How Steve Ramsey rediscovered his love for football after Portsmouth sacking by Harry Redknapp through spells at Hawks, Gosport Borough and AFC Portchester
Steve Ramsey went from discussing a professional deal with Pompey to working on the building sites in the blink of an eye.
The midfielder was highly rated making his way through the Blues' youth ranks - where he had been from the age of six - playing in the same team as two of the best PO4 exports in recent times, Crystal Palace's Joel Ward and Newcastle's Matt Ritchie.
Things could barely have been much better for Ramsey who had signed on two-year scholarship terms - before it all dramatically changed.
Unaware of the details, the Paulsgrove lad - 18 at the time - would be called into boss Harry Redknapp's training ground office for a meeting in 2008.
The exchange that followed was about to change his life.
After being routinely drug tested, Ramsey returned a positive result. He is adamant this came through 'passive smoking' at a party - inhaling secondary smoke while at the gathering.
Redknapp, though, reacted by sacking the teenager; compounding the shock, Ramsey was also handed a two-year Football League ban - meaning he couldn’t join any other club in the top four tiers in that period - and slapped with a £500 fine after a FA hearing.
The day of his Blues dismissal would be the last involvement he would have with a professional club.
Some 13 years after his Fratton Park departure, non-league spells at Hawks and Gosport Borough have arrived - while he currently plays for Wessex League Premier Division outfit AFC Portchester, mixing football with his job as a builder.
But Ramsey, 31, feels being 'made an example of' for his failed test and the punishment that came with it always hindered his chances of ever making it as a pro
‘It was straight from full-time football to the building site, so that was a bit of a wake-up,' he recalled.
‘I went from going from training and getting in at 9 o’clock, having some breakfast, rolling out and doing a bit of training and leaving by lunchtime to getting in a van with a load of smelly builders at 5 in the morning.
'I went right through the ranks at Pompey right the way up from six all the way up until pro, pretty much.
‘I fell out of love with the game after that.
‘I think they made a real example out of me. I couldn’t go to any other club, really, so I had to go down to the non-league.
'They called me into the office, obviously I’d had a drugs test before but I didn’t think nothing of it, but obviously it came back as a fail.
‘It was just being round my mates at a party and taking in (the smoke), obviously you realised.
‘I try not to think about it too much but it still kills me inside to think what could have been.'
Ramsey would be handed a quick route back into the game, though, albeit at Conference South level.
Ironically, a call arrived from a former Pompey player, Shaun Gale - manager of Hawks at the time - to ask if he wanted to resurrect his career at Westleigh Park.
Ramsey accepted the offer, although he admitted to going through the motions somewhat having joined just weeks after his Blues sacking in the summer of 2008.
Still only 18, it wasn't long before he was back enjoying the game again and featuring regularly just two divisions below the Football League.
Across a six-year stay at Westleigh Park, Ramsey amassed 220 appearances and AFC Bournemouth were even thought to be one-time admirers during his time with Hawks.
Unfortunately, a second chance at trying to make it as a pro never arrived, but the midfielder developed a 'love' for the club in his time there.
‘It must have been a week or two later (after Pompey sacking) Shaun gave me a ring at Havant and he said he wanted me down there,' Ramsey recalled.
‘I didn’t think anything of it because I fell out of love with the game and I just thought I’d go there and see how it goes.
‘For half a season at Havant, I was probably just tinkering through and wasn’t really playing much.
‘When I started playing and became a regular there, I loved it.
‘It was my first real taste of men’s football - I was playing reserves at Pompey and stuff - but I went into men’s football and they were animals in the changing room when I went there. You had the likes of Shaun Wilkinson and that in the changing room; I didn’t really enjoy that, I didn’t really know what was going on!
‘It was straight away get the ball and then ‘whack’, big player and big man smashing you up in the air.
'I still love the club now to be honest with you, it’s a great club, I always look to see how they get on now. I always like to see them do well and stuff. It was sad, I was gutted to leave, I made a lot of friends there.
‘I would liked to have finished my whole career at that club, but things change.
‘It was a massive eye-opener but I’ve enjoyed all my time - all the clubs I’ve played for in non-league - I’ve enjoyed them.'
Ramsey's eventual Hawks departure was brought about after falling out of favour under Lee Bradbury.
Initially, he moved to Gosport on loan in January 2014 before making the move permanent that summer.
Unfortunately for Ramsey, he played no part in Boro's remarkable run to Wembley and the FA Trophy final after joining temporarily in the 2013/14 season.
Gosport faced rivals Hawks in a two-legged semi-final, with the midfielder not allowed to face his parent club, prior to being called back to Westleigh Park before the final took place.
That would add to the near misses in Ramsey's career having moved to Hawks in 2008 - the season after their run to the FA Cup fourth round where they faced Liverpool at Anfield.
He did at least feature when Boro were beaten 6-3 at Privett Park in the first round of the competition by Colchester in October 2014.
Ramsey would eventually drop down to the Wessex League Premier Division late in the 2015/16 season, joining AFC Portchester.
During his time at The Crest Finance Stadium he has been one of the highest-scoring midfielders in the Wessex - netting 11 times in 2016/17, 15 in 2017/18 and 17 in the coronavirus-shortened 2019/20 season.
Ramsey has been captain of the Royals for the past three seasons, although the last two have ended prematurely because of the pandemic.
It might be a long way from the footballing career Ramsey had planned as he made his way through the ranks with Pompey, but it's still one he can take plenty of fond memories from.
‘I’m happy with what I’ve done so far,' said Ramsey.
‘I’ve played in the FA Cup, which is the greatest cup in the world, I played in the first round of that. It’s been good and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
'If I could go back - sometimes I wish I could - but when I look back on it I wouldn’t have met the people I have and my life would have been so much different - either for the better for the worse.
‘There is, yeah (tinge of disappointment), but I try not to let it beat me up too much.'