Matt Tubbs: Sorry Portsmouth fans, I had agreed to join before scoring in Wimbledon win. But did tone down my goal celebration!

It was hardly a favourable introduction to the Fratton faithful.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 5:30 pm
Matt Tubbs scored 14 goals in 40 Pompey matches after finally securing the Fratton Park move he desired in January 2015. Picture: Joe Pepler

Yet unbeknown to those cursing the predatory instincts of the AFC Wimbledon scorer, there was a reason behind his curiously muted goal celebration.

In December 2014, Matt Tubbs had verbally agreed to join Pompey from Bournemouth on a free transfer.

Yet before the deal could be officially signed off, he was inflicting a 2-0 Boxing Day defeat on his future club at Fratton Park.

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The loanee bagged his 14th goal of the season, with Frankie Sutherland the other Wombles scorer, on an afternoon which saw Andy Awford’s League Two underachievers booed off.

There was also the strange sight of Pompey chairman Iain McInnes standing up in the directors’ box to applaud Tubbs off upon his 85th minute substitution.

But, of course, he was also in on the secret that 14 days later the Blues’ chief destroyer would be crowned their player.

‘Ahead of that 2014-15 season, I was playing for Bournemouth and heard there might be a bit of interest from Pompey,’ Tubbs told The News.

Matt Tubbs netted AFC Wimbledon's second in a 2-0 victory at Fratton Park on Boxing Day 2014 - yet opted to tone down his celebration against the club he was joining. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘I’m very good friends with Mikey Harris, who was running Pompey’s under-18s at the time, and he put my name forward. It was something I was keen on doing.

‘I also knew Iain McInnes was a fan of me and the way I played, yet Andy Awford had his own views and wanted his own players.

‘Whether it might have been a case of Iain McInnes saying “Go and sign him” and Andy being a bit stubborn, I genuinely don’t know.

‘Instead I signed for Wimbledon on loan.

Matt Tubbs left Fratton Park by mutual consent in July 2016 after made to train with the reserves having earned the ire of Paul Cook following a radio interview. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘By December, I was doing relatively well and spoke to Andy. We thrashed out a deal there and then, a verbal agreement, but I couldn’t join until January.

‘The arrangement involved my Bournemouth contract being terminated, which would then allow me to sign a two-and-a-half year deal with Pompey.

‘I met up with Andy two or three weeks before Christmas and the last thing he said was “Whatever you do, don’t score against us on Boxing Day”, while laughing and joking.

‘In my head I thought “Sorry, if I get a chance then I’m going to take it”. I played for Wimbledon, it was my job to score goals. I wouldn’t be rejecting that.

Matt Tubbs clutches the matchball after registering the only hat-trick of his Football League career in February 2015 at Cambridge United. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘Well, I scored the second goal in a 2-0 win. It was in front of the Fratton end, which provided mixed emotions.

‘I love scoring goals, it’s something I’d done throughout my career, but that was a relatively muted celebration. After all, I knew in two weeks I’d be wearing a Pompey shirt!

‘Netting that day was a bit of a strange feeling. I knew what was going on, as did my agent, the managers and the chairmen, but no-one else did. Certainly none of the supporters.

‘When it went in, I toned down my celebration a little. It would have been a bit disrespectful ripping off my top in front of the Fratton end in the circumstances. I didn’t think that would go down too well!

‘Funnily enough, when Andy left as Pompey manager later that season, I sent him a courtesy text: “Good luck with your next venture, I hope you do well”.

‘He replied: “Thank you very much. I wish I’d signed you at the start of the season!”.

Matt Tubbs (far right) on a training run in Portchester during pre-season under Paul Cook in June 2015. Also pictured are Adam Webster, Brandon Haunstrup and Nigel Atangana. Picture: Colin Farmery

Tubbs arrived at Fratton Park in January 2015 with Awford’s side sitting a disappointing 15th as the seventh-lowest scorers in League Two.

Pompey’s manager had opted to recruit free agent Craig Westcarr and Swindon loanee Miles Storey to bolster his attack at the start of that 2014-15 campaign.

Now Blues chairman McInnes had finally convinced him to bring in the ever-willing Tubbs.

The 30-year-old would go on to net nine times in 23 appearances for Pompey that season, including a maiden Football League hat-trick, which arrived at Cambridge United.

That goal contribution was enough to help steer the Blues to a finish of 16th, although Awford was dismissed with four matches remaining.

His replacement arrived in May 2015 – Paul Cook

‘Cook had a system which involved playing with one up front – and I was happy with that,’ added Tubbs.

‘A new manager comes in and you adapt to the way they want to play. I am 5ft 8in and had scored goals in that system before.

‘Cook had his own plans. By all accounts, he wanted to bring his own players in, shipping the older players out. Unfortunately, I was one of those on that list, despite scoring five goals in 17 games under him.

‘When he arrived I had the League Two golden boot and he insisted he wanted me to be part of his plans. Apparently, I’d get an opportunity.

‘By the end of that season he was telling me I’d never play for the club again and made me train with the Academy.’

