Photographs of Harry Redknapp and Lomana Lualua adorned with their best wishes are still pinned to Ben Close’s wall.
The Pompey fan who has grown up in sight of Fratton Park has spent his lifetime longing to arrive in the first team.
So for me to make my full league debut at Fratton Park on Saturday in front of my mum, dad, brother and nan was perfectBen Close
On Saturday against Bury, the 18-year-old was presented with his seventh appearance of the season.
Except this was different – it was a first Football League start.
On the Blues’ books since the age of 10, over the years Close has idolised Paul Merson, Pedro Mendes, Lassana Diarra, Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch.
As a 12-year-old, he was at Wembley for the 2008 FA Cup final triumph over Cardiff.
Now he is starting matches at Fratton Park.
Close said: ‘I’ve always supported Pompey, ever since I was born, and would come to watch home matches.
‘I live on Haslemere Road. It’s a little 10-minute walk to Fratton Park, and when we were based there before Roko I would walk it.
‘When I was younger I played for Wimbledon Park Tigers. My dad was manager there, and then I was pushed into the Pompey Advanced Training Centre which Paul Hardyman used to run.
‘We would play matches against the likes of Pompey and Bournemouth with scouts watching and one day – at the age of 10 – I was offered a six-week trial with the Blues.
‘At the end of it I was included in their under-11s from the following season.
‘When I signed we got a tour of the ground and Steve Martin, in charge of our youth age group at the time, went to the first team and got us messages.
‘Mine was from Harry Redknapp and a favourite player of mine at the time, Lualua. I still have those signed pictures and messages on my wall!
‘I was there in 2008 at the FA Cup final. What a good day that was, although it was my only trip to Wembley during those years because of my football.
‘So for me to make my full league debut at Fratton Park on Saturday in front of my mum, dad, brother and nan was perfect.
‘I was in the squad earlier in the season and then left out, but you can’t be too disheartened, you can’t lose your head.
‘I was left out of the team, knew I had reserve games to impress and eventually got a loan to Poole, which was good for me.
‘You can’t get too disheartened in football if you get left out, it can happen to anyone.
‘It’s great to now be in the side, although a shame we lost the game and in the manner we did from the goal conceded.’
Close is one of 11 players out of contract at the season’s end, making it a nervous wait.
But the midfielder is hopeful of remaining at Fratton Park.
He added: ‘My contract finishes in the summer so I am playing for my place.
‘I’m just trying to give everything in training, reserve football and first-team football to get a contact for next year.
‘I definitely want to stay. Everybody is striving for that contract and I’m 100-per-cent focused on earning one.’