Ex-Burnley and Wycombe triallist Alfie Stanley: Nobody should be treated the way I was at Portsmouth. But it’s my club, it’s my city, I will always cheer them on

It was outside Barclays Bank in North End when eight-year-old Alfie Stanley bumped into his Pompey idol Lomana Lualua.

Thursday, 7th April 2022, 6:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th April 2022, 7:14 pm

The DR Congo international agreed to mark the cherished moment by posing for a photograph, with the star-struck youngster generously offering a lick of his ice cream in exchange, much to the amusement of mum Louise.

Stanley would grow up to spend 13 treasured years as a Fratton Park player, graduating with first-team honours in the form of two appearances last season.

Then, devastatingly, in June 2021 a tabled new Blues deal was snatched away with his pen poised – representing the second time the club had shown him the door inside three agonising months.

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Now rebuilding his career with Dorchester Town, the hurt over the handling of the situation has refused to subside during the subsequent year.

Yet, as a born-and-bred Pompey fan, Stanley’s affection for his beloved club remains undiminished.

‘The last conversation I had with Danny Cowley was “I respect you as a football man and wish you all the best with Pompey”,’ Stanley told The News.

‘No-one wants Pompey to succeed more than me, I’m Pompey through-and-through.

Alfie Stanley faces Cheltenham in the Papa John's Trophy in December 2020. Picture: Nigel Keene/ProSportsImages

‘I didn’t want to leave on bad terms because I hope the club does well, it’s my club, it’s my city. I want them to do well and wished Danny all the best.

‘There’s no need to be ranting and raving, I’ve been brought up not to behave like that. I wished him good luck and he replied “I respect you too and look forward to seeing you in the goalscoring charts”.

‘But that has given me fire in my belly to this day, I want to prove people wrong, to show I can be at that level, playing full-time. That’s my ambition, I know I can do it.

‘They put me on a pedestal one minute and then dropped me – then put me back on the pedestal and dropped me again eventually.

Alfie Stanley pictured during Pompey's warm-up against MK Dons in April 2021. Picture: Dennis Goodwin/ProSportsImages

‘I wouldn’t wish anybody to be treated like I was – but it’s still my club, always will be. I’m Pompey.’

Affiliated with the Blues since training with the club’s development group at the age of six, Stanley progressed to make his first-team debut in a Papa John’s Trophy defeat to West Ham Under-21s in November 2020.

Fittingly, his Blues bow arrived at Fratton Park, where he held a season ticket for 12 years, latterly in the Fratton End, before relinquishing it as playing commitments ramped up.

However, in April 2021, the former Mayfield School pupil was informed he was to be released along with seven youngsters – a large-scale purging of youth talent viewed as controversial by some supporters.

Alfie Stanley, third from left, with his Academy intake at Fratton Park. Back row: Academy chief Mark Kelly, Haji Mnoga, Stanley, Harry Kavanagh, Stan Bridgman and coach Liam Daish. Front row: Tom Bruce, Ethan Robb, Liam Kelly and Leon Pitman

Stanley added: ‘Liam Daish and Jon Slater were in that April 2021 meeting with me. I’d worked with Jon ever since I arrived at the club and he sat there in tears, while Daishy did all the talking, reading it off a bit of paper.

‘I was a third-year scholar and hadn’t played with Daishy all season, I had been with the first-team. At least someone higher up who I’d worked with could have told me.

‘I know Danny Cowley hadn’t been there that long and neither had Greg Miller, so someone else made the decision. It wasn’t Daishy or Jon either.

‘I can accept the decision, but be straight with me, be honest with me. I wanted to look whoever made that decision in the eyes and hear it from them.

‘I was told it was Roberto Galgliardi, yet I had never spoken to him in my life and he had never seen me play.

‘To be honest, I hadn't ever seen him until leading up to that week of the decision, when he suddenly started coming around the training ground. Before then, I didn’t even know who he was.

Pompey fan Alfie Stanley meets Kaka and Ronaldinho when AC Milan played at Fratton Park in November 2008.

‘He watched training a few times, although that was after the decision had been made. He hadn’t seen me play in a proper game, so I don’t know how the decision came about.

‘I suppose he was the man in the middle who made the decision on us all during the change from Kenny Jackett to Danny Cowley (March 2021).

‘Danny didn’t have a say in it, it was definitely Roberto, something I later learnt. That shocked me, I don’t know who he is, but he made the decisions on our futures. It was a very strange one.

‘Then, a week after being told I wasn’t wanted, Danny told me I was in his plans and put me on the bench for the first-team.

‘Danny was putting his arm around me saying “Look, I’m going to sort a contract out for you”. One minute it was a no, the next a yes, my head was scrambled. I didn’t know what to think.’

Stanley was subsequently named in six of Pompey’s last eight League One squads last season.

It was involvement made possible through long-term injuries to Ellis Harrison and Jordy Hiwula, leaving John Marquis as the squad’s sole senior striker.

Frustratingly, however, the then-teenager was never called from the bench, irrespective of Marquis’ poor form in a side hunting play-off qualification.

Stanley said: ‘There were games when I was thinking “Is this the match? Maybe I’ll get a chance this week?”. All I wanted was an opportunity from the bench.

