'Me and John Sullivan didn’t have the best relationship' - the Portsmouth keeper battle which saw both dumped after two months

Phil Smith has lifted the lid on the uncomfortable rivalry between John Sullivan in the battle to be Pompey number one.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 4:55 am
John Sullivan competed with Phil Smith to be Pompey's goalkeeper for the 2013-14 season - but both were ditched after October 2013. Picture: Barry Zee

And, ultimately, neither emerged as the winner.

Sullivan arrived on a free transfer from Charlton in May 2013, locking horns with Smith in the fight to become Guy Whittingham’s first-choice keeper in an overhauled playing squad.

Smith, who was without a Blues appearance after six months at the club, had also signed a new deal eight days earlier.

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Whittingham auditioned both during pre-season, alternating between the pair during the friendly schedule.

And by the season’s end, they had departed Fratton Park.

Smith told The News: ‘Sully had a fantastic opportunity to come to Pompey and it didn’t quite work out, for whatever reason. I can’t explain why.

Goalkeeper Phil Smith made five appearances in 18 months after arriving at Fratton Park in December 2012. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘At the start of the season, I felt I’d done enough to warrant playing. I am not saying that I was better than Sully, but believe I had a good shout – and was gutted when that didn’t happen.

‘If I had started the season then I would have been a different goalkeeper that year. I just wanted to be backed by the manager, that would have been massive for me.

‘Instead I always felt like I was playing catch up. I wasn't mentally strong enough to deal with it and kind of went backwards.

‘Me and Sully actually get on a lot better now than we did when playing together.

Phil Smith in action against Bury in October 2013 for what would prove to be his final Pompey outing. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘There is a goalkeeper’s union – and I got on really well with Simon Eastwood and other keepers – but some relationships aren't as good for whatever reason.

‘When we played together, me and Sully didn’t have the best relationship. We didn’t hate each other, yet get on a lot better now having come through that scenario.

‘I drop him a message every now and then, just to say “All right, how are you doing?”.

‘I guess we found a bit of common ground afterwards in terms of football and how we felt about it. I was going through a lot of stuff towards the end of my Pompey career and into the next year.

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‘We didn’t hate each other, but we weren’t the best of mates at Pompey. That’s football.

‘Sully has now moved to Las Vegas and done something different, working in real estate. I am so proud of him for doing that, it was a massive step, but he backed himself and became successful.

‘He’s found his calling and I am so happy for him. He has built a life away from football – and a better life.’

The arrival of Trevor Carson on loan from Bury in October 2013 saw him swiftly established as Pompey’s first-team keeper.

‘The previous season, Simon Eastwood was number one and we got on really well,’ Smith added.

‘If anything had happened to him, I know if I would have played during that period – and I would have done well.

‘Then Sully came in as a new signing – and obviously the manager wanted him to do well.

‘That breeds paranoia, you’re looking over your shoulder thinking “What’s he saying about me?”. That’s how I was, anyway.

‘With goalkeepers, I always feel you need a clear number one. I know people go on about competition, but you must have a number one so you don't get niggly.

‘You need to have a clear standing of who is number one and who is number two. When there’s that option to chop and change, I don't think it’s the best way of dealing with keepers.

‘I wasn’t in the best place to deal with it, either.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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