Emotions still raw as Pompey prepare for reunion

Paul Cook celebrates winning the League Two title with Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler
Paul Cook celebrates winning the League Two title with Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler
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The words will be Paul Cook’s Pompey epitaph.

‘I would never leave this club,’ the former Blues manager croaked amid the joy of League Two title victory.

‘I love the club, I love managing the club, it’s a fantastic club. For my future, I want to be here.’

Cook was stood with a bottle of Peroni in hand in the kit wash-room, deep in the bowels of Fratton Park as he gave his emotional address.

A few metres away thousands of fans rejoiced and waited to salute a hero: The man who’d started Pompey on the road back.

Simply reading those words now, though, will be enough to get royal-blue temperatures rising.

Three months has not been nearly long enough time to let the strength of feeling ebb at Cook’s departure for this Saturday’s opponents.

The period between the championship-winning manager’s proclamation of love for Pompey and being paraded as Wigan’s new manager spanned 25 days.

The details of what unfolded in the intervening period will remain disputed on both sides.

One suggested their success wasn’t suitably recognised until it was too late, either in of terms acknowledgement from an incoming owner or reward for achievement.

That amid a changing and unsettling landscape.

The other emphatically asserted everything possible had been more than reasonably carried out to reward and retain the team’s figurehead. But no-one man was bigger than the club.

It’s fair to say the masses made their feelings known which version of events they were swallowing.

So, the man with the highest win ratio of any Pompey manager since the 1950s will be greeted as a Machiavellian turncoat at the DW Stadium.

More specifically, if the social-media furore in the wake of his departure is anything to go by, it was a snake in the grass who departed. Title memories tainted.

Cook’s relationship with Pompey fans was a curious affair in his 24-month tenure.

Those who appointed the Scouser could see nothing but a match made in heaven back in May, 2015.

Here was a man with the title-winning credentials his predecessors lacked.

Significantly, he appeared to have the character to chime perfectly with the working-class city he represented.

It never quite worked out that way.

You can debate the reasons why, and there’s not the space within these column inches to explore those arguments adequately.

Formation? Personality? Beers out on the town? Scouser? Whatever it was, silverware in football will always see any angst at such issues buried.

‘The pain will be forgotten,’ Cook said in the weeks building to title victory. ‘The Stevenage and Crewe games won’t be remembered.’

And that was true. The scenes at Meadow Lane, Fortress Fratton, Southsea Common and various stop-offs around the city in between will endure.

But now Cook will be in the home dugout as Pompey fans traipse up the M6 heading for the DW at the weekend. A sight to draw ire.

Wigan’s strong start and the early-season confirmation of where Kenny Jackett’s team stand has tempered any bullish expectations on the pitch.

Off it, though, the emotions are raw – and that is certain to create a strong sentiment.

Thirteen years ago, Harry Redknapp naively stated he couldn’t fathom the hate aimed in his direction after he turned Judas when heading up the M27. That, as he famously promised he wouldn’t go ‘up the road.’

There are those who will never, ever forgive that ultimate act of betrayal. Others prefer to cherish the magical memories he created.

We await the passing of time to see how Paul Cook is judged.