Svetoslav Todorov: The Big Interview

Svetoslav Todorov Picture: Steve Reid
Svetoslav Todorov Picture: Steve Reid
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He’ll be forever associated with one of the great iconic Pompey moments.

Svetoslav Todorov fires his team to the Premier League and hurls himself headlong into a Fratton End in delirium.

I went to a pub in Fratton near the ground. It was unbelievable but that was the relationship I had with the fans.

Svetoslav Todorov

A place in Fratton legend was assured against Burnley on April 15, 2003 for the arch poacher who is undoubtedly one of the most popular men to wear the star and crescent on his chest.

Now, 12 years on from that never-to-be-forgotten night, ‘Toddy’ retraces his time at the club closest to his heart.

And Todorov’s revelation he celebrated promotion in a Fratton pub with fans will only cement his hero status.

‘Portsmouth was the best times of my career,’ said the man who finished the title-winning season as Division One’s top scorer.

‘Going up, staying up. I was lucky to be part of something like that.

‘I can’t explain why I had that relationship with the fans, but it was unbelievable. You can’t buy this with money.

‘You could see it the night we got promoted.

‘I was speaking to my wife before the game and thinking what I’d do if I scored a goal.

‘But it came naturally. It just came into my mind. It was amazing.

‘My missus asked after the game what was I doing jumping in with the fans? But it felt so good.

‘I remember after the match one of the fans asked me to come to the pub! No problem!’

‘So I went to a pub in Fratton near the ground. It was unbelievable but that was the relationship I had with the fans.

‘To have that support was the main thing. For the stadium to be full and play in front of these fans, that’s when you play from the heart .’

The five years Todorov spent at PO4 were seminal in his career. They also happened to create indelible memories for Pompey fans.

It was a move, though, which so nearly never materialised. And, when it did, it proved an inauspicious opening.

‘Before I came to Portsmouth, Nottingham Forest wanted to take me there,’ Todorov said, as he cast his mind back to 2002.

‘The fee was agreed with West Ham. But then Harry phoned me at the last minute and that was it.

‘Sometimes these things happen like that. But when I started my first game against Sheffield Wednesday I got booed! Then I got sent off at Preston!

‘I was suspended at the start of the next season, but came on in the second and third games and then scored against Watford.

‘I scored the second goal and made the third for Deon Burton.

‘Then it was just game by game, and Harry (Redknapp) was saying he couldn’t believe I was scoring all these goals.’

Redknapp may not have believed Todorov’s goalscoring run, and the man himself was shocked by his exploits.

But there was a certain eagle-eyed observer who saw it coming.

Todorov said: ‘Jim Smith was saying to me at the start of the season: “Toddy, I can see you scoring 20 goals this season”. I said: “Okay!”.

‘I never thought I’d score 26 goals in a season. It never crossed my mind. Then I play in front of those fans, score all those goals and we get promoted!

‘And, on top of that, I got 26 assists! We scored about 100 goals and I was involved in half of them!

‘But that’s my job and what I was there to do. When you have support like we had, it is possible for players to show ability they did not know they had.

‘Pompey fans bring the best out of you – and that’s what happened.’

Along with the glory, there, of course, was injury hardship for Todorov to contend with.

That desperately struck on the eve of Pompey’s first Premier League campaign in a freak training ground incident.

An innocuous five-a-side match on a blazing summer’s afternoon in Eastleigh was to mark the start of a nightmare two-year period for the Bulgarian international.

‘It was on the Thursday before the season,’ Todorov said, with the memories still vivid.

‘We were playing a five-a-side game for 10 minutes and when the time finished it was 2-2.

‘So Jim (Smith) said carry on for two minutes and that was when I went down. It still finished 2-2!

‘I believe these things are supposed to happen, because then I had to go through a fight.

‘It was almost two years. I came back and played one game.

‘Then I did it again and was out for the whole of the next season.

‘I recovered and my knees are fine, the same as before I was injured. I played until 35 – and it wasn’t injuries which stopped me.

‘It was hard but I said I’d be back and worked hard to make it happen.’

By the time Todorov returned, Redknapp, the man he was closely linked with in his time at the club, had gone and it was Frenchman Alain Perrin at the helm.

The prospect of a loan move to Cardiff surfaced before Perrin decided the striker should stay.

It was sporadic involvement, however, until a twist in the narrative which was a stretch – even by Pompey’s standards.

Redknapp’s return in December shocked the game, but was to be the catalyst for the greatest of Great Escapes.

An eight-point gap to safety was bridged through six wins and two draws and a footballing fairy tale, with Todorov’s goals at its heart, was complete.

‘Only Harry could have done what happened in the Great Escape,’ Todorov admitted. ‘It was unbelievable.

‘When he came back he played me against West Brom at home, we won 1-0 and I scored the winner. Then he left me out of the next game. Harry really pushed my mental position!

‘But I liked the guy and we had a special relationship. He’s a great manager.

‘In that run there was no pressure. Honestly. The manager took it from us.

‘We were fighting with one team at the bottom and they went on a training camp to Spain.

‘They worked hard and we had a holiday! Some of the players went abroad for four or five days!

‘But then we went and won nearly every game after that.

‘We were eight points behind but survived. Incredible.’

With Todorov’s career now at a close, his pride is clear at being able to reflect on a Pompey career inscribed in the club’s annals.

The memories of those 33 goals in 83 appearances are now passed on in his role as Bulgaria’s under-19 coach.

And Toddy is open-minded about the prospect of further adding to them at his spiritual home, as his time in the game enters new territory.

‘The relationship I have with the fans is special,’ Todorov said, with emotion soaking his words.

‘I tell players now you need to be part of something special in your career to have things to remember.

‘That is the great thing about football – to have those proud moments to think about.

‘There was talk of me coming back at one time. I was close to coming back, but it never happened.

‘But you never know in the future. If things are supposed to happen they will.

‘I believe Portsmouth will get promoted this season.

‘It’s unbelievable. When I came to watch a game the team was in big trouble and there were 15,000 there.

‘How can you not fight and work for these people?’