We’re On Our Way – the pivotal 72 hours which made Pompey folkore

George Ray celebrates his winner for Crewe against Pompey at Fratton Park
George Ray celebrates his winner for Crewe against Pompey at Fratton Park
Pompey fans sung well past the final whistle in the previous trip to Stevanage in March 2017. Picture: Joe Pepler

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At the Broadfield Stadium, men hauled themselves off their haunches to occupy an exalted presence in Pompey folklore.

The player uprising had begun.

Kyle Bennett, centre, celebrates his winner at Crawley with team-mates Carl Baker and Danny Rose

Kyle Bennett, centre, celebrates his winner at Crawley with team-mates Carl Baker and Danny Rose

‘As soon as we took the lead at Crawley, the song “We’re On Our Way” was born,’ recalled Danny Rose.

‘I had never heard of it before, I don’t know where it came from or who made it up. I have since heard other fans adopt it, but back then it seemed to be out of nowhere.

‘On the pitch, at first you couldn’t make out what they were saying, just a non-stop chant. It was surreal, a special moment and the catalyst for everything that followed.

‘We were almost like a steam train after that, nothing was going to stop us and, for one reason or another, we went on an incredible run.’

Before Crawley, however, there was Crewe.

A year ago tomorrow, the Railwaymen’s George Ray consigned the Blues to a shock 1-0 home loss.

Paul Cook’s men had failed to register a shot on target, defeat initiating a slip to fifth – and a 13-point chasm with League Two leaders Doncaster.

The Fratton faithful unloaded their frustration upon the players during the customary lap of appreciation, incensed at witnessing the worst display of the Cook era.

A frank dressing-room inquest rumbled on for 45 minutes, while outside those stinging walls many fans besieged social media and message boards demanding the manager’s head.

Pompey had 12 games to save their season and, on the Monday afternoon, Michael Doyle volunteered to address the local press ahead of the following evening’s trip to Crawley.

Earlier, the skipper had summoned players for a training-ground meeting. It proved to be a pivotal moment.

‘It was a volatile atmosphere at the Crewe game,’ said Kyle Bennett.

‘As players, we were stunned at the reaction, we had never heard that before in two years of being there.

‘But the fans pay their money – and that would have been horrendous to watch. It was probably the worst team performance of my time at the club.

‘We were on our last chance, if we didn’t get promoted that season we could have all ended up moving on, while the manager may have been sacked. That was the bottom line.

‘Michael Doyle told the lads: “Listen, I have never been promoted, this is my last chance, and while some of you might be only 23 or 24, it could be your last chance to succeed at a big club like this”.

‘I can still remember it: “My only regret at Sheffield United is I didn’t get promoted and that will eat away at me for the rest of my life. I’m not letting this chance to go to waste, you are either with me or you’re not”.

‘He said his piece and it obviously touched a few people. I think they genuinely realised. As a team we responded superbly.

‘It genuinely sounds like a movie!’

Carl Baker had been dropped for that Crewe fixture, yet arrived off the bench for the final 27 minutes.

The veteran midfielder, currently a free agent, reflected: ‘We were going well and, although no games are bankers, that certainly was one we expected to win.

‘That season we held quite a few training-ground meetings – which is something I’ve never experienced at any other club.

‘Doyler got everyone in together, it was entirely player-led. It’s a long season and you let things build up, sometimes it’s good to air your frustrations in front of each other.

‘A lot of people hold things in and take stuff on their mind home with them, but there are occasions when you need to vent anger and frustration.

‘That is what men do – and that team was a bunch of men.

‘It wasn’t all negative, some of the lads aired positive stuff, and we came out feeling a million dollars, buzzing for the next game.

‘Certainly, if I went into management or coaching I would want the players to take such responsibility for their own performance.

‘Generally, after training we would go for coffee together at Lakeside or The Tenth Hole or The Garage Lounge, usually eight, nine or 10 of us, a couple of times a week.

‘That was perfect to get the lads to become close mates. We’d chat about the opposition, our team, the games we’ve had previously, upcoming matches or how good it would be for the city if promoted. I used to enjoy it.

‘There were two ways to go from Crewe. We could have hidden behind the result and not come out and performed for the rest of the season – or we could have used that as a turning point and emerged fighting.

‘In the next three games, we scored 10 goals and didn’t concede.’

At the Broadfield Stadium that Tuesday night, Baker and Rose were recalled at the expense of Gary Roberts and Amine Linganzi.

Christian Burgess and Kyle Bennett netted second-half goals to earn the visitors a 2-0 win – and the ‘We’re On Our Way’ soundtrack was aired.

In the final 12 matches after Crewe, a revitalised Pompey collected 32 points from a possible 36, averaging 2.5 goals a game.

On May 6, 2017, they were crowned League Two champions.

Rose added: ‘That Monday meeting, it wasn’t just Doyler at the front talking, it was a group discussion.

‘We had quite a lot of experienced lads in the team who had achieved loads of promotions between them, Cookie had players who knew what it took to get out of a division.

‘Something had to happen – it was time for the players to take responsibility.

‘Our preparation and travel were always spot on, but as soon as you cross that white line there is only so much the manager can do.

‘As players, you have to do the business on the pitch.

‘What happened after Crewe, for a lot of people, will be the best thing they ever achieved.’