After scoring five times before the end of October in the 2015-16 season, Tubbs was sidelined by the combination of a toe injury and Cook’s selection policy.

When he joined Eastleigh on loan in February 2016, the striker hadn’t featured for more than three months.

Following a 3-2 debut defeat against Kidderminster, Tubbs’ post-match interview with BBC Radio Solent would impact severely on the remainder of his time at Fratton Park.

At the time, he told the station’s Ian Wilding: ‘Paul Cook told me that I don't suit the Portsmouth system, which is surprising.

‘I did my maths and worked out that I had played eight games in total minutes on the field and scored five goals. That's quite a good return for someone who can't play that system.’

The interview didn’t escape the attention of Cook – unfortunately for Tubbs.

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‘He didn’t really like that comment. It wasn’t malicious on my part, I was just stating a fact,’ added the striker who resides in Crawley folklore with 66 goals in 96 appearances.

‘A week before my Eastleigh loan was up, I thought I’d pop into the office to see him and touch base. I was going to be back at Pompey the following week and there were the play-offs coming up.

‘The conversation turned a bit sour, to be honest. Whether I caught him on a bad day, I don’t know, but those comments had annoyed him, apparently I was out of order.

‘I’d said them months earlier, but he’d remembered – and told me I’d never play for the club again.

‘I just returned by saying “That’s absolutely fine, that’s your decision”. I think me having a calmness about it probably riled him up a bit more! That was it, the nail was in the coffin.

‘I wasn’t allowed to train with Pompey ahead of the play-offs and wasn’t considered for match duty. Unfortunately we lost in the semi-finals to Plymouth.

‘When I entered my end-of-season meeting with the manager, he apologised and said he wished he’d kept me for the play-offs because he might have needed me!

‘Regardless, the 2016 pre-season saw me instructed to train with the kids along with Kal Naismith and Adam McGurk. It was made quite clear I was no longer going to be involved with the first-team.

‘I was basically an Academy player, working under Mikey Harris and Mark Kelly. We were transfer-listed and he was trying to push us out.

‘Even before that, Cook had made me do extra running sessions when I didn’t need to, something which I questioned with Leam Richardson, the assistant manager.

‘He told Cook and I was pulled into the office again. Once more the conversation turned quite sour because I hadn't done exactly as he’d said.

‘Another time, I turned up to a first-team training session and Cook told me to go home, insisting I wasn’t wanted there.

‘Unfortunately, it was the same day the drug testers had turned up! They visited clubs without announcing it and picked three members of the squad at random to be tested.

‘That day they asked for me, yet I wasn’t around because I’d been told to go home. So I got a strike against my name for missing one. It wasn’t even my fault!

‘Training with the Academy is deemed the ultimate disrespect by a manager. I had done nothing wrong, I stated a fact in an interview, it was also true.

‘Managers are entitled to their own opinion, I have no problem with that, it’s just the manner that it’s sometimes done.

‘I believe I suited Cook’s system. I had a good return in goals and appearances playing in that formation, but, ultimately, it’s the manager's decision.’

After 14 goals in 40 appearances, Tubbs departed Fratton Park in July 2016 in a mutually-agreed exit, allowing him to join Forest Green Rovers.

Just two days shy of his 32nd birthday, he was back in non-league football – five years after the former Sandy Balls Holiday Village lifeguard had left with Crawley.

Yet Tubbs was unable to replicate his previous prolific form, taking on a nomadic existence during stop offs at Forest Green, Woking, Sutton United, Havant & Waterlooville and, finally, Gosport.

He featured at Privett Park as a player-assistant manager to former Crawley team-mate Craig McAllister, before the pair were dismissed in May 2019 – by now Borough chairman Iain McInnes.

Tubbs, at the age of 34, hung up his boots and sought a fresh career challenge, earning full-time employment at Brockenhurst College in the New Forest, where he has since qualified as a sport and exercise lecturer.

The childhood Bournemouth fan also serves as head of the sixth-form college’s football academy, while has applied to take his Uefa A licence as he eyes coaching progression.

And for those students unaware of his sporting background, Tubbs’ Pompey shirt proudly hangs alongside prominent former students Danny Ings and Sam Vokes on a college wall.

Tubbs said: ‘I was a little disappointed to leave Pompey. I’d worked so hard to get to where I wanted to be, so to drop out of the Football League was a bitter pill to swallow.

‘I then dotted around non-league a bit. My love for football didn’t go, my head wanted to continue, but my body didn’t.

‘I had struggled with my back for 10 years on and off and it was gradually getting worse. It was the right time to slow up and finish up.

‘I wouldn’t say I was frustrated how it all ended. I look back on my career and believe it was a successful one, with six promotions, three or four golden boots at different levels, and scoring 250-plus goals.

‘I loved it at Pompey, I wanted to go there at the start of the year, ended up doing it mid-season and achieved the golden boot there.

‘I have no regrets, I think I had a relatively good career.’

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Matt Tubbs served as player-assistant manager at Gosport in 2018-19. Picture: Neil Marshall