The taste of that lovely pie might long since have faded - but I’ll always savour the memory of April 29, 2006.
Wigan: Pollitt, Chimbonda, Jackson, Henchoz, Baines, Teale, Thompson (Scharner 72), Kavanagh (Johansson 84), McCulloch, Roberts, Camara (Connolly 80).
Subs Not Used: Wright, Francis.
Sent Off: Teale (70).
Booked: Baines, Henchoz, McCulloch.
Goals: Camara 34.
Portsmouth: Kiely, Priske, Primus, Stefanovic, Taylor, O’Neil, Davis (Pamarot 45), Pedro Mendes (Hughes 68), D’Alessandro, Benjani, Todorov (Routledge 90).
Subs Not Used: Ashdown, Karadas.
Goals: Benjani 63, Taylor 71 pen.
Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).