David James: The Big Interview – part two

David James, left, was inducted into Pompey's Hall of Fame in 2015 ' he is pictured with former Blues goalkeeping coach Dave Coles   Picture: Simon Hill
David James, left, was inducted into Pompey's Hall of Fame in 2015 ' he is pictured with former Blues goalkeeping coach Dave Coles Picture: Simon Hill
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Is four years a long enough time for a footballer to be inducted into a club’s hall of fame?

That’s the question David James asked himself after being approached by Pompey for such honour.

To be inducted into the Hall of Fame, knowing what the fans think about the club, was a magical moment for me.

David James

The conclusion?

A resounding yes, considering the highs and lows he both enjoyed and endured at a club he proudly calls his favourite.

Having looked back on James’ FA Cup highs and lows in the Sports Mail last week, part two of his Big Interview tackles the former England goalkeeper’s Fratton Park arrival, departure and the four managers he encountered along the way.

James said: ‘When the Pompey Hall of Fame invitation came up I looked at it and thought: “Four years – is that long enough to be warranting a place?”

‘But then I thought of what I had experienced in those four years and what I saw from the fans when I was there and the honour was without question.

‘It is such a profound effect that the club has had on me.

‘People ask me the question: “Which club did you most enjoy playing for?”

‘Quite often I think it is a loaded question, in that I should be saying Liverpool or Manchester City.

‘But I say Portsmouth because all I ever wanted in football was to try to be successful, give my all and go through the range of emotions that make you know you are doing something of value.

‘I think in my four years I got just about every emotion possible!

‘To be inducted into the Hall of Fame, knowing what the fans think about the club, was a magical moment for me.’

An emotional roller coaster is probably the best way of describing James’ Pompey stay.

Signed by Harry Redknapp in August 2006, he established himself as an immediate Fratton favourite – earning the club’s player of the season award.

It got even better the following campaign with James lifting the FA Cup with the Blues and was again voted their best player.

Although it paved the way for a first foray into Europe for Pompey in 2008-09, it came at a cost as Redknapp was succeeded in ill-fated managerial spells by Tony Adams and Paul Hart.

Hart was then dismissed early into James’ last season at the club, which saw the Blues relegated from the top-flight but also reach an FA Cup final under Avram Grant.

That proved to be James’ last appearance of a memorable 158-game stay that began in the best possible way.

But only after new team-mate Sol Campbell helped convince him to make the £1.2m move south from Manchester City.

James said: ‘There were a couple of factors – mainly that it was on the south coast and I was planning on moving down to Devon for family reasons.

‘Just looking on the map it didn’t seem too far away, so I was quite happy to entertain any further conversations.

‘I also spoke to Sol, with him having recently signed – my concern was that he had joined the club for a bit of a swansong.

‘He wanted to be successful, and if the man in front of me is going to be trying his best – I’m happy.

‘Then I kept five straight clean sheets.

‘The first goal that went in was a Kevin Nolan volley from a corner in a 1-0 defeat against Bolton but it was a wonderful start.’

Unsurprisingly, James has fond memories of the first of his four Pompey managers, with Redknapp ranked the second best he has ever played under.

Successor Adams, though, had a rough ride in the Fratton hot seat.

James said: ‘I loved Harry.

‘In terms of my favourite manager I played under – up until a couple of years ago it would have been Harry Redknapp.

‘That was until I worked under Eddie Howe (at Bournemouth) – not because he is a better manager per se, their styles are so different.

‘But Harry’s man-management was extraordinarily good.

‘To use an anecdote, we played Everton in our second season and were away on the Saturday.

‘I had been invited to a wedding on the Friday night in Bedford and that simply doesn’t happen.

‘I spoke to Harry and explained the circumstances behind it.

‘He said: “Do what you want as long as you don’t let any goals in!’

‘As soon as he said it I felt no pressure on me, all I had to do was make sure I was in the right frame of mind on the Saturday – we won 3-0 and I saved a penalty!

‘Unfortunately, once Harry had gone, the pressure of managing got to Tony (Adams).

