Pompey success evaded Kemp but goals didn't
A hero and saviour in the eyes of the Fratton faithful who still sing his name 40 years after he signed, Dave Kemp has no regrets surrounding his 16-month Pompey stay.
Immortalised in the club’s Hall of Fame earlier this month, the former south-coast hitman cannot help but wonder, though, what it might have been like to have played in a more successful Blues team.
Providing light in a largely dark period, Kemp’s 32 goals in 64 third division games arrived in a struggling, cash-strapped side.
Unsurprisingly the striker, who arrived at Fratton Park in November 1976 from Crystal Palace in a swap deal for George Graham, attracted no shortage of attention from other clubs after helping Pompey beat the drop.
Aston Villa, Leicester and Derby were among them, with Kemp’s impressive run of 10 goals in as many matches the following season seeing him top English football’s goal charts in December 1977, despite the Blues sitting bottom of the table.
But just as Pompey had done the previous campaign, third division Carlisle performed something of a coup to net the in-demand forward.
A £75,000 deal was struck on deadline day in March 1978, with the Blues relegated a month later.
And while Kemp still rues his Cumbrians switch, the fans’ favourite has no such thoughts towards Pompey – only a lingering desire to have sampled better times at Fratton Park.
He said: ‘I loved playing at Pompey, it has a fabulous stadium and a great atmosphere.
‘Both the city and the people are brilliant and I really enjoyed it.
‘If we could have just got the team right, then it would have all been perfect. I didn’t play in a good Pompey team.
‘Obviously you always want to do well wherever you go but if I could have played here in a successful team I may have had fantastic memories of promotions and cup outings.
‘But you get the cards you are dealt and I don’t regret coming to Pompey at all, I loved it.
‘In a dark period, it’s nice to think my goals gave the fans something to remember.
‘The fact I am remembered now is fantastic – it’s great to be seen as the one bright part of that time, I suppose.’
Not so great, was Kemp’s controversial exit to rivals Carlisle, which took fans and player alike by surprise.
Fearing relegation and not fully understanding the implications of his contract running out in the summer – notably that he would become a free agent – the prolific striker panicked and ended up in the north west.
He said: ‘At the start of my second season there was a lot of talk of me leaving the club.
‘Derby, Leicester and Villa were all linked – there were a few.
‘At that point, I probably would have gone because it was a step up – not because I wanted to leave.
‘Pompey just seemed to be going one way and you want your own career to go another.
‘I would like to have moved on to a higher level but the club wouldn’t allow me the move for whatever reason and I stayed.
‘The move to Carlisle is a regret.
‘Deadline day was the first time Pompey said I could actually go and they came in for me – I should have waited.
‘I had all of this other interest from these big clubs and was told afterwards by a manager of one of the clubs, they had also been in for me that day.
‘They were going to sign me at the end of that season because freedom of contract had come in.
‘It is a period of regret – I still enjoyed my time at Carlisle but it was obviously a bad career move and not the right thing to do.
‘That’s what happened, though, and you have to live with it.’
While his departure was lamented by Blues fans, Kemp’s arrival was heralded by all at the club, not least manager Ian St John who declared: “Dave’s the boy for goals”.
The striker proved his new boss correct but only after catching his eye at former club Palace.
Following the Blues’ second division relegation in 1976, owing primarily to a lack of goals, Kemp’s double in a 2-2 League Cup draw against them at the start of the following season put him firmly on St John’s radar.
Three months later, the boss had his man.
Kemp laughed: ‘That probably played a part in it!’
‘He was obviously looking for someone to come in and score goals for him and then I became available.
‘I was a confident goalscorer so wherever I played I always thought I was going to score.’
A few doubts crept in for Kemp after he encountered a frustrating start to life at Pompey, however.
In his first four games, the new man scored once, had a goal disallowed and hit the woodwork five times – all after picking up an injury in a run out for the reserve team, ironically designed to improve match fitness levels.
Kemp said: ‘It’s fair to say I had a bit of bad luck to start with.
‘Pompey played in the Cup and I couldn’t play so I played in a reserve game to get my fitness up and got injured – I took a bruising whack from a bad tackle.
‘I then had a goal disallowed in my first game for the club.
‘And in those first few games I couldn’t stop hitting the post – it didn’t look too good for me!
‘But once I scored my first goal they all started going in after that.’
With little else to cheer about, Kemp’s goals soon earned him cult status among the Fratton faithful, who were quick to pen a song in his honour –to the tune of The Scaffold’s Lily the Pink.
And when he hit a hat-trick in a 5-1 home win over Rotherham – the first for the club for more than six years –it was not just the Blues toasting his exploits.
Kemp joked: ‘I love the song, but I didn’t buy the album – put it that way!
‘I suppose the kids who are now singing it are probably wondering who the hell I am!
‘But it is still nice for the fans to do that 40 years on and to be a part of the club’s history in a sense.
‘Looking back on the Rotherham game, it is a funny one because my old club Palace got the most from it.
‘That 5-1 win helped them get promoted on goal difference, so having started the season with them I still played a part in them going up after leaving!’
Sadly for Kemp, his 16-month Blues stay was never likely to bring such success to the south coast.
But the man who plundered a total of 38 goals in 74 games for Pompey is under no illusions as to the calibre of the club he represented with such pride.
He said: ‘When I was at Pompey there were still two members from the Championship-winning side in Jimmy Dickinson and Duggie Reid around the club.
‘Those men typified what a great club it was, is and could be.
‘Unfortunately, my time did not bring such success on the pitch.
‘But I was always aware I was playing for a great football club with great tradition.’
For Kemp, then, his recent Hall of Fame induction which saw him immortalised alongside the likes of Blues legends Dickinson and Reid, was the ultimate honour.
‘To be remembered 40 years on is unbelievable really,’ he added.
‘I am honoured and flattered.
‘I have been very fortunate to have had a long career in the game and despite the team’s struggles, that period is a highlight for me.’
Still firmly involved in football, Kemp, who enjoyed a short spell as first-team coach at Pompey in 1999-2000 under Tony Pulis, has struck up quite the partnership with the Welshman.
And having worked under Pulis at no less than five different clubs in the past 16 years, Kemp is now his assistant at Premier League West Brom.
DAVE KEMP ON... ...PULIS PARTNERSHIP
Dave Kemp is currently assistant boss to Tony Pulis at Premier League West Brom. The duo have worked together at five clubs: Pompey, Stoke City (twice), Plymouth, Crystal Palace and the Baggies.
I first worked alongside Tony Pulis at Pompey, so when it is all over I will look back and see that the Blues have played a big part in my life and my career.
Myself and Tony have been a successful partnership in these past 16 years and done well for the clubs we have been at.
But we would like to have stayed at Pompey for longer – that just didn’t pan out again quite the way we wanted.
The club were going down when we came in, though, and we kept them up so we still played a part in that.
...GETTING TO KNOW HIS SURROUNDINGS
Fratton Park has a great feel about it.
I remember when I first signed here, they put me in digs up the road.
I used to drive down on the Saturday morning before a game and go and stand on the Fratton end just to have a nose about and get a feel of the ground!
For me, it is a great football stadium.
Paul Cahill was the captain when I came and I am still very close with him – I speak to him all of the time.
Steve Foster was another good buddy of mine, I haven’t seen so much of him lately but we kept in touch for a number of years.
And Chris Kamara is obviously a character so in that respect you make lifelong friends.