Meet one of Pompey's own on his way back

One of Pompey's own, yet Sam Magri was never bestowed a song or showered with local adulation.

Saturday, 29th October 2016, 9:30 am
Updated Monday, 31st October 2016, 9:52 am
Sam Magri in pre-season action for Pompey against Chelsea in 2011

Instead the 22-year-old awaits a Football League bow while reconstructing his career at non-league Dover Athletic.

Conor Chaplin presently possesses the Fratton faithful’s heart, the homespun talent having breezed into the first team with beguiling ease.

The teenager’s admirable progress was further recognised eight days ago, with the awarding of a contract until the summer of 2019.

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But while the Worthing youngster has glided along the Academy’s glittering pathway, others have had their feet shredded.

Magri, three years Chaplin’s senior within the youth set-up, appeared predestined for Pompey stardom.

A former season-ticket holder hailing from Fratton, the defender established a burgeoning reputation through an England youth career consisting of 31 caps.

However, an August 2012 first-team debut against Plymouth in the Capital One Cup represents his solitary Blues appearance.

Pompey’s desire to cash-in saw the 18-year-old ushered out of the door just two weeks later – press-ganged for QPR duty.

These days he serves in the National League, where a second season with consistent promotion contenders Dover has now earned a maiden international call-up for Malta.

Magri is forging a career back on an upward trajectory, four years after jettisoned from his beloved Fratton Park.

He said: ‘That Plymouth match was the best feeling in the world. Coming from Pompey, supporting them and playing for them was unreal.

‘I only wanted to play for Pompey and if I had the chance again it would still be the case, but I never had a choice in leaving. It was nothing to do with me.

‘From being on the bench for Michael Appleton to him wanting to get rid of me, I don’t really know what happened. I suppose I never will, but you just have to get on with it.

‘I’m jealous of the likes of Jed Wallace, Ashley Harris, Adam Webster and Dan Butler because that is what I wanted to do. I was happy for them, they deserved it, but I also wanted to be playing for Pompey.

‘I grew up 10 minutes from Fratton Park and had a season ticket with my dad before I started playing on Saturdays. When we won promotion to the Premier League against Burnley, we both joined the fans on the pitch.

‘My dad knows a lot of Pompey fans and after I left he heard rumours I had gone purely for the money.

‘At QPR I was on £200 more than I was on at Pompey. If that move was really about money I’m sure I would have tried to get a lot more!

‘I received a phone call, was told I had to go to QPR for a medical the following day and that was it. Gone.’

Magri’s England progress from the age of 15 inevitably brought him to the attention of the Fratton faithful.

There were substitute appearances against the Hawks and Chelsea in the 2011 pre-season under Steve Cotterill.

He finished the 2011-12 campaign as an unused substitute in five of Pompey’s final six matches during their Championship relegation.

In the summer of 2012, he skippered Appleton’s side in Gibraltar during their pre-season tour.

Yet his Fratton future was fading.

He added: ‘In 2011-12, the night before Barnsley, Appleton told me I was being left out of the squad as I would be going to Liverpool on trial.

‘I was due to be on the bench at Oakwell, instead they had three subs.

‘I didn’t have a choice – the manager obviously didn’t think I was good enough or didn’t want me to stay.

‘So I spent a week at Anfield, played in a youth-team victory over Everton at Kirby and did really well. But the clubs couldn’t agree a fee.

‘A few months later I made my first Pompey squad – at Southampton! I remember seeing my shirt hanging up and thinking “it’s happening!”

‘What a good day, David Norris equalised in stoppage-time and it was nuts. Being a fan of the club you played for was crazy.

‘But football is a cut-throat sport. If someone doesn’t think you are good enough then you will be gone. By the start of the next season that was me.’

During two years at QPR, followed by a Crystal Palace season, Magri was not handed a first-team appearance.

Instead non-league football would stage his resurrection.

Dover’s 2-0 victory at Bromley on Tuesday night lifted them into sixth in the National League, with Magri lining up at right-back.

He was also this week called-up for Malta’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia, scheduled for November 11.

Following four appearances with Malta’s under-21s, it represents natural progression for a player who qualifies through his grandparents.

Meanwhile, Magri is back in the area, living with fiancée, Ellie, in Hilsea, with a wedding planned for next summer.

The resurgence continues.

‘After QPR, I earned a month-to-month contract at Crystal Palace, yet it was a bit of a nothing year for me,’ he said.

‘I was put in their under-21s but should have instead accepted offers in the National League. That would definitely have helped my development rather than spending a year in the under-21s not playing.

‘What I realised when playing non-league football was how many levels it is above the under-21 system, that was a big shock.

‘Last season I played 46 matches for Dover and continue to improve with that experience, it has been vital.

‘While growing up, everyone thought I must be pretty decent playing for England – then things happened and I dropped down a level.

‘Now I’m starting to come back and it shows it’s never too late. My aim is to get back into the Football League with Dover, if not then someone else.

‘But going to Dover has been the best thing to ever happen to me.’