History-making US Portsmouth march on in FA Vase after ‘absolutely fantastic’ win over Millbrook

Glenn Turnbull hailed one of the greatest days in US Portsmouth’s history as the club’s FA Vase bandwagon rolled on into the last 32.

Sunday, 20th December 2020, 4:07 pm
Dec Seiden converts a first minute penalty against Millbrook. Picture: Daniel Haswell.

US had already rewritten the record books by reaching the third round for the first time ever.

But they created Wessex League history in beating Cornish outfit Millbrook 3-2 in a highly entertaining tie at The Victory Stadium at the weekend.

USP are the first team from the second tier of the Wessex to ever reach the fourth round of the Vase.

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US Portsmouth boss Glenn Turnbull celebrates after the FA Vase win over Millbrook. Pic: Martyn White.

Locally, they have now progressed further in the competition than AFC Portchester, Horndean or Fareham Town have ever done - though the latter can also reach the last 32 if they win their delayed third round tie at Plymouth Parkway next Sunday.

In beating Millbrook - like themselves, a side from the sixth tier of non-league football - US have now won through four Vase rounds.

That compares to a previously dismal record of only 10 wins in 43 games spanning 29 seasons of the competition - 13 of which came under the banner of predecessors Portsmouth Royal Navy.

US’ achievement is certainly a major one. They are one of only three step 6 clubs definitely through to the last 32 along with Mulbarton and Fakenham.

US Portsmouth celebrate Frankie Paige's wonder strike that put them 2-0 up against Millbrook. Pic: Martyn White.

A fourth, Walton & Hersham, could join them if they beat step 5 side Guildford in a delayed third round tie.

Last season, only three step 6 clubs reached the last 32, the same as in 2016/19, In 2017/18 there were four step 6 clubs in the fourth round.

Turnbull admits he is proud to have helped raise USP’s profile, and insists the ‘togetherness’ of the squad is key to their record-breaking run.

‘It was an absolutely fantastic day,’ he admitted. ‘The boys said the noise at the final whistle was like playing in front of 10,000 rather than 150.

Frankie Paige, left, celebrates after his stunning goal against Millbrook. Pic: Martyn White.

‘There was just a buzz about the place.

‘There was a buzz around the players as well during the week.

‘I know I said beforehand that the league is our priority blah blah, but I would have been devastated if we’d lost and so would the players

‘It’s fantastic for the club and it’s just sad it was during such dire times as I’m sure we could have got 500 there.

Callum Glenn, right, celebrates with Harry Bedford, who is currently out injured, after USP's win against Millbrook. Pic: Daniel Haswell.

‘I had to disconnect my watch from my phone on Friday because it was going off every 30 seconds with people asking about tickets.

‘It’s putting the club on the map.

‘I had a message from one of the previous managers, Phil Braithwaite, who said ‘it’s an unbelievable achievement - well done.’

‘I’ve had other messages from people who don’t normally watch us saying they were really impressed with the standard of football

‘Charlie Read is the vice president and he messaged me saying ‘I’ve never felt like this, it’s great we are able to put the club on the map.

‘It’s things like that that make it special for me.’

Goalscorer Frankie Paige hitches a lift off the pitch from Harry Bedford after USP's FA Vase win against Millbrook. Pic: Daniel Haswell.

While some local non-league squads are vastly-changed from 2019/20, US have only brought in two major additions since last season was controversially cancelled - a decision which almost certainly cost them promotion.

One is striker Tyler Moret, who hasn’t played any part in the Vase run as he is cup-tied having turned out for Baffins in September. And the other is defender Sonny Harnett-Balkwill, an unused sub against Millbrook.

‘The togetherness we have and how that translates onto the pitch probably won us 15 points last season,’ Turnbull declared.

‘The players would literally do anything for each other.

‘I wouldn’t have brought Tyler in if I didn’t think he would settle in.

‘I’ve turned players down who have asked to come because I didn’t think they’d fit in.

‘I can’t really put my finger on what it is, but we’ve worked hard to ensure it’s one for all.

‘That is absolutely essential.’

Turnbull also believes the squad have a raging desire to succeed.

‘We do feel aggrieved that last season was null and voided, and that drives us on,’ he explained.

‘We have players with a point to prove - Callum Glen came back because he didn’t think he was getting a fair crack of the whip at Baffins.

‘Tom Cain and Harry Birmingham came from Portchester with a point to prove.

‘We have fostered all that and built that togetherness.

‘Tom Cain can be a pain in the backside, but he’s a big factor in bonding all the lads together.

‘The coaching we have - with Barto (Paul Barton) and Fraser (Quirke) - is good for our level, and my job is to get the players in and mould the team, to tell them how I want them to play.’

Turnbull admits it would be tough building such a spirit, a siege mentality even, at another club.

‘People have said to me ‘why don’t you apply for the Portchester job?’ but what I’ve got here isn’t transferable in five minutes - there’s no Mourinho-type template,’ he stated.

‘We’ve got 25 players all in this together, and a backroom staff of five or six.

‘You can’t just transfer that to a club wearing orange or one wearing blue and white, it’s not as easy as that.’

For the second Saturday running - Brockenhurst had previously been defeated in round three - the chant ‘we’re the famous USP and we’re going to Wembley’ could easily be heard from the home dressing room.

It was the sort of noise that indisputably sounded like team spirit.

‘There was some singing and banging on the walls at Bemerton (after US won a league game in October), but there my job was to go in and calm it down, saying ‘we need to take it one step at a time, we don’t want to run before we can walk etc,’ recalled Turnbull.

‘This time we were all in there singing along, I had four bottles of beer poured over my head.’

US have reached the last 32 of a national cup competition without a large budget. In fact, without any budget at all.

Indeed, the players have recently forked out to buy their own bodywarmers for use during winter training sessions.

‘People don’t believe it when I say we haven’t got any money,’ Turnbull reiterated.

‘They don’t know the constraints of playing for this club. Yes, there are some impressive perks but the rigmarole and protocols, we aren’t formally able to pay players because we’re a charity.

‘I still don’t think some of the players get it. They were messaging the chairman (Richard Stephenson) on Saturday night.

‘I’ve told them, he’s not the chairman because he’s a Roman Abramovich-type figure, he’s the chairman because he’s the most senior commander in the Navy!

‘He’s based in Brussels, I think he’s only seen us play once since I’ve been in charge.

‘But we gave the players £200 from the prize pot after beating Brockenhurst for their end-of-season do, and we’ll do the same again.

‘MTEC (the club’s main shirt sponsors) also put something in the pot after the Brockenhurst game, and they’ll do the same again.

‘There’s also around £4,000 from the players’ fines for last season.

‘We’ll all be going on an all expenses paid trip to the Maldives the way it’s going!’

Though cup competitions like the Vase should be about glory and the chance for the players to sing about Wembley, the financial aspect cannot be overlooked either.

US will bank £1,125 for beating Millbrook, taking their seasonal prize money to £3,575.

Another win would bring a further £1,875, but they are guaranteed £600 - the amount all fourth round losers collect.

Frankie Paige, left, and keeper Tom Price during USP's FA Vase win against Millbrook. Pic: Martyn White.