It’s been 40 years since signing for Pompey - and Crawford’s to blame!

Pompey player Gareth Evans

Pompey Christmas quiz: Gareth Evans

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Ray Crawford has a lot to answer for...

It was our former player and legendary striker who signed me as a Pompey apprentice.

Pompey legend Alan Knight made 801 appearances for the club

Pompey legend Alan Knight made 801 appearances for the club

Today marks 40 years since I put pen-to-paper on those forms on my 16th birthday.

Obviously, there was Jimmy Dickinson who was manager at the time and Billy Hunter, who became youth coach as Ray stepped up to the first team.

Crawfs was one of the reasons I ended up staying on at the club, though.

There was interest from Ron Greenwood and West Ham back then, but Ray was pretty adamant I was going nowhere.

Obviously, last week saw the new intake arrive at the club and that sparked a lot of memories of that time for me.

At that age you are going from kids to men’s football on a full-time basis.

You can call them apprentices, scholars or whatever you like, but to all intents and purposes they are now professional footballers.

It’s a completely different world. You think it goes on forever when you are that age, but that period is a very short time for them to make their marks and earn that professional contract.

The way they go about things now is very different to my time.

We’d be cleaning the players’ boots, sweeping the terracing and clean the toilets in the north and south stands.

Things have changed in that respect, and I’m not quite sure if that’s a good or bad thing. Maybe cleaning the toilets was a bit over the top, but I don’t think there was anything wrong with cleaning the players’ boots and those bits and pieces.

We were all allotted a pro to look after, and, if you were lucky, they’d give you a few quid at the end of the year (don’t tell the taxman...).

My one was obviously our former keeper Peter Mellor for the first year, but that changed and I ended up having to do the staff’s gear.

There’s no point asking who was the most generous, because I’m still owed money from my debut the year after signing.

We went up to Rotherham and I was on £8 for a win and £4 for a draw. That’s all I got. The pros were telling me they’d give me a few quid if we won. We went there, I kept a clean sheet - and never saw a penny! Tight so and sos!

To be fair, no amount could have bought that experience and the feeling of not conceding a goal.

We were already relegated and had a poor away record. Maybe Rotherham were already on the beach at the end of that season, but if was something I’ll never forget.

It was a great time for me back then and should be for any young player.

In my group there were the likes the Neil Hider, Paul Wilkinson, Graham Mariner, Peter Tindall and Keith James. I came through with them from the age of 14. There were a couple of other offers, but I wanted to stay at Pompey with my mates.

The day of signing as an apprentice should be a proud one. I’m sure it was for the parents who were with their children watching them do that last week.

I’m not quite sure where the time’s gone. I don’t feel 56 - but I did get cramp for the first time ever after chasing my grand-daughter Amelia around at the Jon Hankey Memorial Cup on Saturday, So, yes, I might be in my head, but maybe I’m not twentysomething anymore!