Great Escape hero Brian Priske: I fought back to make Harry Redknapp admit he was wrong - and never played for Portsmouth again

Manchester City sparked Pompey’s remarkable resurrection, culminating in pulling off a cherished Great Escape.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 6:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st October 2021, 6:28 pm
Pompey celebrate in the Wigan dressing room after staying up in April 2006. Brian Priske is pictured far right at the back. Picture: Steve Reid

Similarly, the iconic fixture signalled the resuscitation of a discarded Danish international whose Blues career appeared over.

Brian Priske was a key presence as Harry Redknapp’s 2005-06 strugglers miraculously earned 20 points from a possible 27 to remain in the Premier League.

Yet he was required to barge his way in from the cold to feature in that March 2006 encounter which changed the course of destiny for both club and player.

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Recruited by Alain Perrin and establishing himself as a popular right-back, the subsequent arrival of Redknapp as boss marked Priske’s instant first-team removal and marginalisation.

The new manager instead largely alternated between Linvoy Primus, Andy Griffin and Noe Pamarot, while a proposed escape route to Middlesbrough was scuppered.

As fate would have it, injury to Griffin and the necessity for a positive result over Manchester City saw Redknapp forced to turn to Priske.

The rest is glorious history.

Brian Priske made 33 appearances for Pompey during the 2005-06 season which resulted in the Great Escape. Picture: Nigel French

‘In some aspects, I think I eventually won Harry over,’ Priske told The News.

‘After the final game of the season against Liverpool, we had a small talk and he actually said he really appreciated what I had done.

‘He also admitted that maybe he was wrong over a long period. I started the last 10 matches and, in the end, had shown the qualities Harry was looking for in Pompey’s team.

‘Earlier in the season under Alain Perrin, I’d played regularly and been praised. I had started 13 consecutive Premier League games. I know they weren’t 13 perfect games, but I could look at myself in the mirror and say “Okay, I did everything I could and tried to bring the quality I possess”.

Brian Priske, Matt Taylor and Linvoy Primus are dejected following a 2-1 defeat at Charlton in April 2006 - yet Pompey still managed to stay up in the Premier League. Picture: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

‘Then Harry came into Pompey and explained he wanted to use some of the players he knew.

‘He said he had heard some good things about me, but in the short-term wanted to go with players he was familiar with, then see what happens.

‘I’m not sure whether he had ever seen me play, I don’t know, but it was clear in one of his first training sessions that I wouldn’t be playing against Spurs in his first match. I was dropped.

‘To me, it was a strange decision taking me out of the team at that point, but that’s his decision and his responsibility. I just had to try to respond.

Brian Priske represented Denmark on 24 occasions, including at Euro 2004. Picture: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

‘If I am honest, it was a big battle to stay positive and my performance levels then dropped, for sure. There were a few games around Christmas and the New Year, but I didn't have the same confidence.

‘In the January 2006 transfer window, there was even a good possibility of joining Middlesbrough, but that was quickly taken off the table as I had already played for two teams that season.

‘I had to stay to fight my way back into the team. I don’t remember speaking to Harry a lot, although there were some good talks with Joe Jordan, which helped. All the same, I was low on confidence and training badly.

‘Then, at the start of March, for some reason I was called up for a Denmark friendly in Israel. We won 2-0 and I appeared as a half-time substitute. It gave me a huge boost.

‘Getting away from my normal routine helped. I was with people who had a different mindset, they didn’t care about Pompey, they cared about the national team, so it helped lift me, to change my perspective.

‘Every day you walk around the same environment feeling a bit sorry for yourself, thinking about how what has happened to you is unfair.

Brian Priske left Pompey in July 2006 for Club Brugge after 33 appearances. Picture: David Davies

‘You stay in the same hole, which can be difficult to get out of, with not the right people around to pull you up. In that sense, being away with the national team helped.

‘I returned a different player, my spirit, mentality and confidence had improved, and, from that point, I felt I was getting closer to Pompey’s first-team.

‘I believed I deserved to play against Manchester City, the way I was training it was obvious I should play – and I did.

‘We won 2-1 thanks to Pedro Mendes. Then I had an assist for Sean Davis in a 4-2 win at West Ham, for all of us it got better and better and better. The energy, the momentum, what an achievement that became.’

Priske arrived on the south coast in the aftermath of England’s heaviest international defeat since Wales in May 1980.

The right-back featured in Denmark’s shock 4-1 triumph over Sven-Goran Eriksson’s men in an August 2005 friendly in Copenhagen.

It was a remarkable scoreline for the Danes against an England side containing Gary Neville, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Steve Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney.

Within five days, Priske had joined Pompey from Genk for a reported £700,000 fee in a breathless transfer.

He added: ‘We beat England 4-1 and it was an amazing game. That same evening I received a call from an agent I knew telling me Pompey may be interested.

‘At that time I’d had two really good seasons in Belgium, yet there was always the ambition of going somewhere else, with two earlier possibilities not working out.

