Memory stirs Avram's passion
It is one of the iconic Pompey images.
The time was 4.50pm, the date February 27, 2010 and the setting was a chilly winter afternoon in Lancashire.
Pompey had just defeated Burnley 2-1 as then-Blues boss Avram Grant made his way over to his team’s followers and disappeared among a sea of well-wishers at Turf Moor.
It was defiant gesture from the Israeli just 24 hours after his team had become the first in Premier League history to go into administration.
Pompey fans bellowed their appreciation of the man who was to become the face of their fight to stay alive.
The win that day was an occasion which spoke of the resolve which courses through Portsmouth Football Club.
Grant’s promise ‘they cannot break our spirit’ became synonymous with the 57-year-old – and that occasion at Burnley bellowed his mantra loud and clear.
It’s a memory which remains vivid for the former Blues manager, one which stirs his passion now as it did then.
‘I remember the day we played Burnley away,’ said Grant, as he looked back.
‘We arrived at the game and everyone was sad because of the administration. But we saw the supporters and their passion.
‘I said to the players we need to play for them at that point. We found that target then.
‘It was a great year because of the spirit of the fans. But it was a bad year because the Premier League didn’t find a solution on how to punish those who did something wrong to Portsmouth. Now we are seeing it’s still the same.’
Pompey’s nine-point deduction in the league that season made an uphill fight for survival impossible.
But it was the FA Cup that was to provide the moments which are etched in the club’s annals.
The 4-1 demolition of rivals Southampton in their own patch, the quarter-final win over Birmingham and then arguably the sweetest result of them all in the Blues’ recent history.
Dumping Harry Redknapp’s Spurs out at the home of football to reach the final was a result few predicted.
Doing it with the club on the brink of meltdown, against a side loaded with former players and bossed by the man who had twice walked away from Pompey, made it all the more satisfying.
Grant remembers only too well the chaos that engulfed Fratton Park back then as Balram Chainrai returned to assume control from the mysterious Ali Al Faraj, as the club’s fourth owner in a year.
But that made the journey to the final, which eventually saw brave defeat to Chelsea, all the more remarkable.
Grant said: ‘The FA Cup and how many supporters followed us on that run was special.
‘It wasn’t only the final but the semi-final, quarter-final and Southampton.
‘We had a good team, a very good team in 2010, but they (the Premier League) punished the supporters, managers and players.
‘So we knew we needed to do something for the supporters.
‘We knew in the league we didn’t have any chance, not only because they took nine points but also because there was something unfair happening every day.
‘We had to sell our best players like Younes Kaboul and others, too.
‘Other players couldn’t play, because they had in their contract they would get a new one if they played 21 games – and they had played 20. I remember we couldn’t play Aruna Dindane for two months but the one game he could play was the semi-final and he played fantastically.
‘I needed to think what to do, but we kept together, kept battling and decided to concentrate on the Cup.
‘That meant we rested some players in the league because we wanted to do well there.
‘We saw we could do something, even if we maybe didn’t expect to reach the final.’
Grant’s time at Pompey came to a close at the end of the 2009-10 season. He remains insistent his decision to leave was one he did not want to make.
Grant felt there was no-one at PO4, however, who was prepared to take the steps to nurse the club back to health.
Two years on, he is now looking on as his old club face a replica of that crisis.
Grant, following his spell at West Ham, left Partizan Belgrade in May after leading them to the Serb title. The former Chelsea boss was vocal in Pompey’s treatment by the football authorities when he was in charge.
His anger boils to the surface when he sees the club’s fans are now being hurt again.
Pompey, to him, are the symbol of all that is good in the English game and that is something he believes should be cherished, not hurt.
‘I wanted to continue at Portsmouth,’ said Grant with his voice beginning to shake. ‘But no-one was trying to solve the problems, even then. Nobody.
‘I don’t believe the same is happening now. Now all they are doing again is punishing the supporters. Punish the people who did something wrong! It amazes me.
‘I’m sad and angry what has happened. Somebody needs to wake up and do something.
‘Portsmouth represent the heart of English football. Other clubs are like a factory.
‘It represents the things we used to like in football.
‘It’s a wonderful club with wonderful supporters.
‘I will come down to see the club soon. I will visit and see the supporters. Of course I will.
‘It’s an English club and a club for England. The system is wrong. When you steal something from the supermarket you punish the guy who stole something.
‘But in this case they are punishing the supporters, but morally they have done nothing wrong. They have done only good things for Portsmouth.
‘They support the team no matter what happens and that is a good thing for English football. It has to be saved.’