'I left Portsmouth solely for my career': How heartbreaking Fratton Park exit helped transform ex-Coventry and Barnsley man into 20-goal-a-season striker with Ipswich

It broke his heart quitting Fratton Park after 15 years for the sake of his football career.
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Now Conor Chaplin is officially a 20-goal-a-season striker as he continues to flourish away from Pompey.

The 26-year-old netted Ipswich’s opener in Saturday’s 2-0 triumph at Derby which keeps them well in promotion contention.

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It represented the 20th of the campaign for Chaplin, with all but three arriving in League One action.

It was August 2018 when he drove a move away from Pompey having grown tired of a substitute existence, firstly under Paul Cook and then Kenny Jackett.

Having been on the Blues’ books since spotted as a six-year-old playing for Worthing Dynamos and subsequently reaching the first-team to amass 25 goals in 122 appearances, leaving for Coventry represented a tough decision.

Since then, Chaplin has totalled 56 more goals, registered a Championship hat-trick and, most important of all, enjoyed regular starts.

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And in 2020 book Pompey: The Island City With A Football Club For A Heart, he explained how he – not the Blues – initiated the painful exit.

Conor Chaplin is now officially a 20-goal-a-season striker as he continues to flourish after leaving Fratton Park. Picture: Joe PeplerConor Chaplin is now officially a 20-goal-a-season striker as he continues to flourish after leaving Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler
Conor Chaplin is now officially a 20-goal-a-season striker as he continues to flourish after leaving Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘The worst thing in the world was leaving, but it was a decision I had to make and don’t regret it.

‘Kenny wanted me to stay, he tried everything he could to get me to remain, but the decision I made was solely for my career.

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‘I needed to leave and play football. I’d speak to friends and family to express my worries, I was so scared of ending up being one of those kids with such big potential yet never fulfilling it.

Conor Chaplin has netted 20 times for promotion-hunting Ipswich this season. Picture: Barrington Coombs/PA WireConor Chaplin has netted 20 times for promotion-hunting Ipswich this season. Picture: Barrington Coombs/PA Wire
Conor Chaplin has netted 20 times for promotion-hunting Ipswich this season. Picture: Barrington Coombs/PA Wire

‘That was one of my worst fears, I hated that. There’s always going to be hype around young lads which break into the first-team early and score goals, I understand that, but I was determined not to be that kid who had a great start only to never play, eventually vanishing from the game.

‘Ashley Harris is one I can think of, I used to speak to Adam Webster about him all the time because I was so intrigued about what happened. He used to tell me Ash was the best player in training every single day, the first-team players could not believe how good he was. Then he suffered an injury, a new manager came in, and Ash eventually fell out of the game.

‘It scares the life out of me, it still does, that is probably a big reason behind why I try to be so professional, and dedicate everything of myself to being as good as I can be, working as hard as I can.

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‘Pompey is an unbelievable club, an absolutely unbelievable club. I would rather have continued there, but that wasn’t to be. There are no regrets about leaving, it has turned out to be the right decision.’

Chaplin made his Pompey first-team entrance as a 17-year-old in December 2014, coming off the bench in a 3-2 home defeat to Accrington Stanley.

He would net his maiden goal five appearances later, in a 3-1 defeat at Morecambe which would prove to be Andy Awford’s final match in charge.

Chaplin scored eight times during the 2016-17 campaign as Pompey claimed the League Two title, although primarily as a substitute.

Then, under Jackett, he felt it was time to go.

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‘It was horrible how it ended at Pompey,’ he told Pompey: The Island City With A Football Club For A Heart.

‘I wasn’t going to play and didn’t believe Kenny was going to get the best out of me.

‘Kenny didn’t want me to go, Mark Catlin didn’t want me to go, but they’d been made aware of my desire at the end of the previous season.

‘That summer I was in Kenny’s office every morning asking to leave, I promise you. When he agreed, I was still in his office every morning asking for updates, I knew offers were there, they were concrete, otherwise I wouldn’t have put myself in that situation.’