The day Pompey shook up the football world

Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey aiming for place where normal business rules don’t apply

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It’s behaviour absolutely frowned upon in the press box.

So celebrations were confined to some stealth punching of the underside of a desk in Manchester United’s packed media vantage point with my colleague Steve Wilson.

Sol Campbell hails the Pompey faithful after the full-time whistle at Old Trafford. Picture: Steve Reid (080950-158)

Sol Campbell hails the Pompey faithful after the full-time whistle at Old Trafford. Picture: Steve Reid (080950-158)

What had just been witnessed was a display of footballing heroism on one of the great Pompey afternoons.

The Premier League champions and their galaxy of stars were in pursuit of an unprecedented second hat-trick of trophy hauls.

And their anticipated victims on that charge were looking for their first win in 51 years at their impenetrable fortress.

What unfolded was a performance of resolve and courage which confounded the experts, bookies and football world alike.

In fact, even the 3,500 partying Pompey fans congregated in a corner of the East Stand seemed shell-shocked by the magnitude of what they’d just witnessed.

‘Without doubt this was the greatest result I’ve known in 38 years of supporting Pompey,’ the history society’s Colin Farmery told the Guardian at the time, with the paper trumpeting the result as ‘one of the greatest of FA Cup shocks’.

The intervening decade since that groundbreaking afternoon doesn’t dull the memories but reacquainting yourself with the reports of the 1-0 success reminds you of the gravity of the victory and how it reverberated around the game.

Meanwhile, back in the press box, the subtlety of The News team’s reaction to the final whistle hadn’t been enough to cover our allegiances to an eagle-eyed United fan located on the fringes of the media corps.

Perhaps the veins popping out of Wilson’s neck as he valiantly tried to keep a check on his emotions were the giveaway.

‘Alright, alright lads,’ came the nasally Mancunian drawl from the walkway as the fan headed towards the exit. ‘Come back when you’ve won the treble.’

But this was Pompey’s treble-winning moment. And then some. This was a result no-one saw coming – one which shook up football.

All of United’s heavy artillery were there. Van der Sar. Ferdinand. Scholes. Tevez. Rooney. And a man who’d already assumed the mantle of the world’s best player in Cristiano Ronaldo. The red machine in full effect.

No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson’s hue turned darkening shades of purple as the Theatre of Dreams played host to a personal nightmare.

Long-term observers of Ferguson reported they’d rarely seen one of the managerial Gods of the game as animated as he was that afternoon.

From the moment Sylvin Distin’s seventh-minute challenge on Ronaldo in the box was adjudged to have been a strong shoulder, the United boss’ ranting never abated.

Not that his post-match indignation took the gloss of Pompey’s heroics. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Harry Redknapp and his staff had implemented a plan which was executed to almost super-human lengths from his players.

Glen Johnson’s 19th-minute clearance off the line to deny Tevez. The whole host of white shirts who put their bodies in front of the ball in the 58th minute after Nemanja Vidic’s header went loose.

David James pushing Patrice Evra’s 25-yard drive on to the post. Distin’s physics-defying clearance from Michael Carrick’s effort. And then the moment it became real.

Time stopped, the heart pumped and the pulse raced as Niko Kranjcar reacted to James’ quick-thinking punt forward and squared for Milan Baros, who was taken out as he danced around sub keeper Tomasz Kuszczak.

The surreal air shrouding Old Trafford deepened as Ferdinand donned the gloves. Then Muntari’s thumped finish to his left saw the explosion of joy hit fans like a Highlander-style quickening. Pompey were going back to the home of football.

There’s little doubt the day remains among the finest in 16 years on the Blues beat with The News.

Sometimes, alongside the league titles, Wembley successes and other against-the-odds victories it feels like the very best.

It reached that elevated level somewhere around the A34 that never-to-be-forgotten day on the return journey south.

It was around 7.20pm news filtered through Barnsley had defeated Chelsea to leave the Tykes, West Brom, Cardiff and Redknapp’s side – the new bookies’ favourites – as the last four standing in the famous, old competition.

It was in that moment it all gloriously crystallised. The record books may say it happened 70 days later – but March 8, 2008 was the day Pompey really won the FA Cup.