The keeper who helped save Pompey from death

Jamie Ashdown in action for Pompey against Southampton in April 2012. Picture: Allan Hutchings
Jamie Ashdown in action for Pompey against Southampton in April 2012. Picture: Allan Hutchings
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Unleashing a booming volley with his left foot, David Norris carved his name into Pompey folklore.

Yet it was Jamie Ashdown who was the Pompey star that memorable St Mary’s day.

The occasion of April 7, 2012, conjured up a south-coast derby during which Norris sealed a last-gasp 2-2 draw for the visitors.

At the other end, it was the heroics of Michael Appleton’s goalkeeper which engineered them into a position where a point could be salvaged.

Adam Lallana and Jose Fonte were denied among a string of magnificent second-half stops as a side heading for the Premier League pressed.

Possibly Ashdown’s finest performance in 123 appearances during eight seasons at Fratton Park – yet the late brilliance of Norris eclipsed it.

The former Reading man would feature only five more times before Appleton declined to renew his contract that summer – the keeper informed of the decision by reading The News.

Ashdown played on 25 more occasions in the subsequent three years during spells at Leeds, Crawley and Oxford United, before last week announcing his retirement at the age of 34.

Left without a club, the time had arrived to depart and embrace new challenges in life.

But while the keeper may now begin to fade from football’s consciousness, his Pompey contribution during some dark days should never be forgotten.

He cared, you see, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Pompey Supporters’ Trust in their battle to save the club from liquidation.

Along with wife, Zoe, the pair pestered his team-mates to clamber on board and make Trust pledges in the fight to raise funds.

By volunteering to step out of the dressing room bubble, Ashdown crucially raised the profile of the campaign – both locally and nationally – on its way to success.

What’s more, it was a connection with supporters sadly increasingly rare as players climb up the ladder towards the Premier League.

To this day he is among more than 2,000 shareholders in the Trust, which currently owns around a 47-per-cent stake in the Blues.

That’s Ashdown’s lasting legacy – and he and his family can be justifiably proud of what they achieved at Pompey.

In truth, for many of the seasons after his June 2004 arrival as a free agent from Reading, he served as an understudy.

Unfortunately, his presence would later coincide with the arrival of arguably Pompey’s greatest goalkeeper in David James.

The England international would make 158 appearances for the Blues – and watching from the bench for almost all of them was Ashdown.

When eventually given the opportunity of a regular run out in the first-team during the 2010-11 campaign under Steve Cotterill, he was an ever-present with 50 appearances.

That period would see him break the club’s post-war league record of 636 minutes without conceding.

He would also equal the post-war record of six successive clean sheets in a remarkable run which ended at Bristol City in March 2011.

Regardless, Pompey still finished 16th that campaign ahead of a June 2011 takeover by Convers Sports Initiatives (CSI).

Certainly, there can be no slight on Ashdown’s ability having failed to dislodge the magnificent James from the side over a four-season period.

History shows he did, however, manage to bundle Konstantinos Chalkias out of the team in March 2005 – after the Greek had originally replaced him.

Still, for eight years Ashdown was a fixture in the Pompey dressing room, a quiet, unassuming character largely uncomfortable in press interviews, but popular among his team-mates with an often cutting dry wit.

Former goalkeeping coach John Keeley regularly spoke glowingly about Ashdown’s professional attitude and his work ethic, irrespective of the undoubted frustrations at being a number two.

But through it all the keeper continued to treasure his time at Fratton Park, his wife on occasions contacting The News for copies of the paper to add to their clippings book which would one day amuse their three young children.

My own abiding memory of the man off the pitch was in the aftermath of a catering truck grounding the US Airways flight home from Charlotte Douglas Airport in July 2011 during a pre-season tour under Cotterill.

Pompey’s players were eventually packed off to a nearby hotel, with weary coaching staff and members of the media joining them an hour later, seeking solace at the hotel bar.

Food and drink were gratefully ordered, upon which Ashdown, positioned across the bar, insisted on personally paying the bills of both The News’ representatives as well as the club’s two media presences.

It was a wonderful gesture from the goalkeeper, raising spirits during a demoralising evening in North Carolina. A touch of class never forgotten.

That was Ashdown, though, a player different to your average footballer.

When the Trust’s share launch was instigated in March 2012, fans were asked to donate a minimum of £100 to register their interest in purchasing £1,000 shares.

Having read about the drive, Ashdown press ganged at least 11 of his team-mates to each pledge an initial £100, among them Joel Ward, Norris, Liam Lawrence, Ricardo Rocha, Jason Pearce, Luke Varney and Greg Halford.

His contribution in the most recent south-coast derby may have been forgotten, but his role in Pompey’s continued existence should never be.