A time for Pompey’s players to be immortal

Colin Garwood
Colin Garwood
Pompey's Brett Pitman celebrates after scoring his second goal in their 2-0 win at Oldham. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South

Oldham 0 Pompey 2: they said what?

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The 65-year-old climbed to his feet to address those gathered.

There was a hush as he accepted the microphone thrust in his direction. It was his turn.

A silver-haired man from Wisbech occupying the centre of attention in that Mary Rose room.

Except what that 200-strong audience actually saw was a prolific striker who helped win promotion the last time Pompey languished in the Fourth Division.

His name – Colin Garwood.

And that night last month he was embraced as a favourite returning son and a footballing hero.

Garwood’s playing days ended some 32 years ago but upon walking into the Marriott he was back leading the line for Frank Burrows.

Former team-mates Keith Viney, Derek Showers, Steve Davey and Joe Laidlaw and Burrows himself were also present for that wonderfully nostalgic Boys of 79 reunion, toasting those who fought their way out of the division in 1979-80.

Each spoke with touching sincerity and heart-felt affection for their former club, voices crackling with emotion while dusting off old stories to present to their captivated guests.

Then the fans descended, middle-aged men rediscovering their youth by seeking autographs and requesting photographs.

Such terrace favourites are these days pensioners.

Regardless, they continue to retain the lifelong respect and love of the Fratton faithful in recognition of their playing ability and commitment.

Something for Andy Awford’s Class of 2014 to contemplate then.

Here they stand on the brink of a new League Two season – a campaign which could catapult them into Pompey folklore.

They too can be treated as timeless heroes on halcyon nights like those in July.

Playing days will fade and disappear with a cruel inevitability, yet there are those who serve this club who will never be forgotten.

Something gloriously special can be achieved this season by Awford’s squad – the talent, attitude and motivation are unquestionably present to succeed.

They can be the inspiration behind the rebirth of a great football club languishing in unfamiliar surroundings with an average attendance more than double any of their rivals.

For some of Awford’s troops, the forthcoming campaign could represent the finest accomplishment in the entire length of their career.

A place in immortality is beckoning.

Of course, there are members of that first-team who have already dug the foundations by bonding with the fans off the field of play, certainly a feat not many have accomplished in recent times.

The opening year of fan ownership has almost overwhelmingly seen players behave impeccably towards their community commitments, fulfilling duties with supporters with willingness and warmth.

For instance, Simon Ferry, Jed Wallace and Ricky Holmes turning up at Fratton Park on a Sunday afternoon in April to release balloons in memory of Jack Robinson was a touch of class.

They were not press-ganged into attending such an event by the club, they weren’t even marched into the Victory Bar to ensure they couldn’t sneak away when eyes were trained elsewhere.

For the trio, it felt right – and was deeply appreciated by so many present.

The respect Ferry received from supporters upon departing the Blues for Dundee this summer was stunning, choking the midfielder.

This for a player whose Pompey record was 22 appearances, of which two came after January 18, as injury ravaged a south-coast stay.

So many others have also been involved in community events, led by club captain Johnny Ertl.

Yet footballers are ultimately judged – and remembered – by success.

It can occur in a fleeting moment of brilliance or over the duration of the season, a precious contribution which will outpace their footballing lifetime.

Awford’s squad currently have the ball at their feet, now it is time to pick out the right pass.

Not that Garwood’s gang are the only ones lodged in Pompey folklore, in previous summers the Boys of 87 and then the Boys of 83 reunited for tribute meals.

Tentative preparations are already under way to stage a Boys of 92 dinner next year to commemorate the FA Cup semi-final squad, a group which includes Awford and first-team coach McLoughlin.

However, Jake Payne has long realised he is heading for failure should he attempt to gather the FA Cup-winning squad from 2008.

Hermann Hreidarsson and David James are perhaps the only certainties from that day, the rest of their team-mates’ attendance potential rank from highly unlikely to completely unrealistic.

It is with a sad inevitability the fulcrum of the side and man-of-the-match that May day, Lassana Diarra, will never again set foot in Fratton Park. He has moved on.

For so many – myself included – he is the greatest modern-day player to turn out for the Blues, even if his stay consisted of a mere 32 matches.

Similarly, those who reached the 2010 FA Cup final against Chelsea will also not attract such a Marriott function.

Certainly there would be more luck with the 2002-03 Division One title-winning team, except the manager wouldn’t be the most welcome on his return to the city.

But Pompey are at a different level nowadays, when players have returned to living in the city and take interest in the supporters.

So to Ben Chorley, Paul Jones, Nicky Shorey, James Dunne, Danny Hollands, Ryan Taylor, Craig Westcarr & Co, this is your time.

Today you are presented with a season which could see your names toasted and sung about for many, many decades to come.

The rewards for your endeavours will last an eternity, just ask Garwood.