Ex-Ipswich and Wigan man Gary Roberts: Paul Cook scrapped our Portsmouth Christmas party, but we still went out - and it created squad togetherness which won League Two title

Gary Roberts has revealed how Paul Cook scrapped the players’ Christmas party following the infamous dressing room scrap – only for them to go out anyway.

Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 11:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 11:42 am

And once Pompey’s furious manager discovered they had disobeyed him, it became the ‘worst week’ of Roberts’ two-year stay.

In December 2016, the Blues lost 2-1 at home to Stevenage after skipper Michael Doyle and Christian Burgess had been hauled off following a half-time fight.

In the 2020 book Played Up Pompey Three, Roberts explains how the aftermath of the incident became even more ugly as the players attempted to rebuild friendships.

Sign up to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

A subsequent night out in Southampton incurred the wrath of Cook – yet established a squad camaraderie which helped Pompey claim the League Two title at the end of the season.

‘It was goalless at half-time against Stevenage, so not the end of the world, but there was an argument in the dressing room and, before you know it, Doyler said to Christian “Shut your mouth, listen, and respect what Fordie is saying”.

‘Then they were rolling around the dressing room, Christian on top of Doyler, no punches thrown, just grappling. It wasn’t a nasty fight, but they always look worse when there’s blood, which in this instance came from a flailing foot.

Gary Roberts (second left) celebrates with Pompey team-mates after winning the League Two title in May 2017. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘The pair of them usually got on, it wasn’t as if it had been brewing for weeks, just a spur-of-the-moment incident which lasted 30 seconds.

‘I’ve seen tons of these fallings outs, Christian and Doyler wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. When you have that many fellas in the changing room, there’s going to be disagreements and training-ground scuffles.

‘We were meant to go out in Portsmouth that night for our Christmas party, but the manager called it off – so we sneaked out to Southampton instead.

‘We got in real trouble for that, to be fair, but felt it was important for team spirit, especially considering what had happened in the dressing room.

Gary Roberts made 88 appearances and scored 20 times for Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘We met at a pub in Whiteley, asking them to cordon off a corner for us so we could have a quiet drink – there were no fans near us. Then, we went to some bars in Southampton, but kept our heads down, no bother, no trouble, it wasn’t a lively night, quite chilled.

‘The following day, we were allowed to go to London, having long since planned that, including the booking of hotels.

‘For the manager, the issue was the players going behind his back on the Saturday night. We believed the best thing was to get any ill feeling out of our system and unite.

‘Cookie found out, though, and it became the worst week I had at Pompey – he really gave it to us in training.

‘He wouldn’t speak to the players early on, going behind his back hurt him. A couple of us went into his office and apologised, we admitted we shouldn’t have done it, yet had to earn his trust again.

‘Our next match was at Grimsby Town, a tough place to go, especially in the middle of winter, and the build-up had been horrendous.

Read More

Read More
For the latest Pompey news direct to your inbox sign up for our free newsletter

‘We had to win this game considering the situation which had developed and ended up playing okay, yet couldn’t score until substitute Kal Naismith came on and won it with a great free-kick.

‘When that went in, the whole bench ran onto the pitch to celebrate with those playing – it was a great demonstration of the togetherness.

‘The manager later showed a couple of lads the clips of the celebration and said “That is togetherness. I know you stuck together. We’d got in trouble together and then won together”.’

However, while Cook may have been delighted with the camaraderie demonstrated at Grimsby, he doesn’t quite know the full story.

In particular, why the players chose a specific song to celebrate with in that euphoric Blundell Park dressing room.

Roberts added; ‘To this day, the management staff don’t know, but, at the end of the game in the dressing room, we put on one of the songs from that Christmas night out – All I Do Is Win by DJ Khaled – and were singing and dancing to it.

‘Cookie and the others didn’t have a clue about its significance.’

Gary Roberts made 80 appearances and scored 20 times for Pompey from June 2015 until August 2017.

Played Up Pompey Three is available from Waterstone’s, Pompey’s club shop and Amazon.

Played Up Pompey (paperback) and Pompey: The Island City With A Football Club For A Heart are also on sale from the above.

Alternatively, contact [email protected] for copies autographed by those featured in the books, including the signatures of Michael Doyle, Benjani, Alan Knight, Guy Whittingham, Martin Kuhl, Sammy Igoe, Dave Munks, Sean Raggett and Lee Brown.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

You can support our local team of expert Pompey writers by subscribing here for all the latest news from Fratton Park for 14p a day.