The Big Interview: Billy Rafferty

Billy Rafferty celebrates one of his 44 Pompey goals
Billy Rafferty celebrates one of his 44 Pompey goals
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Billy Rafferty knew from his first dealing with Bobby Campbell that he was a manager who would not stand for second best.

The Scottish striker joined the club in December 1980 from Newcastle for Pompey’s first season back in the old third division after two years in the bottom tier.

But after Frank Burrows was set to be relieved of his duties in 1982 with the Blues languishing in the lower reaches of the third division, Rafferty got a rude awakening.

He said: ‘I had scored a few goals but it wasn’t until Bobby came in that things picked up for me.

‘I remember we played Oxford on a Tuesday evening in February and we ended up drawing 1-1.

‘I was quite pleased with how I’d played.

I had another gear or two that I didn’t know I had

Billy Rafferty

‘Bobby had just arrived as assistant manager and came into the dressing room and he absolutely wiped the floor with me.

‘But his problem was that 10 minutes before the end, a cross had floated in from the wing, I went up to challenge and the keeper he took it in front of me.

‘Bobby was telling me I should have smashed the goalkeeper.

‘He wanted a lot more aggression out of me.

‘Before that, I wasn’t really used to people doubting my commitment.

‘I suppose some people might have gone the other way and thought “I don’t like him” and I suppose I didn’t at that moment.

‘But then I came into training and I was like a man possessed. I was charging around kicking everyone!

‘The following Saturday I scored a hat-trick against Chesterfield.

‘Bobby did the right thing to trigger a response from me.

‘I had another gear or two that I didn’t know I had.

‘I couldn’t stop scoring goals under him – it was probably the best goals ratio I had in my career.

‘He was the most complete manager I ever had in my whole career.

‘A few people didn’t like his methods but he got his man-management bang on with me.

‘Before he came in, I was probably at about 85-90-per-cent of what I could be.

‘He got that extra out of me and that’s the sign of a good manager.’

Although he was always a threat in the air and scored some memorable headers, those who saw Rafferty play will testify that there was much more to his game.

And there is evidence of one of his favourite Pompey goals on Youtube.

He said: ‘I was always good in the air.

‘That was mainly from being able to time my jumps.

‘But some people got the wrong idea and thought I was just a target man.

‘I actually liked to get the ball down, turn and run at defenders.

‘Not an awful lot of forwards dribble these days. It’s a forgotten art.

‘I remember I scored a good goal against Oxford in that promotion season, which was televised.

‘Someone played the ball up to me, I was going to hit it but I just kept running and it wrong-footed the defenders and the goalkeeper. I ended up almost running it into an empty net.’

During that famous 1982-83 season with Alan Biley brought in, Rafferty then struck up a prolific partnership which fired Pompey to the third division title in memorable style.

Biley scored 23 goals but Rafferty – often an unsung hero in the side – netted 17 and also played the role of the provider in a team that is still so fondly thought of among Blues fans of that generation.

Unsurprisingly, Rafferty picks out the terrace icon of Biley as a key to that season’s success.

Rafferty said: ‘Alan came in late before the start of that season and I think we only trained together for one day before the season started.

‘I knew instantly that he was a really good little player. He was an excellent finisher.

‘I just knew right away that this guy was on my wavelength.

‘That promotion season was a great time.

‘The crowds went from 7,00 to about 26,000 that year.

‘Every game was like a big occasion as it got to the end of that season. It was wonderful to play in front of supporters like that.

‘It’s a real football city.’

Considering he enjoyed that campaign so much and played such a pivotal role, there’s a surprising fact that injury hampered his progress through the season.

Rafferty said: ‘In that promotion season, we beat Sheffield United 4-1 in the first game but after about half an hour, there was a ball over the top, I sprinted for it and I got knocked by the defender and I did my groin.

‘I had to come off as I couldn’t run.

‘I couldn’t train all week but Gordon Neave the old physio gave me a couple of anti-inflammatory tablets, which was the first time I’d taken them in my life.

‘A few days later, I couldn’t feel any problem at all. I couldn’t believe it.

‘I got through the first half no problem but then it would start getting sore in the second half.

‘That injury just kept recurring all the time that season.

‘I was fine up until about 60-70 minutes of a game.

‘I got to the end of the season and it was just getting worse.’

While it was widely-reported that a wage dispute eventually caused Rafferty’s departure, he insists that injury was the real reason – and the emergence of new striker Mark Hateley.

Rafferty said: ‘I thought I would have a good rest at the end of the season and it would clear up.

‘I got to pre-season and when I was running at three-quarter pace, it was fine.

‘But when I sprinted, I was in pain all the time.

‘I ended up having a groin operation and they brought Mark in that summer to effectively replace me.

‘I was out for about six months and by that time, Mark was doing wonderful things.

‘It’s funny because I had played with Mark’s dad Tony at Coventry.

‘I had known Mark since he was a small boy getting told off for climbing on the nets at the training ground.

‘So it went a full circle.’

A move to Harry Redknapp’s Bournemouth then ensued before three seasons playing out in Portugal as a final flourish to a fine career that started at Coventry and also took in successful spells at Plymouth, Carlisle and Wolves over 20 years.

His three years at Fratton Park yielded 109 appearances and 44 goals – the most appearances he made for any of his clubs.

‘I moved on to Bournemouth as I was getting on for 34 and I just wanted to play,’ said Rafferty.

‘When I was fit again, Harry was in charge at Bournemouth and asked if I fancied it.

‘At the time, I wasn’t sure if the groin was going to be right and I knew the way Mark was playing, I wouldn’t play many games.

‘But I loved my time at Pompey.

‘That promotion season is definitely up there with the highlights of my career.

‘I was chatting to Iain McInnes at the Carlisle game last week and he was saying “they were great times”.

‘It’s nice we are remembered when you see some of the great teams they have had since then.’

After his retirement, Rafferty owned a successful beauty salon with his wife and still runs six-a-side leagues in Carlisle.


My wife and I had this idea for a health and fitness beauty salon in Carlisle.

It was more for females really.

I was going to help out with the admin and worked on reception to get it off the ground for the first couple of weeks.

I ended up staying there for 16 years!

At one time, I would walk through the two centre in Carlisle and I would get football fans asking me about games and goals I’d scored.

Then that all changed and instead it was all these women asking me about the beauty salon!

I had a chance to go to work with the youth team at Middlesbrough but the business was flying so I turned it down.

It took quite a while to get football out of my system though.


My father taught me from an early age to be able to kick with both feet and it’s pretty rare these days to see players who can do that.

I liked to run at defenders.

When a player tries to beat a defender, there is a higher percentage that you will lose the ball but you create chances and goals.


Frank was a lovely man.

He was a little bit dour at times but he was always a very genuine man and wanted to sign me from Newcastle. It meant dropping down a division but I knew Portsmouth was a big club and Frank told me about his vision.

It all sounded good. The deal was agreed before I came down to have a look around.