Chris Kamara: Portsmouth's Fratton Park was the defining moment of my TV career - and I'm forever grateful

There were 9,835 present to witness the launch of Chris Kamara’s football career.

Friday, 8th November 2019, 5:00 pm
Updated Friday, 15th November 2019, 2:02 pm

To date, more than 15 million are estimated have watched the iconic Anthony Vanden Borre incident which subsequently catapulted him into world-wide consciousness.

Fratton Park has been a constant in the life of the 61-year-old, a pivotal platform to reflect upon with gratitude.

By Kamara’s own admission, Pompey’s home provided the defining moment of his television career.

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His failure to observe the dismissal of Vanden Borre in a Premier League clash with Blackburn Rovers in April 2010 elevated his status to stratospheric levels.

Fittingly, it occurred at the ground where Kamara began a long playing career which totalled nine different Football League clubs.

Aged 17, the highly-promising attacking midfielder was granted a Blues bow against Luton in September 1975.

During two spells, he amassed 84 appearances and netted 10 times for a club which retains his immense affection.

The life-long influence of Fratton Park will forever be cherished by Kamara.

He told The News: ‘I've made a lot of funny mistakes, but missing that sending off was probably the one moment that if you say “Chris Kamara” to anybody, they will remember.

‘I don’t mind people mentioning it, not at all. Every single day someone will say “Unbelievable Jeff”, it could be up to 20 times a day and I don’t mind it, it’s lovely having a catchphrase.

‘There are defining moments in your career, such as playing for Pompey, playing for Swindon, all defining moments. The one defining moment in my TV career is missing Vanden Borre’s red card.

The iconic moment when Chris Kamara missed the sending off of Pompey's Anthony Vanden Borre against Blackburn live on Sky Sports

‘People laugh and smile when they see me, to have that is just a gift from God and one I am grateful for. Partly one of the reasons for that is missing the sending off at Pompey, which made everyone laugh.

‘Certain artists sing certain songs and won’t ever sing them again. A good friend of mine, I can’t say who, gets really upset about one particular song, but embrace it.

‘More than 15 million people have watched my Vanden Borre incident. Embrace it.’

After spotted by Ray Crawford, Kamara was plucked from the Royal Navy at a cost of £200 to earn his Pompey opportunity.

Chris Kamara during his first spell as a Pompey player 1975-77

He shone among a crop of talented youngsters also consisting of Steve Foster, Billy Eames, David Pullar, Keith Viney, Peter Denyer and Clive Green.

Overseeing their first-team entrance was manager Ian St John, who Kamara remains in touch with, such is his appreciation for the Scot’s influence on his career.

During that first south-coast spell, the Middlesbrough-born midfielder also briefly shared Southsea digs with a goalkeeper who would go on to make 801 Pompey appearances – Alan Knight.

Sold to Swindon for £15,000 in the summer of 1977, Kamara returned in August 1981 for a curiously-brief three-month spell which would signal the end of his Blues playing days.

But, thankfully, not his successful association with Fratton Park.

He added: ‘Straight after that Vanden Borre moment, I was told off by the (Soccer Saturday) director, Karen Wilmington: “Watch the game, will you”.

Chris Kamara has become an instantly recognisable face - and voice - on television

‘So I rang the producer, Ian Condron, on the way home to apologise and he told me: “You can just about get away with it, because it’s you!”. This was 2010 and I had been working there since 2002, with loads of other funny incidents occurring along the way.

‘Yet it worked out well for all concerned and remains one of those things people still watch and giggle. It has become iconic.

‘What genuinely happened during the build up to the incident was health and safety wouldn’t let us on to Pompey’s gantry. There was a leap of faith up there, a gap not that big but just enough for a body to fall down – and we were informed it wasn’t safe.

‘Although two were already in the gantry, instead I was told to do my report in the corner of the Fratton End and South Stand. I wasn’t happy, but went down there with the cameraman and set up by the side of the pitch, only for it to start raining during the game.

‘Health and safety came down again and we were told that, as it was a walkway and fans leave that way, they could be electrocuted should they touch our equipment.

‘I replied: “No they can’t, it’s all insulated” – but we had to move the camera further back. Then Sky’s production coordinator, Carly Bassett, mentioned in my ear I was next on, so I had to walk over to the camera, looking over my shoulder watching the game, but now my view was really restricted.

‘Suddenly, Charlie Nicholas shouts “Goal” so it went over to his game. “Don’t worry, you’re next,” came the message, so I’m looking over my shoulder again.

‘Then Phil Thompson shouts “Goal” and it was over to him. “Right, you are definitely next” – then Jeff (Stelling) introduced me.

‘He said: “We’re off to Fratton Park where there has been a red card, but for who Chris Kamara?”

‘I had no idea whatsoever, I hadn’t seen any sending off. I had seen Avram Grant on the touchline and that was it.

‘So I responded: “I don’t know Jeff, has there?” and they are laughing in the studio.

‘Jeff said: “Chris, let me tell you, according to our sources, Anthony Vanden Borre has been sent off for a second bookable offence. Get your fingers out and count up the numbers of Portsmouth players who are on the field”.

‘I replied: “No, you’re right, I saw him go off, but I thought they were bringing a sub on, Jeff.”

‘It wasn’t until later that I realised I wasn't the only one that day who missed Vanden Borre’s dismissal – the press people in the gantry also didn’t realise.

‘The reason was, before he received a second yellow card for intentional handball, he walked. If it was an English player they would have protested to the referee and waited for it, but he knew immediately and had gone. That’s why the confusion happened.

‘Anyhow, my producer rang me the following morning, prompting me to ask “Have you been hauled over the coals by the bosses?”

‘Ian Condron replied: “No, far from it. What's the nearest TV station to you?”

‘It turned out Fox Sports in America had seen it and wanted to interview me live! Then it was Chinese TV, Dutch TV, everyone.

‘All of a sudden I had gone from zero to hero – and Sky were getting lots of free publicity!’

The Grand hotel in Brighton provided the backdrop for Kamara's interview with The News.

It represented time out from a hectic schedule which presently includes a foray into music through the November 15 release of a Christmas album.

On five occasions, talk was halted by polite requests from those keen to have a photograph taken with the ex-Pompey man.

And it’s warm recognition Kamara continues to revel in.

He said: ‘The sending off is one of the things I am most famous for.

‘I have done so much, so much television, so many shows, so many things, and it still gets mentioned to this day, it’s great.

‘Walking down the street, I see people smiling and, without being conceited, I know it is because they have seen me – so I look straight at them and say “Hello”.

‘Why wouldn’t you? Those smiles are the signs they are pleased to see you. I’m very fortunate.’

Chris Kamara visited Cottage Grove Primary School, Southsea, in March 2011 to launch the 'Respect' programme alongside Pompey's community coaches. Picture: Allan Hutchings