Ex-QPR, Millwall and Preston striker Patrick Agyemang: I'd fallen out of love with football, they were horrible times. Then Portsmouth and their fantastic fans saved me
Patrick Agyemang had been rendered a journeyman, a trail of four clubs in under two-and-a-half years reducing him to nomadic existence.
The powerful striker once plundered goals on the fringes of the Premier League and had netted on his international debut for Ghana.
Now he was sinking with speed through the leagues.
Agyemang’s career had stalled as he entered his 30s. With clubs stacking up and disillusionment over managers misdiagnosing him as a target man, he had fallen out of love with the game.
Then, in February 2013, he took a leap.
Pompey were embroiled in administration, without a training ground, under caretaker management, languishing 23rd in League One and mired in eight-successive defeats.
Yet Agyemang credits the Fratton Park move for reinvigorating his career – and passion for football.
‘To be honest, I kind of fell out of love with football when I left QPR,’ he told The News.
‘I didn’t want to leave there, I thought I was going to make the Premier League squad. I went to Bristol City, I had a horrible time there, then I went to Millwall and had a horrible time there, then Stevenage.
‘I was playing at places where I didn’t really want to be and was hoping for a boost. I just couldn’t find it, though.
‘With football, there’s lots of ups and downs, injuries, being dropped, while each manager never really played to my strengths any more.
‘Then, at Pompey, I scored my first goal at Crewe. I felt the excitement from the crowd, there was the togetherness from the boys, I’d found my love again for football.
‘The crowd were chanting my name all the time, it was a good end to my career. The end I wanted.
‘I loved it at Fratton Park, they were one of the best crowds I had throughout my career. I’m not just saying that because I’m giving this interview, it’s true.
‘The fans gave me a lot of love and it was a good time to come to Pompey – it was a good match.
‘I had never experienced a crowd like that. I had played in bigger stadiums, but the noise was massive, especially what they showed me. It was amazing.’
Agyemang was without a goal in 16 matches for Stevenage during the 2012-13 campaign when Pompey tabled a one-month loan offer.
The former Wimbledon man had also turned out for QPR, Bristol City and Millwall in the previous years as he faded from view.
Recruited by caretaker boss Guy Whittingham, Agyemang represented the 52nd player used by the Blues that season.
His February 2013 debut at Bournemouth coincided with the Blues equalling a club record nine consecutive defeats.
But, for Agyemang, it sparked a new lease of life in football which would total 69 games and eight goals at Pompey.
He added: ‘My body got bigger as I got older – and everyone played me as a target man.
‘Since I was 11 years old I was able to run 100m in 11 seconds and under. I was very quick my whole career, but, because I got bigger, the decision was to get it up to him, get it to his head, let him hold it.
‘I hated heading the ball, absolutely hated going up for headers. One thing defenders like to do is smash players – and if the ball is not in my favour I am going to get smashed every time.
‘That’s not what I want to do, my best attribute was getting the ball down to my feet and getting past players, running the channels. You just want balls into the box where you can go and finish.
‘Muscle wise I was working in the gym more, doing the chest, doing the arms, I got bigger and bigger. The perception of me changed.
‘You are now the big striker, get it up and hold it up – they forgot what I was like before. They were looking at me now and thinking “Maybe he’s not quick any more, get it into his chest and get him on for flicks”. Yet that’s never been my game.
‘When I was at Fratton Park I was the main man, I wasn’t just a target man. I was able to get the ball, do what I wanted, create my own chances, create chances for everyone else. I had that belief again.
‘The crowd gave me that confidence, the team gave me that confidence, the manager gave me that confidence, I fell in love with it there and enjoyed my time.
‘Guy saw me in training, he realised what I could do and wanted to bring that into games. If you can play to my strengths and get the best out of me, then that’s good for everyone.
‘I had to adapt my game to become a hold-up player, but I still had my old attributes. It was only when I got to Pompey that I could combine the two because I was confident to do that.
‘People would say “He’s got a good touch for a big man”, but I wasn't always a big man, I was a player who ran down the channels.
‘I had it in me, but never showed it enough because the games never allowed me or I wasn’t confident enough because that’s not what the manager wanted.
‘By the time I came to Pompey, I was going to play how I wanted for the remainder of my career and enjoy it – and that’s what I did.’
