Jason Pearce hopeful of Pompey return
Jason Pearce played one season for Pompey, which ended in relegation, before he was hastily sold.
At first glance it looks like a familar tale of a money-grabbing mercenary failing to buy into the club’s community ethos while underperforming on the field.
But looks can be deceiving – Pearce was a big Blues success.
Just ask the Fratton faithful.
The central defender won seven of the nine end-of-season awards available at the climax of the 2011-12 campaign.
Those included the club’s prestigious player of the season trophy as he ended a roller-coaster campaign proudly wearing the captain’s armband.
Sadly, off-the-field financial turmoil demanded his sale to Leeds as the League One-bound Blues battled to stay afloat.
Pearce’s Pompey story remains a remarkable one, though.
And the 28-year-old, who has just led Wigan back to the Championship, is keen to write another chapter to an intriguing tale that first began 18 years ago.
‘I am hopeful I will get the opportunity to play for Portsmouth again,’ said Pearce.
‘I would love to come back with the club on a good footing and heading in the right direction – not going down.
‘When it is your hometown club and one you hold very close to your heart, that never changes.
‘I have an app on my phone, so all of their results and news comes up straight away.
‘I keep them close and wish them all the best in the play-offs – hopefully they can get promoted.
‘We will see what happens.’
Pearce’s route from Blues youth team to first team was far from straightforward, though, with AFC Bournemouth providing a four-year stepping stone.
He said: ‘I was at Portsmouth as a schoolboy from the age of 10.
‘As a kid you just want to be a footballer, so to go through the ranks at my hometown club was a brilliant experience for me.
‘I actually got released at 14 but a year later they brought me back.
‘Getting my YTS was a massive deal at the time – that is the first step on the football ladder.
‘Then when I turned pro the club were in the Premier League and Harry Redknapp was manager.
‘I remember when I signed my contract, Harry called me into one of the changing rooms and said he had Bournemouth wanting to take me on loan and that it would be a great experience to get out and play some games.
‘I listened to him and in the end it turned out to be a permanent move, so I was really grateful.’
As was the case with so many others, Pearce was unable to make the step up from Pompey youth team to first team under Redknapp, with the lower-league Cherries offering him a route into the senior ranks.
But with the Blues dropping into the Championship four years later, a reunion was on the cards.
It was an opportunity Pearce could not resist.
He said: ‘I had a couple of options where I could go but as soon as I knew Portsmouth were interested, I genuinely wanted to make that move happen,
‘And I made sure it did in the end, so I was absolutely delighted.
‘To get an opportunity to play in the first team as a homegrown player, especially with those fans, was brilliant.
‘I didn’t feel I had a point to prove, I just wanted to show people at the club what I could do.
‘And as with a lot of players who come through the youth system at a club, all of the fans wanted me to do well – that is the feeling I got as soon as I arrived at Portsmouth.’
A dream return, though, quickly threatened to become a nightmare as Pompey were plunged into administration, with owners Convers Sports Initiatives unable to pay the bills at Fratton Park.
Having experienced similar tales of woe at the Cherries, Pearce was ready for the challenging time ahead.
He said: ‘Sadly, it is part and parcel of football.
‘I had been through adminstration twice with Bournemouth so I knew what that was all about.
‘But at the time we had some big hitters who hadn’t experienced that and didn’t want to drop their money.
‘For the best of the club, myself and Wardy (Joel Ward) were happy to take drops, as we didn’t want to see Portsmouth go under.
‘We did the best we could to keep them in the league but obviously it wasn’t to be in the end.’
A 10-point deduction ultimately did for Michael Appleton’s Blues side but only after they had thwarted Southampton’s title challenge, by holding their high-flying neighbours to draws in both south-coast derby fixtures – including a 2-2 thriller at St Mary’s.
For Pearce, that was a highlight of his all-too-brief stay.
He said: ‘As a youngster I had watched a lot of south-coast derbies and knew the atmosphere that comes with them.
‘To play in one was amazing – we were actually undefeated in both of our south-coast derbies that year.
‘It was a really good achievement from the boys, although it would have been nice to get one over on our rivals.
‘I will never forget that game at St Mary’s.
‘I am close with David Norris now and we met up the other day and actually spoke about that goal.
‘It is fair to say it is one of the highlights of his career – it was a great goal.
‘To be fair, our first goal from Chris Maguire wasn’t a bad finish either!’
While the club struggled in trying circumstances, Pearce excelled to the point he was handed the captain’s armband when regular skipper Liam Lawrence was loaned to Cardiff in a money-saving move.
The coveted Pompey player-of-the-season trophy followed but the financial turmoil surrounding the club brought with it a 10-point deduction and relegation to League One.
Pearce said: ‘To be made captain was a massive privilege.
‘I was absolutely delighted when I got the opportunity to wear the armband – I was never going to turn that down.
‘It also meant everything to play a whole season for my hometown club.
‘And to get rewarded with the fans saying I was the best player was a huge achievement. I will never forget that.
‘The only regret I have is the points deduction – if we hadn’t been deducted 10 points we would have stayed up, that’s a fact.
‘It’s sad it was purely administration and off-the-field problems that did for us.’
With a summer clear out crucial to keep the club – who had been issued a winding up petition by HMRC for more than £1.6m in unpaid taxes – afloat, Pearce was given no choice but to say an emotional goodbye to the Blues for a second time.
While others dug their heels in over unpaid wages, he put the club first and signed for Leeds.
Pearce added: ‘I signed a three-year deal at Portsmouth so was hopeful of staying longer but the situation meant the club had to sell me.
‘They needed money to keep afloat and to me that was the most important thing.
‘To help make sure Portsmouth stayed in existence and carried on going, I had to make the move.’
With the Blues now a club on the up, the Fratton faithful will no doubt be hoping Pearce and Pompey can strike it third-time lucky in the future.