Craig MacGillivray striving to break decade-long Portsmouth goalkeeping 'curse'

Craig MacGillivray is seeking to become the first keeper in 10 years to retain his Pompey spot. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com
Craig MacGillivray is seeking to become the first keeper in 10 years to retain his Pompey spot. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com
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Craig MacGillivray’s undisputed residency as Pompey’s number one has officially been recognised by the ceremonial handing over of the appropriate shirt.

Yet the former number 15 now faces the biggest challenge to his hard-earned birthright – the goalkeeping second-season syndrome.

David James represents the last Blues stopper to retain a first-team spot for successive campaigns.

A feat hardly outrageous in its achievement, granted, yet it was most recently achieved at Fratton Park during the 2009-10 campaign.

Since Pompey careered out of the Premier League, they haven’t fielded the same first-choice goalkeeper in consecutive years.

In the case of MacGillivray, realistically he is unopposed for the forthcoming League One campaign.

Having overthrown Luke McGee following a June 2018 arrival from Shrewsbury, the Scot last term amassed 56 outings for his new club.

McGee himself made a half century of appearances during 2017-18, before featuring just five times during the subsequent season.

The wantaway former Spurs man finds himself in the company of one-season wonders Jamie Ashdown, Stephen Henderson, Simon Eastwood, Trevor Carson, Paul Jones and Brian Murphy and David Forde.

As for MacGillivray, who will wear the number one this term, he is now challenged to break what has developed into a curious Pompey goalkeeping statistic. 

He said: ‘The curse has been brought to my attention!

‘During pre-season I’ve got to keep performing, not get injured and then, hopefully, I’ll be in the sticks for the campaign and can keep the shirt.

‘I don’t want to sit on my laurels, I’ve done my first year, I have kind of put a lot of doubters to bed in the sense of “Who is this guy? He can't do it”.

‘Every club I went to, I had that. At Walsall it was “We are not quite sure if you can do a 46-game season consistently”. It’s nice to now go “There you go, there's your 46 games”.

‘At Shrewsbury, unfortunately Dean Henderson came through the door from Manchester United, whether or not there was any say from United in him playing, I don’t know.

‘But every time I played I did as well as him and even when he was suspended I still couldn’t retain the shirt when he came back.

‘Maybe it was just one of those that it doesn't matter what I do, I’ll not stay in that team unless he actually gets injured or suspended. I couldn’t physically have done more to get in there. 

‘Then I came through the door at Pompey – and was told if I did well and outperformed Luke then I’d get a chance.

‘I remember starting the friendly against Cork and although a lot of people read into that as me now being Pompey’s first choice, I didn’t see it like that.

‘I thought I probably had a little edge after the first few weeks, but didn’t think “I’ve played in the first half, that’s it, I’m going to be starting”.

‘You get to the last game of pre-season – which was FC Utrecht – and that’s the final chance.

‘During that match I was thinking “Well, providing you keep performing there’s a good chance you will be starting the first game of the season”.

‘I found out the Friday before Luton came to Fratton Park in our season opener, nobody finds out earlier than that.

‘That night before that match I barely slept. I had waited five years for that, five years to actually get a chance to play.

‘It was my first opening-day fixture in professional football – and even better that we won 1-0.

‘Now I’m hoping to still be there against Shrewsbury, my old club, on the opening day. Hopefully I can also keep my place this season.’

For four seasons, David James served as Pompey's first-choice keeper following an August 2006 move from Manchester City.

Departing on a free transfer following relegation from the Premier League, it signalled a seasonal change in the position. 

Ashdown, a long-time understudy for a variety of Blues keepers, was ever-present during 2010-11, appearing in all 50 of Pompey’s matches.

Despite starting the subsequent campaign under Steve Cotterill, he was overtaken by new recruit Henderson, who would feature 27 times before loaned to West Ham to earned the cash-strapped club money.

Both keepers had departed for the 2012-13 season, with Eastwood establishing himself as a first-team regular.

For life in League Two under fan ownership the following term, Carson arrived on loan from Bury two months in.

In 2014-15, Jones, a free transfer from Crawley, was a 52-game ever-present, but would play just 12 more times the next season.

Instead, new boss Paul Cook preferred Murphy, initially a triallist, who became first choice in a campaign which saw five keepers utilised.

Then, for the League Two title-winning 2016-17 season, Millwall loanee Forde served as a league ever-present.

Now a free transfer from Shrewsbury is seeking to emulate James’ accomplishment.

MacGillivray added: ‘I was offered a new contract with the Shrews as soon as the 2018 League One play-off final had finished, but rejected it.

‘The reason was I had a feeling the manager Paul Hurst might not be at Shrewsbury any more. I wasn’t certain, but there were a lot of us out of contract and he wasn’t trying to tie anyone down.

‘I’ve recently seen a few bits and bobs on social media about how we’ve sold Matt Clarke and got this money so should be spending.

‘Well, we’ve got a number of free agents, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good footballers.

‘I came here, as did Tom Naylor and Lee Brown, so there’s three of us, with others arriving this season.

‘James Bolton was offered a contract numerous times by Shrewsbury to keep him, they were desperate, but he turned them down.

‘Look at Paul Downing, there was a lot of interest in him as far as I am aware and he chose to come to us from Blackburn.

‘It’s not like these players are not good enough to play for the teams they’re at, some in the last few years just chose to run their contracts down and left their previous clubs.’