Pompey chief: Fans gave me something I'll take with me to the day I die
It was the emails which broke the seal '“ and Mark Catlin's tears fled.
By admission, the composure had buckled under the twin attacks of that Home Park heartbreak and a subsequent night deprived of sleep.
But until that salt-watershed moment, Pompey’s chief executive had triumphed in retaining his self-control.
After 282 days and 48 matches, the Blues’ attempts at escaping the bottom division of the Football League had failed at the third attempt via the play-offs.
Peter Hartley’s stoppage-time header for Plymouth plunged in the dagger, killing Pompey’s season almost instantly.
Catlin’s mask of mourning had survived until the following day’s noon – then he choked on the Fratton faithful’s messages of goodwill.
More than 100 emails, every one brushing off the authors’ individual heartbreak to pledge touching support and deliver thanks.
And the 50-year-old crumbled.
Catlin told The News: ‘I don’t get very emotional, but reading those emails of support from Pompey fans is something I will take with me until the day I die.
‘My wife, Elaine, will tell you, in births, marriages and deaths I don’t get emotional – and that night was tough, I didn’t sleep after the game.
‘The next day I had a meeting with Paul (Cook) and at midday began to open my emails and was inundated with fans offering support and saying what a great season we’d had and to keep our heads up.
‘That affected me more than anything, probably as much as anything in my life, if I am being honest.
‘And I shed a tear.
‘That is down to the relationships you build up over time at this club. I have always been accessible to supporters, always tried to reply and take time to do whatever I can to engage with fans – and on a day like that, that is where you get the payback.
‘I am always trying to do what I can to help supporters generally and they probably knew I needed that and rallied round. Mind you, it was meant to give me a lift – and made me feel worse!
‘I didn’t have one negative email, honest to God. There were more than a hundred good emails.
‘They were wanting me to pass thanks onto Paul, Ian McInnes and the rest of the board for a great season and how we had restored the pride to the city.
‘Since being here I have learned that as long as supporters see you doing your best and working hard at what you do then they will forgive a lot of things.
‘It is very easy to email moaning. If you go on Expedia or TripAdvisor, people tend only to leave opinions having a moan.
‘When they have something positive to say, people don’t normally do it.
‘I hope as a club we have built strong bonds with supporters now. That door is always open, we try to listen and do what we can.
‘I believe the club is being run in a very, very stable and sustainable way. We have a caring side but also a ruthless business side.
‘And on the back of the Plymouth result, I find those email responses from our fans absolutely gobsmacking.’
In the aftershock of that 1-0 second-leg defeat, there were tears in the Pompey dressing room while Pilgrims supporters rejoiced on the Home Park turf following an impromptu pitch invasion.
Even the enclosed press box experienced a good-natured, one-man intrusion, with a supporter dancing in to celebrate before skipping away.
Elsewhere, Express FM’s Dave Bowers was threatened by a home fan while on-air as feelings exploded.
And for Catlin, the Pilgrims board room hosted one of the worst moments of his life.
He added: ‘You cannot wallow in self-pity but one of the most harrowing experiences of my life was at the end of that game.
‘Myself, the chairman, members of the board and some of the presidents waited to see every last Pompey player off the field safely and then headed into the boardroom.
‘Yet it was just us in there because their directors were still out there celebrating – and we could hear it for half-an-hour.
‘That is not a feeling I ever want to go through again, and I’m pretty sure members of board will say exactly the same.
‘I suppose a lot of clubs at that point would have made a quick break for it to get in their cars and leave, but we represent Portsmouth Football Club.
‘We stayed until all their directors came in, shook their hands and wished them well for the final at Wembley.
‘I would like to think, however much it hurt us, we maintained dignity that day.
‘I didn’t know at the time, but Paul did the same by visiting the Plymouth dressing room, which was a nice touch.
‘We represent Portsmouth Football Club and must show a bit of class.’
Today the Pilgrims face AFC Wimbledon at Wembley for a place in League One (3pm).
It will be the final play-off fixture of the 2015-16 campaign, a season which promotion had been targeted by Pompey.
Although, Catlin will not be watching.
He said: ‘I like Wimbledon as a club and don’t mind Plymouth, but I am nonplussed who goes through, to be honest.
‘I probably won’t even watch it, I couldn’t bring myself to.
‘I love football so maybe I will sit down and watch it, although I think I would rather go shopping with the missus.’