In the presence of greatness - Alan McLoughlin, the man who made all our Portsmouth lives better

The guard finally came down at the end of a night to savour as the future hall of famer held court in a corner of a German bierkeller, his company entranced as the anecdotes flowed and the feelgood factor of a European tour hung in the wintry Hannover air.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 4:08 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 5:42 pm
Pompey hero Alan McLoughlin
Pompey hero Alan McLoughlin

Finally, former News sports writer Steve Wilson could help himself no longer, the veneer of journalistic professionalism chipped away by the steins of lager as he regressed to his childhood on the Fratton terraces and delivered a gushing tribute to the living Pompey legend in our midst.

Of course, Wilson was mercilessly ribbed for going all starry eyed on the eve of covering the meeting with Wolfsburg in the Uefa Cup 13 years ago, but we got it. We were privileged to be able to call Alan McLoughlin a mate, but we were also aware we drank in the presence of greatness.

That ascent to the pantheon of Pompey gods, of course, accelerated quickly from a standing start as McLoughin crossed the south coast divide in February 1992, and promptly scored the goal against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest which took his new club to the FA Cup semi-finals.

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What followed across the best part of eight years from there was 361 appearances, 68 goals and a catalogue of memories to ensure the man we all knew simply as Macca became a mandatory pick for the Pompey Hall of Fame - recognition he valued as one of the finest accolades of a glittering career.

Perhaps it’s the Forest goal McLoughlin is most famously associated with at PO4, but there’s a long list of outstanding achievements vying for supremacy with his close-range finish past Mark Crossley.

Take the hat-trick he completed 20 seconds from full-time at Blackburn in 1994 to take Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton, Tim Sherwood and Co to an FA Cup replay, the year before Jack Walker’s millions made Rovers Premier League champions.

Look at the 11 goals he bagged, including a chip against Oxford United of audacious quality, as he produced outstanding ever-present form in one of the great Pompey sides, who missed out on the Premier League by virtue of goals scored to West Ham in 1993.

Alan McLoughlin celebrates victory over Nottingham Forest in 1992

Consider the reflected glory of his achievements on the international stage, his 42 caps and THAT goal against Northern Ireland in 1993 which ensured he became the first Pompey player to appear at a World Cup finals in 36 years.

Or think of the demanding standards which raised the bar in the Blues dressing room, along with his dynamic midfield performances, beautiful talent on the ball and penalty prowess which indisputably made McLoughlin one of the greats of his era.

And never underestimate his achievements when returning to Fratton Park first as an academy coach in 2011, and then into the senior set-up with Guy Whittingham and Andy Awford. The outpouring of emotion from those he developed like Conor Chaplin, Ben Close, Adam Webster, Dan Butler, Jack Whatmough, Brandon Haunstrup and Adam May in recent days tells you everything about his influence on a generation of emerging talent.

With such a Fratton CV it was inevitable his day for formal recognition would arrive, as the Manchester-born man was inducted into the hall of fame in 2011.

Unfortunately, McLoughlin’s stats and achievements were incorrectly delivered when he was being acclaimed on the night. And for such a stickler to detail that was never going to go down well.

That was something this journalist learned from ghostwriting his column in The News over a period of years.

While some in his position have been known to be indifferent to the words attributed to them, McLoughlin would be meticulously prepared for our conversations and more often than not would want to sign off the piece before publication.

It was that thorough approach which held the former Swindon man in good stead when he moved into the media and summarising roles with The Quay and BBC Radio Solent, where he brought the kind of authority to the airwaves he was associated with on the pitch.

There was sadly more than a little consternation at the way in which McLoughlin’s departures from Pompey occurred, both as a player and coach.

For a man who placed such stock in both honesty and loyalty, a failure to reach his standards would result in no little frustration and an unflinching refusal to compromise on his principles.

Perceived injustices would be tackled head on, as former News chief Mark Storey found out when comparing Pompey to a pub team after below-par performance. ‘Shouldn’t you be over the Dog & Duck,’ came McLoughlin’s loaded riposte on his next training ground visit.

When required a no-nonsense approach would be rolled out, such as when this writer stumbled across a group of young Pompey players with their coach in pre-season at the Five Lakes Resort in Essex. Mistaking a learning session as an informal gathering, the polite hello from Macca was soon followed with a colourful and forthright rebuke for lingering, before I was sent on my way in no uncertain terms.

There was a humour to his delivery on that occasion just as there was when returning to Fratton Park late at night after an academy match, only to be refused access because some pest control involving foxes and a rifle was taking place. ‘Do I look like a fox?’ was Macca’s printable response to the security man, before continuing with his business.

Yes, you certainly knew where you stood with the man who told stories of going to school with Noel Gallagher, but there was also a humility and everyman touch to his conduct - one which would delight supporters who were granted the same time and attention as any senior figure at their club.

There was a pride in his family, his wife Debbie and the achievements of his daughters Abby and Megan and an egoless approach to any scenario.

That was incredibly maintained in October 2012 when McLoughlin was diagnosed with cancer and had his kidney removed. Within 12 days he was back at work in Pompey’s academy.

‘I didn’t want to watch Homes Under The Hammer anymore,’ he told The News in a feature which received critical acclaim, undoubtedly due to the impact of his story over any writing substance.

It was McLoughlin’s insistence to seek help which rang in this writer’s ears a couple of years later, when experiencing similar symptoms to which he faced. It saved his life then and had a seismic impact helping this one.

But that was the nature of the man and his influence. Whether you knew him or not, if you are a Pompey follower the chances are Macca has impacted your life in some positive way.

He certainly did that to Leicester boss Brendon Rogers, as was underlined when he brought his Swansea side to Fratton Park in 2011 en route to the Premier League.

It was after the game Rogers felt the necessity to halt McLoughlin conducting an interview, to deliver a glowing testimony to the man he once faced as a youngster when his opponent was at Manchester United.

‘I rang my dad afterwards and told him I’d just faced a midfielder called Alan McLoughlin,’ Rogers cooed in awe. ‘You were unbelievable.'

It was heartwarming to witness the ex-Liverpool boss’ eulogy, in a similar vein to my old News colleague waxing lyrical over his hero in Germany years previously. Truth be known, we all knew exactly how they felt. RIP Macca.