‘I was looking to take the next step and, of course, the possibility of going to the Premier League would be amazing. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Pompey, but I was definitely keen.

‘That was the first time I’d heard of Pompey’s interest and I believe playing in that win over England influenced it. Maybe Alain Perrin knew me a bit from my time in Genk? Perhaps he watched the England game or some scouts did?

‘From there things moved really quickly, there was no time to think. I returned to Belgium the next day, trained on the Thursday and the Friday, then had a match on the Saturday, There wasn’t that much time to reflect.

‘Straight after Saturday’s game, the president of Genk came into the dressing room and told me I had been sold and would be leaving the next day.

‘My agent and I were in England for a medical on Sunday morning. I never met or spoke to Alain Perrin until the following morning when I signed, the whole negotiation was handled by Peter Storrie.

‘That’s not unusual from where I come from, but, of course, in England the manager is usually more involved in the transfer.

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‘For some of the players, Perrin’s training methods and double sessions were different to what they were used to. From my perspective, it was quite normal.

‘I came from a culture in Belgium where you’d have training weeks involving training eight, nine or even 10 times over that period, so we were used to it in that sense.

‘But I also understand the way of thinking from the English players. The intensity of Premier League games was so much harder, so much more difficult. You didn’t want players to be fatigued.

‘In every squad there will be players who like and dislike the coach. I know from my time currently at Antwerp, there are some players who probably like me and some who definitely don’t! That’s how it is.’

Perrin was sacked in November 2005 after two wins from their opening 13 Premier League games left Pompey struggling in 17th.

By the season’s end, his replacement Redknapp had overseen survival following six wins in nine matches, their Premier League status secured by an emotional 2-1 triumph at Wigan.

Following the Great Escape, loanees Andres D’Alessandro (Wolfsburg), Wayne Routledge (Spurs) and Azar Karadas (Benfica) returned to their parent clubs.

There was the surprise departure of Priske.

After 33 Pompey appearances, he was sold to Club Brugge, sealing a July 2006 exit after 11 eventful months.

‘The sad part about football is sometimes things move really fast and you leave without saying goodbye,’ said Priske.

‘We were on a pre-season training camp at Woodbury Park, near Exeter. Suddenly things sped up with Brugge and I left halfway through. You just pack up your stuff and that’s it. I’ve never been back to Portsmouth since.

‘After staying up in the Premier League, the plan was to remain part of the team for the 2006-07 season.

‘I was really happy at the club, my team-mates were amazing, my family were happy living in Whiteley, and we had some good English friends. There were again a few talks with Middlesbrough earlier that summer, but I wanted to stay at Pompey, so we politely closed down negotiations.

‘I returned to Denmark for five weeks of holiday – then, a week before I was meant to come back to England, Harry brought in Glen Johnson on loan from Chelsea.

‘Next I received a call from the club saying that if I wanted to find another team then the manager had given me the okay to leave. That made the choice a little easier, even though it was still a tough decision.

‘At the age of 29, I needed to play regularly, or at least feel I had a fair chance of playing. I also had to protect my position with the national team, with Denmark about to fight for Euro 2008 qualification.

‘Harry never spoke to me about my future. I had the impression he was happy with my performance, happy with me. I felt I was one of his players for the forthcoming season, that he was pleased with the qualities and mentality I showed.

‘For some reason, things changed. Clearly Glen Johnson was coming to Pompey for a reason, while there were now a lot of right-backs in the squad. Maybe it was better to find somewhere else.

‘I had to make the decision to no longer fight for my position. I had already done that – so being asked to do it twice didn’t seem 100 per cent fair.’

Priske subsequently spent two seasons with Club Brugge, winning the Belgian Cup in 2007, before turning out for Danish Superliga side Vejle Boldklub and enjoying a loan spell at FC Midtjylland.

His career ended in Norway with IK Start, hanging up his boots in 2011 before embarking on a coaching career.

In May, he left as manager of FC Midtjylland to take over at Royal Antwerp, who are presently fourth in the Belgian First Division A, two points adrift of leaders Royal Union Saint-Gilloise.

Priske added: ‘I’ve been lucky to be part of teams which won the Danish Superliga and the Belgium Cup.

‘But staying in the Premier League for a club of our size, a club more or less dead and buried, was definitely a big, big achievement.

‘I remember Harry’s team talk before Manchester City. He told us: ‘Guys, if we win this game then I know we have the possibility of staying up. Beat these and we travel to West Ham next, where we’ll win for sure. I never lose at West Ham”.

‘All we needed was that one win and a good solid performance to give us all a boost. That was Manchester City. Sure enough, we won 4-2 at West Ham.

‘It was one of the best periods of my football career. We didn’t fight for a trophy, but, for us, staying in the Premier League probably felt like a trophy.

‘I am proud of my career and achieved more than I ever dreamed of. Playing in the Premier League is one thing, but staying there and the way we did it was special.

‘In some aspects, that was the biggest achievement of my career.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Former Pompey defender Brian Priske is currently manager of Royal Antwerp in Belgium. Picture: HENNING BAGGER/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images