‘He was a wonderful coach.

‘But so often I’ve seen it in football that wonderful coaches take over as a manager and all of a sudden, the responsibility is so different that they kind of lose that coaching element.

‘That seems bizarre because you’d think they have more control over the coaching because they are the manager.

‘The only thing I can imagine is that their responsibility off the training field – the hiring and firing of people, and selection issues – becomes too great.

‘Tony is a nice bloke but I don’t think he was right for the position.

‘The results showed that.’

With adminstration worries hanging over them, Paul Hart was brought in to keep the Blues in the Premier League (2008-09) – something he achieved.

But an uninspiring brand of defensive football spelt the end of his stay with Avram Grant taking over the sinking ship.

Incredibly, the Blues battled all the way to Wembley for a second Cup final in three seasons, before Grant and James both waved goodbye to the Fratton faithful.

James said: ‘I wasn’t overly impressed (with Hart) I have to say.

‘There were a number of issues – I was injured at one point, needing operations and unable to get them.

‘I played three games too many and we lost them all – I was nowhere near the level I should have been at. Things could have been done better.

‘I seem to remember Newcastle did us a big favour by dropping so badly that we didn’t end up in a relegation position.

‘We survived but the position we were in wasn’t good.

‘Then Avram came in and was, and still is, a wonderful bloke.

‘I enjoyed working with Avram – okay, he gave me the captaincy and in one respect I could argue that was enough to like someone!

‘But the conditions he was working under, to keep team morale together was a very difficult task – he managed to do that.

‘The one frustration was the submission from the powers that be at the time to us going down – it was too early.

‘We knew of the nine-point deduction around Christmas time but that was delayed – we should have done it straight away so we knew what we had to fight with it.

‘It dragged on and on and meant that league survival wasn’t the priority any more.

‘The way we played in the FA Cup and got through to the final suggested we had enough talent in the side to have put up a better fight in the league.’

Despite Pompey’s relegation from the Premier League and financial problems, James was open to staying at the Blues.

The Fratton favourite even expressed an interest in the managerial post vacated by Grant.

But having failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion in frustrating discussions with the club’s board, he left for Bristol City in the summer of 2010 – spurning the offer of Premier League football to put his family first.

James said: ‘The handling of it (his departure) was a shambles.

‘I was quite open to a player/coach/manager role.

‘I was interested in staying – put it that way.

‘But that kind of negotiation dragged on and dragged on and Mr (Steve) Cotterill got the job.

‘I had an option to stay in the Premier League as it happened but Bristol City came in for me.

‘Staying in the Premier League would have meant travelling a lot whereas Bristol City was up the road and they had promotion hopes which also appealed to me.

‘It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be at Portsmouth it was just that at that moment in life, there was a better collective opportunity for me and my family.

‘I will always love the club.’

Now aged 45, James is working as a pundit for BT Sport, as well as helping out in a coaching capacity from time to time at Luton Town.



Portsmouth keeps doing this to me – bringing back memories of games.

I am working on BT Sport doing the Europa League which is the equivalent competition of the Uefa Cup and I found myself thinking about Ronaldinho the other day and that free-kick.

I remember when he was setting himself, I ended up trying to scurry across the goal and actually paused in the middle which was enough to stop me from getting the save.

Inzaghi scoring in the last minute was desperate in the end because we were in such a good position.

But that Milan game will stay with me forever because of the atmosphere.

Despite the result, that game was a highlight, along with the FA Cup win.


Myself and Hermann didn’t apply for the Pompey job (after Richie Barker’s exit).

When we knew that we weren’t going to be considered, we didn’t apply for it.

I didn’t want to upset my relationship with Portsmouth fans by willingly applying for a job I wasn’t going to get.

But like me, Hermann loves the club.


The administration team was laying people off left, right and centre, and I was thinking: “No.”

When you have people who are valued and are passionate and commited to the club you want that positive energy around you.

It was a no-brainer for the group of players to act – we had a meeting and all decided to help out, which I thought was marvellous.