‘Losing at Swindon or MK Dons, what’s the worst that could happen by putting me on? Even for 10 minutes? I would have given everything, just to prove myself to the fans.

‘After losing at Swindon, Danny said in The News that I wasn’t ready and didn’t want to throw me under the bus, but I just wanted an opportunity.

‘I felt confident that I could do a job. For 10 minutes I could go out there and work my socks off, maybe make something happen for someone else. You think what if, what if.

‘I had worked so hard throughout my career at Pompey, I always gave everything for the club – and that’s exactly what I would have done if given a chance.

‘At the time, I wish I had asked Danny about why he didn't give me an opportunity, and that does haunt me a bit.’

Regardless, he was offered a fresh deal at the season’s end amid a far-reaching Fratton Park overhaul.

A total of 11 members of Cowley’s first-team squad would depart, in addition to a total of 10 second and third-year scholars.

However, Stanley would soon join them – discovering his fate while announcing his intention to accept a tabled 12-month contract.

‘I want to put it on record that I never wanted to leave Pompey, it was a case of being forced out the door,’ he added.

‘At the end of the season, Pompey offered me £5 a week more to become a first-year pro, taking me to roughly £200, which is still scholar money.

‘Danny Cowley told me that, if I was going to stay, then I’d probably have to go out on loan to get games.

‘You have six weeks to make a decision, with the club giving me time to have a think. I looked at it and initially thought it was a bit of an insult, but then came around.

‘I wanted to go back for pre-season and give it a crack, to prove myself, even going out on loan if I had to.

‘When I rang Danny to accept the contract, he told me that unfortunately it was no longer there. He had pulled the contract from me.

‘I was gutted, but it topped it off for me. I had experienced such an emotional roller coaster in the few months before that, it was tough to take. Then I was gone. Again.

‘I didn’t have a choice about leaving Pompey, that’s one thing I would like people to know.’

Following his Pompey departure, Stanley trialled at Burnley and Wycombe last summer, although it was two weeks spent training at Eastleigh which opened the door to the regular football he craved.

Then Spitfires boss Ben Strevens opted not to snap him up, yet had been impressed by the striker’s contribution, including netting in pre-season friendlies against Winchester and then Salisbury.

Instead Strevens, who was later replaced by Lee Bradbury in February, tipped off Southern League Premier South side Dorchester.

In September 2021, Stanley landed a deal until the end of the season, to date netting 10 times in 24 outings during a highly encouraging maiden campaign.

He said: ‘You can only trial for so long before it gets demoralising. You just want to be involved in a team with players, rather than spending a quick two weeks somewhere.

‘My first trial was at Burnley, where I was with the under-23s. We also had Jay Rodriguez, Matt Lowton and Phil Bardsley training with us for the first week because the first-team was not yet around following international duty.

‘The second week we went to Scotland, where I scored against Rangers B and then Ayr United, playing 60 minutes in each match.

‘The issue was they had four strikers – two my age and two from the year above – in a 28-man squad. But, having scoring twice, I thought maybe I actually had a chance.

‘The under-23s manager, Mike Jackson, explained that while liked me, I couldn’t be accommodated due to the number of players already there.

‘Then I went to Wycombe, which came about because my dad’s friend, Paul Hardyman, knows Richard Dobson, their assistant manager.

‘They don’t have an Academy, instead it’s a B-team, so anyone not involved in the first-team squad on a Saturday turns out for them in friendlies.

‘I walked in the door for a trial and asked how long the other players had been there, it was that day! It turned out they have a five-week summer period with 15 lads coming in on trial each week, with a match on the Friday.

‘The two or three they like then stay on for a second week, joining a group of new triallists, before the final decision is taken.

‘Well, we beat Chesham United 2-1 on the Friday following three days of training. I scored and was among three invited back for a second week – where we trained with Gareth Ainsworth’s first-team.

‘One of those days I played with Adebayo Akinfewna, who praised me during finishing drills and gave me some advice, he’s such a lovely bloke.

‘At the end of the week, we were back with the triallists for a friendly against Hanwell Town, where again I scored for Wycombe, making it two in two games.

‘After the match, I was told they would instead be bringing in a lad who had the same agent as Gareth Ainsworth, which is when it gets demoralising.

‘You wonder why you go on trial in the first place. If you can’t accommodate me, why are you looking at me?’

Having turned out for Dorchester since September, the 20-year-old finally has the stable footballing environment he craved.

He continues to live with parents Chris and Louise in North End, while shares a car with team-mate Charlie Gunson travelling to Dorchester for first-team duty.

And, of course, Pompey remain in his heart.

‘Dorch have been brilliant, everyone has welcomed me in and made me comfortable from the minute I got there,’ he added.

‘The chairman especially, Scott Symes, has been really good to me since I’ve been there and I appreciate that.

‘When I look back at everything with Pompey, I remember invading the pitch from the Fratton End with my mates after winning the League Two title under Cookie in May 2017.

‘I ended up making my first-team debut on that pitch, a Pompey fan playing for his club. I just wish I could have played there more.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Alfie Stanley on his Pompey debut against West Ham Under-21s in the EFL Trophy in November 2020. Picture: Robin Jones/Getty Images
Alfie Stanley with Ryan Williams and Jack Whatmough at Pompey first-team training in August 2020. Picture: Habibur Rahman