A big summer move to a newly-promoted Pompey looked like a fresh start for a promising young striker keen to make the grade in the top flight under Alan Ball.
But the reality for Ian Baird was rather different as he chuckled while he delivered his damning assessment of his brutal spell at Fratton Park: ‘A catastrophe’.
From the word go, it turned into a disasterIan Baird
Mention his name to those Pompey fans who saw his short stint during the ill-fated 1987-88 season and it’s unlikely there will be too many fond memories of the aggressive forward.
But after a transfer tribunal set his fee at £285,000 to complete a switch from Leeds – a record for Pompey at the time – Baird claims controversial chairman John Deacon was attempting to sell him within days to balance the books when Mick Quinn refused a proposed move elsewhere.
So perhaps it’s little wonder Baird didn’t exactly set the world alight, scoring just one goal in 22 appearances – in a 2-1 defeat at QPR on Loftus Road’s notorious plastic pitch.
By February 1988, Baird had been shipped off back to Elland Road with Deacon taking a £100,000 loss on his investment.
But refreshingly, the 51-year-old looks back at his time with Pompey and laughs about it as he lifted the lid on some of the goings-on with Deacon, Ball and the band of rogues which broke up over the course of a season that ended in relegation straight back to division two.
Baird said: ‘It was 100-per-cent the worst decision I made in my career to go to Pompey.
‘From the word go, it turned into a disaster.
‘But in hindsight, I look back at it and it’s quite funny really.
‘I signed for them in 1987 just after Pompey had got promoted.
‘I was out of contract at Leeds and I had offers from Celtic, QPR, West Ham and Aberdeen.
‘Ballie was manager, I am from Southampton and the overriding thing was that I wanted to get back down south, which was naive.
‘Pompey had been very successful and a close-knit group and it seemed like a good move but the chairman was a bit of a funny one.
‘The manager had told me that Quinny was going to either Millwall or Watford.
‘Then we had to go to the tribunal but as soon as the fee was agreed, the chairman was trying to sell me because Quinny had refused to go to either Millwall or Watford and they were planning to use that money to pay for me.
‘Literally, within a week of the tribunal fee being agreed, I had two clubs on to me asking if I was interested in coming to them because the chairman had agreed to sell me.’
At the time, Deacon was decidedly unpopular among the fans as he kept a vice-like grip on the Fratton pursestrings when the team needed investment to bridge the gap after their promotion.
But Baird had his own first-hand experience of the chairman’s reputation for being careful with his and the club’s finances.
He said: ‘I was only 22 at the time and I brought my dad down with me to help with the deal but he wouldn’t see my dad.
‘For a young lad, moving to a new club, it wasn’t ideal.
‘But we agreed my contract and then John Deacon bounced a cheque for my signing-on fee.
‘I went to Ballie and he said “he was meant to do my extension on my house and he hasn’t done that either”.
‘Eventually, I got a cheque that actually cleared.’
Even during pre-season, Baird had his reservations that he’d made a major error by opting to join Pompey.
He said: ‘It started going wrong with the pre-season trip.
‘We went to Sweden and three players missed the flight from Heathrow – Noel Blake, Terry Connor and Kevin Dillon.
‘We went to a place called Sandviken, it was a two-week trip and there was absolutely nothing to do there.
‘Unfortunately for them, they had put a nightclub under the hotel we were staying at!
‘So it was a bit like the film Animal House for a fortnight.
‘Ballie got us all together at one point and said he thought he’d made a mistake with this trip.
‘At that point I was thinking “I’ve made a big mistake here”.’
That opinion didn’t change for Baird as he toiled on the pitch while Pompey struggled for results.
He said: ‘As a side, we were struggling.
‘I wasn’t scoring goals and I wasn’t playing particularly well.
‘I went to see the manager asking why I wasn’t scoring goals and he said “it’s not you, son. It’s those wingers Vince Hilaire and Kevin O’Callaghan”.
‘Then at the team meeting, he told everyone that I had gone to him and had been moaning about the wingers, which I hadn’t.
‘He then said “you can’t even score in training son, so I don’t know how you are going to score on a Saturday” so that shattered my confidence as well.
‘It just went on and on like that. It was like Fred Karno’s circus at times.
‘To be fair, the lads were spot on. The knew all about Ballie’s idiosyncrasies down the years.’
Even his one goal for the club does not bring back too many happy memories.
Baird said: ‘It was a big relief at the time to get that first goal.
‘But it was almost at the point where it didn’t matter by then.
‘Ballie left me out over the Christmas period and for the Saints game in January.
‘Then I made a comment in the newspaper that I was a bit surprised about that. He then made me and Kenny Swain train on our own for the best part of two weeks.
‘We just used to go down to Southsea for a cup of tea.’
Baird, however, does not blame the World Cup winner for the demise of his own Fratton career.
He said: ‘I still had the ultimate respect for him because of who he was.
‘Training was brilliant but you could see the pressure that he was under from the chairman.
‘He was having to sell Mick Kennedy and one or two others.
‘Going straight from promotion, he had the rug pulled from under him in pre-season.
‘You could see the amount of pressure he was under.
‘As you get older, you can see why managers behaved the way they did – especially when I have been a manager myself.
‘So there was no bitterness towards him at all.
‘But for me, it was literally one catastrophe to the next.
‘In the end, I knew Leeds had come back in for me and when he said I could go for talks, it was a massive relief to get away.
‘Ballie told me years later that he rated me but had been told by the chairman to get rid of me.
‘But even though it was a bad time in my career, I still speak to a few of the lads from those days – people like Kevin Ball, Paul Hardyman, Billy Gilbert and Vince on the odd occasion when he does return your call!
‘If Ballie was allowed to manage and keep a settled squad together, they could have done a lot better than they did.
‘They had some really good lads there but some people forget that they had really good players too.’
After spells as manager at Hawks and Eastleigh, Baird is now a coach at Conference South outfit Sutton United and is the part-owner of a scaffolding business.
IAN BAIRD ON...
It was just a natural thing really.
Sometimes my enthusiasm got the better of me.
There were plenty of times I chinned someone or got into trouble.
The most stupid one was when me and Darren Moore had a fight.
He was playing for Doncaster and I was playing for Brighton in the last game at their old Goldstone Ground.
He came through the back of me, there was a bit of afters and I ended up trying to give him a right hook and there was a bit of a ruck.
We had a bit of rough and tumble and I was just lucky he didn’t chase me up the tunnel because he’s huge!
I think I got 11 red cards in my career – and the majority were deserved!
Derek Pope and Havant were very good to me but they got the hump when I left for Eastleigh – and probably rightly so.
But I think we have rebuilt those bridges and the animosity has gone now.
Derek is an absolute gentleman and I really hope they get promoted.
If anyone deserves it, he does.
...CROSSING THE DIVIDE
I got hammered by both the Pompey and Saints supporters!
To be fair to the Pompey fans, they gave me a bit of a chance but when I wasn’t scoring and the team were really struggling, it wasn’t great. The next season I played at Pompey and got sent off but I did well at Leeds and Middlesbrough. All in all, I can’t complain.