Agyemang opened his Pompey goal account in his sixth outing – Crewe.
Heading into that March 2013 fixture, the Blues had gone 23 games – and four-and-a-half months – without a win in all competitions.
They subsequently triumphed 2-1 with Agyemang netting one and creating the other for David Connolly, sparking emotional post-match scenes between travelling supporters and players.
Ending the campaign with three goals in 15 matches, Whittingham snapped up the striker on a free transfer from Stevenage, signing a two-year deal in May 2013.
Agyemang netted the first goal of the 2013-14 season, although opening-day opposition Oxford United fought back to claim a 4-1 win to sour the Fratton end’s ‘Ours’ announcement.
The November 2013 dismissal of Whittingham brought in Richie Barker and, from that point, the former Preston man was largely used from the bench during his Pompey career.
Agyemang said: ‘Crewe was the start of it with the fans. They had gone through the emotion of losing all these games, so to share that moment with them was special.
‘I felt loved again. Everyone wants to be loved and I hadn’t experienced that for a long time.
‘My performances picked up, the side got better results despite relegation, there was a new lease of life in the club, we were all happy.
‘At the end of my loan it was definitely the only club I wanted to join, I had found my place now.
‘After scoring in one game, the fans were singing “Sign him up, sign him up”. I wasn’t going anywhere else that summer apart from Pompey.
‘While I was feeling loved again, suddenly Richie Barker arrived – and now you've got another manager who wants to bring his own players in and fancies them a bit more than me.
‘Some managers come in and try to get rid of existing players, they’re not nice to those they’ve got. Then, when new players don’t perform, they start asking those they didn’t want to do them a job.
‘Eventually Barker was trying to kiss my backside because somebody wasn’t doing a job and I had come in and done well!
‘Some of these managers forget that they were footballers. They cannot remember how it feels when you are not wanted.
‘When you call on that player you have mistreated, he’s not going to give you 100 per cent. So why not make everyone loved? Whether you need them or not, treat them the right way.
‘Barker wasn’t popular and had lost the dressing room. He was actually a good coach, but if the players don’t like you then they’re not going to give 100 per cent.
‘His final match at Rochdale was terrible. He’d had enough as well, to be honest, and afterwards was effing and blinding at players. Everyone was “See you later”.
‘He was replaced by Andy Awford, who kept us up, but I was only wanted off the bench when we were 1-0 or 2-0 down. It was “Come and do something, save us, make a name for yourself”.
‘Well, if you want me to save you, why not play me from the start?
‘Sometimes I had 10 minutes or 20 minutes to make an impact. If you need me, start me – because whatever you are doing isn't working.
‘Still, Pompey were on the up, they were starting to get more money which could be invested in more players.
‘The players which helped get them to where they were were no longer needed. I was one of those players.’
In November 2014, Agyemang appeared as an eight-minute substitute in Pompey’s dismal FA Cup replay defeat at non-league Aldershot.
In the backlash, the striker was loaned to League Two rivals Dagenham & Redbridge nine days later. He was never selected for Pompey again.
Then, in March 2015, the 34-year-old left Fratton Park by mutual consent ahead of the end-of-season expiry of his contract.
Although retiring that summer, there was an outing for Baffins Milton Rovers in December 2017, lining-up in an FA Vase 4-1 defeat at Horley Town.
Otherwise Agyemang has focused on establishing himself as a personal trainer, revelling in life away from the game he served for 20 years.
The 40-year-old added: ‘In the summer of 2015 I was training on my own before the start of pre-season.
‘It was a nice sunny day and I was running through Hainault Forest near my Chigwell home. Then my knee started hurting, so I stopped and began walking.
‘Suddenly I thought “What am I doing?”. At that moment no team wanted me, you’ve got a bit of an injury, while I needed to lose some weight to get sharp.
‘Before pre-season you have to push yourself to get to a standard to ensure you’re better than everyone else. I just wasn’t at the stage where I could keep pushing myself, though.
‘I’d done it for 20 years and lost all motivation to train.
‘I went home, sat in my garden and had a cider while watching my kids play on the trampoline. It was a lovely day, I was happy doing that.
‘I’d spent a lot doing the house up, yet never really had the time to sit there and enjoy it, or enjoy my time with the kids.
‘As you get older you realise you’re not the first to retire from football and won’t be the last. Everyone has their time.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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