Big Interview: Russell Perrett

Neil Perrett in action for Pompey
Neil Perrett in action for Pompey
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He was the man who told a small fib to Alan Ball – but enjoyed every minute of it.

Lymington’s Russell Perrett made 81 appearances and scored two goals after making his Pompey debut in a 4-1 loss at Sheffield United in November 1995.

He was a key part of the team’s FA Cup run to the quarter-finals the following season as they bowed out in a defeat to Chelsea at Fratton Park after knocking out Leeds United at Elland Road.

But the honest, no-nonsense centre-back is often remembered for a game when he did a selfless job for the side as Pompey battled back for a 3-3 draw at Swindon’s County Ground in February 1999.

And there is something about an outfield player going between the sticks that seems to connect with fans.

Perrett’s opportunity to don the gloves came about after Aaron Flahavan had been injured in an aerial clash with Swindon’s Iffy Onoura eight minutes before half-time – and Ball had opted to go without a keeper on the bench.

Perrett said: ‘Aaron Flahavan, bless him, got pummelled by Iffy Onoura.

‘Alan Knight was sitting there on the bench but not as a named substitute because you only had three in those days.

‘So someone shouted “who wants to go in goal?”

‘I cheekily told Alan Ball that I had played in goal before and he seemed quite happy with that. But I hadn’t really!

‘I had never played in goal in a proper match but I liked throwing myself about in training.

‘I just wanted to have a go and thought I had nothing to lose.

‘I conceded a goal within five minutes and then I conceded another one.

‘But we got back in the game in the second half and my confidence grew a bit.

‘I loved it and I was coming for crosses and all sorts.

‘For a while, I did think I might have missed my calling – it would have saved running around a massive pitch for 90 minutes.

‘You’ve just got to stand there – no wonder Knightsie played 800 games!

‘They were putting me under pressure and throwing balls in the box but as the game wore on, the more I enjoyed it.

‘I was quite chuffed at the end but I’m not sure Alan Knight was too impressed!’

In his regular position, Perrett was good in the air and more than happy to dish out a hefty challenge to an opposing striker.

And him and his defensive partner, Andy Thomson, came in for some criticism from Ruud Gullit after that 4-1 loss to Chelsea in the FA Cup in 1997 on a misty afternoon at Fratton Park.

‘I was up against Mark Hughes that day,’ said Perrett.

‘I tried to kick him and kick him and he just kept getting up.

‘I think Ruud Gullit said afterwards that it was like watching his strikers wrestling with tigers!

‘Then after I had mauled Hughes, he got up and stuck one in the top corner.

‘They had Hughes and Gianfranco Zola up front and when I get asked who was the best player I played against, it’s always Zola.

‘He was phenomenal and you just can’t mark someone like that.

‘You get told not to leave any holes and he goes off into these little pockets of space so you don’t know whether to go with him.

‘His skill level was unbelievable and he was a really nice guy.’

Playing up against the likes of Hughes and Zola seemed like a distant dream when Perrett was told his Pompey days were over at the age of 18.

He said: ‘After I’d played at Lymington Town, I went to Pompey as an apprentice at 16 and I was there for two years.

‘But after two years, the bombshell was dropped by Tony Barton.

‘Only Stuart Doling got taken on from our group.

‘You do think that is the end of your dreams.

‘I had spent the past two years trying my hardest to then be told I wasn’t good enough.

‘At the time, they used to have a head boy and I was it – and it wasn’t very often that the head boy didn’t get taken on.

‘So I had to get a proper job. I 
did some gardening, concrete labouring, window fitting – all sorts really.

‘Then I worked for Derek Binns, who was at Lymington Town and he instigated a trial at Portsmouth.

‘Terry Fenwick was manager by that point and he gave me a month’s trial. It happened from there.

‘I’d been to work doing rubbish jobs and working long hours.

‘It made me aware that when I did get my first professional contract, I was going to take it with both hands.

‘I didn’t want to go back to the building site or fitting windows.’

After earning a year’s contract, Perrett then got the nod to make his debut at Sheffield United.

He said: ‘I got thrown straight into the deep end, which was quite a shock.

‘Playing at Lymington with your mates after a few beers on a Friday night was a bit different to playing in front of 20,000 at Bramall Lane.

‘It was quite intimidating but Martin Allen was superb with me.

‘In the warm-up, I just couldn’t relax but he was great and that’s the sort of bloke he is.

‘We got smashed 4-1 but I didn’t do too badly.’

Pompey struggled in the lower reaches of the old division one for much of the late 1990s.

But they did have one particularly good season in 1996-97 when they missed out on the play-offs by just three points.

Perrett said: ‘We had that one really good season.

‘Bradders (Lee Bradbury) was on fire scoring lots of goals and it was really happening for us but we mucked up it at the end.’

Perrett scored just two goals in his Blues career – away at Tranmere in a 4-3 defeat and at Sheff United in a 2-1 loss.

But his memory of a red card is more vivid.

He said: ‘I remember getting sent off at Grimsby.

‘Someone was tugging away behind me and I lashed out and didn’t see where he was.

‘I caught him straight in the face but it wasn’t deliberate.

‘I remember Ballie totally lost his rag with me that day!’

Perrett was eventually deemed surplus to requirements by Ball and left for Cardiff in 1999 before joining Luton and ending his professional career after a short spell at Bournemouth.

He said: ‘There were a few centre-backs there at the time and I found myself falling down the pecking order.

‘I still had two years on my contract and players these days will dig their heels in until they get a pay-off.

‘But me being me, I wanted to crack on with my life and went to Cardiff.’

Perrett still lives in Lymington – he has never left the town, even when he was doing a 250-mile daily return trip to Luton – and now runs the Bosun’s Chair pub.

He said: ‘We’ve got nine rooms and it’s a small hotel really.

‘It’s a family business and we enjoy what we do.

‘I still have fond memories of my career and occasionally I get recognised in the pub when Luton or Pompey fans come in.

‘It’s nice when they do remember but they usually mention when I got sent off!’