‘Portsmouth – People went to war from this city’

Alan Ball's iconic Pompey speech remains part of Fratton Park
Alan Ball's iconic Pompey speech remains part of Fratton Park
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The phrase is immortalised in Pompey folklore and lodged in Fratton faithful hearts.

‘This is Portsmouth, people went to war from this city’.

Former Pompey striker John Durnin

Former Pompey striker John Durnin

It was the battle cry delivered by Alan Ball upon his January 1998 crusade to rescue a club from relegation.

The iconic words now adorn the players’ tunnel at Fratton Park, while last week supporter Steve Tucker unveiled a new flag resurrecting their power.

For John Durnin, Ball’s message ranks as one of the most inspirational he has ever been privy to.

The popular striker was present at the Blues’ training ground when Terry Fenwick’s replacement sought to motivate a team languishing at the foot of Division One.

And – with the Kings Theatre hosting a tribute to Ball on Friday, September 21 – Durnin believes that speech epitomises the great man.

He said: ‘On Bally’s first day, he called everyone into the canteen upstairs at the Eastleigh training ground, it wasn’t just the players, all staff were present.

‘What happened next was unbelievable. To this day, I have never heard anything like that speech.

‘For one-and-a-half hours he told us what the club meant to him, about his dad and how people went to war from this city.

‘It made the hairs on your neck stand up. You were thinking “Hang on, this guy could save us here”. Inspirational.

‘Normally, as you leave and make your way to the dressing room, you’d expect some players to be taking the mickey out of a manager’s speech in that situation.

‘Yet there was silence, nobody uttered a word. I was putting on my boots thinking “This is what it should be like”.

‘What happened next was the best training session I’d ever had at Pompey.

‘Afterwards, Bally put his head around the dressing room door and said “How the hell are you in this position when I see you play like that?”. Well, that was all down to the manager’s talk.

‘Moments later, he called me into his office and asked “What do you think? Have we got the lads to stay up?”.

‘My reply was: “Yes, if they play like that”.

“Bally continued: “So why are they in this position?”

‘For me, it was down to attitude and I told him what he’d said before training was inspirational, prompting probably the best training session I’d had since joining Pompey – and I wasn’t just saying that to be polite.

‘Bally added: “I like the way you play, you are 100-per-cent committed and I need that with some of these players, I need you to help me”.

‘Well, I told him: “No problem with that, but I don’t think that’s needed with you around, I honestly don't”.

‘I added: “All you need is to have a go at the people who need it and say it as it is. I’m fed up of doing it, I’ve fallen out with loads of them”.’

Ball’s return attracted 12,003 for the Fratton Park visit of Sheffield United on January 31, 1998.

Craig Foster opened the scoring, before Alan Knight dropped Lee Sandford’s cross into his own net as the match finished 1-1, yet it ended four-successive league defeats.

Durnin added: ‘I was a bit sloppy in that first match – and he ripped into me in the dressing room afterwards.

‘He said: “What are you playing at today?” to which I admitted “I wasn’t at my best”.

‘There was no stopping him: “Wasn’t at your best? You were a disgrace”.

‘I replied: “Fair enough, I’ll take that”.

‘Bally had the last word: “I know you will”.

‘After getting changed, Kevin Bond came in and announced the gaffer wanted to see me.

‘I went into his office, he handed me a drink out of his fridge and said: “I needed everyone to hear that, you weren’t at your best today but weren’t a disgrace”.

‘He continued: “If I can say that to you, then I can say that to any of them”.

‘It was brilliant from our manager, he had sent out a message to the players. Straight away, in their eyes, there were no favourites.’

Under Ball, Pompey’s results picked up, yet with two matches remaining they were positioned one place off the bottom.

Victories were required against Huddersfield and finally at Bradford, anything less would have been relegation.

Durnin stepped forward, totalling three goals from those crucial fixtures as the Blues clinched Division One safety .

Masterminded, of course, by that master motivator Ball.