Jamal Lowe: At Portsmouth I was painted as something I wasn't after my Hawks 'absence' - now time for the truth

Jamal Lowe is eager to put the record straight.

Friday, 3rd April 2020, 5:00 pm
Jamal Lowe won the League Two title and Checkatrade Trophy with Pompey, yet left for Wigan in a messy departure. Picture: Joe Pepler

Time has passed, his career progressed to Championship level, yet the curious issue of that Hawks friendly remains an injustice still simmering.

The winger’s surprise non-participation dominated that July 2019 pre-season fixture, conspicuously absent from duty despite being named on Pompey’s official team sheet.

Lowe was instead sat in his Clanfield home that afternoon, obeying instructions from Kenny Jackett as his transfer to Wigan continued to grind towards its inevitable summer conclusion.

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Goal hero Jamal Lowe was carried off the pitch at Notts County after earning Pompey promotion from League Two in April 2017. Picture: Joe Pepler

During his final few weeks, his relationship with the Blues hierarchy became strained, on occasions bitter, as he attempted to secure the Paul Cook reunion he desperately craved.

Amid the wrangling arose that intriguing Westleigh Park incident – a riddle the 25-year-old can now finally resolve.

Lowe told The News: ‘Why wouldn’t people think I refused to play, because that’s how it was portrayed – but it’s far from the truth.

‘It’s still one thing I am baffled about. I really don't know how it could have been handled as badly as it was by Pompey. It was so clear I wasn't playing, I wasn't even meant to be on the bench, so what happened was madness.

Jamal Lowe's celebrates his goal at Sunderland in April 2019 - which would prove to be his last for Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘At the time it really frustrated me and I was instructed not to speak. I was being painted to be something I’m not, I’m not a big-time player who thinks he’s bigger than any club, I would never refuse to play, that’s not what I’m about.

‘Suddenly, everyone thought I was a horrible person, even people like Mark Catlin and Tony Brown believed that’s what I did.

‘Obviously they had nothing to do with the team-sheet incident, but they watched it unfold and now also thought I refused to play, which didn’t go in my favour when looking to move.

‘That’s probably why it took even longer for me to get my transfer to Wigan. Now they had a sour taste in their mouth about me – and a different view on how I actually am.

‘It looked like I didn’t turn up, which is stupid because I would never do that. Whether what happened with that team sheet was intentional or a complete accident, to this day I will never know.’

Following a 2-1 Pompey victory over the Hawks, Jackett cited a ‘communication’ error was responsible for Lowe’s name appearing on the team sheet.

As is customary, Pompey’s dressing room had distributed the line-up and substitutes to the referee, opposition and for media use, albeit with a strict 2pm embargo for press to abide by.

Then, 33 minutes before kick-off, it was announced Gareth Evans was actually in the starting XI – not Lowe. In fact, the Wigan target was no longer down to be involved.

And watching those events unfold from a distance was the bewildered former Hampton & Richmond man.

‘We returned from Dublin on the Friday and went straight to training, working on shape for the Hawks game,’ added Lowe.

‘I wasn’t in the team, fair enough, maybe it was because they didn't want me to get injured in case the (Wigan) deal then fell through. Perhaps I could be on the bench, coming on for 20 minutes, I’d be fine with that.

‘After training, the gaffer pulled me aside and explained: “Maybe it’s best you don’t play tomorrow”. That was fine, so I asked if I was on the bench. He replied: “No, I’m thinking maybe just leave it, stay at home”.

‘Fair enough, while I was also told not to do any interviews, because my situation was all people wanted to know at that time. I understood.

‘Later that Friday, I texted Anton Walkes. He was starting and didn’t have the easiest time at Pompey, so I sent a message: “Good luck tomorrow, this is your chance, now’s the opportunity to own your place”. I wasn’t going to be there for the game, so wished him the best. I still have the text.

‘The next day he texted to say that I’d been named on the team sheet! “What? What do you mean? I’m actually starting?”.

‘I was at home, I’d been told to stay there, then I got that text, so checked Twitter – I was down to start against Havant.

‘The gaffer called me afterwards and apologised, he put it down as a misunderstanding, somebody else had written the team sheet.

‘I still couldn’t understand how it happened, this never occurs, not even in friendlies. You get triallists correctly named on team sheets, sometimes listed as Triallist One or Triallist Two – so how could they put someone in the side who wasn’t meant to be there?

‘Whether it was an accident which needs forgiving or someone has done it on purpose, I am now at peace, it’s forgiven and forgotten.

‘I’m fine with it, it’s happened. Hopefully I’ve put the record straight.’

By his own honest admission, Lowe regrets how his memorable two-and-a-half year Fratton Park stay concluded in July 2019.

His goals from the bench earned promotion at Notts County, while he was among the scorers in that final-day League Two title-winning 6-1 triumph over Cheltenham.

Then there was the Checkatrade Trophy final, whose one-year anniversary was marked this week. Lowe netted with an iconic extra-time goal, before scoring in the successful 5-4 penalty shoot-out.

He had arrived in January 2017 from non-league Hampton & Richmond, a gamble which reaped 29 goals in 119 appearances, promotion and two lots of silverware.

And with children Bonnie and Dexter both born at St Mary’s Hospital, there remains a lifelong affiliation with the south coast.

Lowe added: ‘I loved it at Pompey. I was a kid who had barely played in the Football League – and those fans welcomed me from day one.

‘Me and my fiancee, Holly, rented a house in Edgeware Road, Milton, before later moving to Clanfield. That was our first time living together, having previously been at our parents’ homes, so was a big moment for us. We loved that area, I even walked to my first few Fratton Park games.

‘The house was called Fern and, when our daughter Bonnie was born, we chose that as her middle name. We will literally never forget that house.

‘But it was the right time to leave Pompey, although obviously people have their views on it.

‘It was the chance to work with Paul Cook again. Perhaps people didn’t think about that, they said “He’s gone to him, he’s a snake”, but he’s actually the manager who took me from non-league and had faith in me.

‘Any player wants a manager who believes in them. I'm not saying Kenny didn’t, because he did and was amazing for me, but I was looking at the Championship and my former boss wanted to sign me.

‘It was time to challenge myself at the next level. I’ve always wanted to play as high as I can, especially from where I was a few years earlier when released by Barnet and it taking five years to become a professional footballer again.

‘To play in the Championship under a manager I’d worked with before was a no brainer, although I regret how long it took to finalise. I would rather it happened straight away with no fuss, no drama, like Matt Clarke’s move to Brighton.

‘It was between the two clubs, once they are in that conversation everything’s in their hands. As the player, I then had that uncertainty over my future. It’s all one big blur – and that can play on your mind.

‘I never wanted it to be messy, I didn't want to have any hard feelings with anyone, I’d rather shake hands, everyone’s happy, let’s move on. Sadly not everything’s meant to be that way.

‘Pompey was a great time for me and my career, we achieved so much in such a small space of time.

‘It’s such a fantastic club, I cannot thank them enough for what they did for me and the confidence they gave me to do what I’ve done. Me and my family will never forget Pompey.’

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