'A few players almost had fisticuffs at my first training session!': Lifting the lid on Portsmouth's last Great Escape

Troubleshooter Danny Hollands was Pompey’s hired hand, recruited solely to prevent relegation to the non-league game.

Friday, 8th October 2021, 8:00 am
Danny Hollands' goals helped keep Pompey in the Football League during an inspired seven-game spell on an initial loan. Picture: Joe Pepler

The Charlton loanee fulfilled his part of the bargain admirably, inspiring Andy Awford’s men to clamber to safety with three games to spare in the 2013-14 campaign.

Nonetheless, Hollands recalls initially entering a Fratton Park dressing room left disenchanted and disillusioned following Richie Barker’s disastrous spell in charge.

What’s more, witnessing two of his new team-mates almost come to blows during his maiden training session created an unfortunate first impression.

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Still, a magnificent spell of four successive victories lifted Pompey from 22nd in League Two to safety during a remarkable late-season charge.

Hollands told The News: ‘Before I joined Pompey, I spoke to a couple of people within the dressing room.

‘I knew John Sullivan, who was with me at Charlton, and Andy Barcham. While I had played against Ben Chorley and he knew my agent at the time.

‘According to the feedback, it wasn't a happy dressing room, bits and bobs were going on. Not that it put me off!

Danny Hollands heads home to register his Pompey hat-trick in a 3-3 draw with Plymouth in May 2014. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘Although when I arrived on the Thursday for my first session, a few players almost had fisticuffs in training!

‘I won’t mention names, but they nearly had a scrap, while a few tackles were flying in and people were bitching about each other. You could see it was in a bad place.

‘It was a big squad as well, lots of players around. There were four, five, six players not even travelling every week. The club’s answer had been to recruit more players and it just made things worse.

‘But Andy Awford represented a clean slate, he changed everything. A few games went by and everything was so different, the polar opposite.

Danny Hollands made 94 appearances and scored seven times for Pompey after arriving in March 2014. Picture: Joe Pepler

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‘I knew it was going to be a tough task to stay up in terms of where Pompey were in the table when I arrived, but I looked at their squad, I knew a lot of their players. To me, that squad should never have been where it was in the league.

‘I remember going to Newport County for my first game. A horrible pitch, a horrible place, roll up your sleeves, welcome back to League Two. I love that kind of stuff.

‘Once we got a couple of results, everyone’s confidence went sky high, it didn’t matter who we were playing, we fancied ourselves to beat them.’

Danny Hollands nets his second of a Fratton Park hat-trick against Plymouth in May 2014. Picture: Joe Pepler

Hollands brought the curtain down on his Pompey loan spell by netting a hat-trick against Plymouth in May 2014.

The 3-3 draw signified the final match of a season which would see the Blues eventually finish 13th in League Two.

The midfielder’s loan spell had produced five goals in seven appearances – and three weeks later he signed permanently at Fratton Park.

He added: ‘You have some purple patches in your career – and that was me during my loan spell.

‘I was a box-to-box midfielder at the time, with 40-odd career goals. I was capable of clubbing in and getting a few.

Danny Hollands heads home the first of his hat-trick goals against Plymouth in May 2014. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘At Pompey, though, I scored five in seven appearances. It was a crazy time!

‘The formation suited everyone within the team. The ball would go wide and I would get into the box. You played with freedom and it was enjoyable.

‘Plymouth was the first and only hat-trick of my career. The one place I wanted to get a hat-trick would be at Fratton Park, you don’t ever forget things like that.

‘Although it was a bit gut-wrenching we didn’t actually win the game!’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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