When Pompey expected, the heroes of ’08 delivered

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The front page of The News is as iconic as it is rousing.

Channelling the immortal words of Admiral Lord Nelson and reappraising William Overend’s famous painting The Hero of Trafalgar, the clarion call was sounded.

The wraparound poster on The News on the morning of the FA Cup final on Saturday, May 17, 2008

The wraparound poster on The News on the morning of the FA Cup final on Saturday, May 17, 2008

‘Pompey Expects’ boomed the special edition on the morning of Saturday, May 17, 2008.

Transposed on the head of Nelson and his men were Harry Redknapp and the players tasked with making good on the demand.

Portrayed amid the chaos of battle on the deck of HMS Victory is breech-loader Hermann Hreidarsson, a man who can remember all too well how heavy the expectancy of victory weighed on Pompey’s heroes of 2008.

Ten years on, it’s one of the lost tales of the city’s glory just how much pressure Harry Redknapp’s winners were under to deliver.

Of all the many varied and wild talking points, especially with a Blues great of his character, it’s the over-riding emotion Hreidarsson returned to this week, a decade on.

‘The tension was definitely there,’ Hreidarsson said this week, in an exclusive interview with The News.

‘It became such a massive opportunity.

‘After we beat Manchester United, on paper we were the strongest side and it became ours to lose.’

The United victory Hreidarsson, of course, refers to is one of the greatest moments in Pompey’s history.

Any success at Old Trafford is seismic but in the intervening years, it’s easy to forget quite how good that United side was.

The 1-0 win was a result which denied Sir Alex Ferguson’s side the treble as they went on to win the Premier League and Champions League.

Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez, Scholes, Ferdinand, Vidic and van der Sar. All the heavy artillery was rolled out.

In the FA Cup year of the underdog it was as big a shock as any witnessed, with Ferguson left ranting at a defeat for a side Hreidarsson rated as the best he produced.

Then, a few hours’ later, came Barnsley stunning Chelsea, to leave the Tykes, West Brom, Cardiff and Redknapp’s men as the semi-final quartet.

From that moment, it was Pompey who were odds-on to lift the famous, old trophy.

And with it came the burden of expectation represented in the seminal News wraparound poster.

It was on a base of defensive excellence the stifling pressure was dealt with.

The favoured quartet of David James, Glen Johnson, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin and Hreidarsson proved a fearsome unit, who delivered an outstanding 23 clean sheets in the 2007-08 season.

That was emphasised by just a single goal being conceded on the way to lifting the Cup.

With all games decided by the odd goal – the sequence of results read: 1-0, 2-1, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0 and, of course, a glorious 1-0.

The approach, in part, led to two Wembley games which haven’t lived long in the memories of neutrals – and a final which disappointed the national press shorn of the upset they craved.

But try telling that to the jubilant royal blue faithful at the home of football, or the Pompey-supporting soldiers at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan and those 200,000 fans who flooded Southsea for the mother of all victory parades.

Or how about 14-year-old Joe Birmingham who travelled 8,000 miles from the Falkland Islands and the other expats who travelled from across the globe or joined the 500m TV audience.

‘The biggest part of it after was relief,’ reflected Hreidarsson this week.

‘It was all about landing the trophy. The emotions I went through were so strong.’

That’s because when Pompey expected, their players delivered.

And a decade on we rejoice in that fact.