'Nastiness', headbutts, heartbreak and Derek Adams - now the Portsmouth and Plymouth feud resumes

The footage was passed around, injecting more merriment into an evening already awash with high spirits.

Thursday, 12th November 2020, 6:00 pm
Paul Cook is sent to the stands following the flashpoint of Jamille Matt's headbutt on Michael Doyle in the League Two play-off semi-final first leg against Plymouth in May 2016. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey’s end of season gala dinner was held 48 hours following their League Two triumph under Paul Cook, with the intoxication of celebration clearly still evident among some of those present.

The Blues had topped the table for the final 32 minutes of the campaign – a last-gasp surge which earned them silverware.

And while the Victory Lounge hosted more toasting of the accomplishment, video emerged of Plymouth’s own festivities, held earlier that day.

Sign up to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The grieving side pipped to the title at the death were shuttled through sparse streets of their city on an open-topped bus. To describe the reception as low key would be an understatement.

The victory parade had been downgraded to a promotion party in south Devon, although numbers were substantially below par.

Comparisons to Mike Bassett’s England squad being stuck in a one-way system and ending up on the motorway had already been raised on social media by the Pompey faithful.

When the footage reached Fratton Park on that May 2017 night, there was little empathy among crowing players and staff. Simply another reason to smile.

Gary Roberts celebrates his crucial equaliser against Plymouth in April 2017. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South

For a period of time, the clubs had been ferocious rivals.

Initially sparked by animosity between Cook and opposite number Derek Adams, stemming from their very first footballing encounter, the sides were long at loggerheads.

As promotion adversaries and undisputedly two of the largest clubs in League Two, it became an ongoing conflict maintained in the division above.

The likes of Jamille Matt, the play-off semi-final second leg and the trumpeting of the irritating ‘Dockyard Derby’ slogan enhanced the simmering loathing between players, managers and fans.

And Monday will mark the first meeting in 21 months for teams once again reacquainted in the same division.

‘Then, when they visited Fratton Park that same season for an April 2016 league match, we were leading and battering them, only for Adams’ side to score twice in the final four minutes to snatch a 2-1 victory.

‘They celebrated like mad with their fans and suddenly we thought “What’s going on here?”.

‘Now it was a rivalry – and it was brilliant, a proper nastiness between the players and a real edge for those matches.’

Doyle, of course, would be embroiled during one particular controversial moment between the sides – Jamille Matt.

During the League Two semi-final first leg at Fratton Park in May 2016, the Plymouth striker headbutted Pompey’s skipper from behind.

Referee Oliver Langford opted to take no action, with Matt not even booked. An FA panel similarly later decided such actions were not worthy of a ban.

That evening, the match would finish 2-2 amid an atmosphere some of those Pompey players describe as the greatest involved in for the club.

Incidentally, Matt had weighed in with both of Plymouth’s contributions to the scoreline.

Doyle added: ‘In the build up, Matt was grounded and tripped Danny Hollands, so I dragged him away. There might have been a pinch there, I don’t know, but he reacted.

‘He should have been sent off, there’s no doubt about it – once you use your head then you’ve got to go.

‘Obviously I felt him make contact with the back of my head. I wasn’t sore, but went on the floor holding the area he had connected with. You’re just playing the game.

‘If I had done the same to him, that’s how he would have reacted, if you can get an edge and reduce them to 10 men then you’re going to. That’s the way it is, that's what footballers do.

‘If I kick someone and they go down they’re usually trying to get you booked, that’s the game.

‘Regardless, he had done wrong, he should have been sent off, but got away with it.’

The following season, on Good Friday, April 2017, there was a Plymouth travelling presence of 2,644 at Fratton Park to potentially see promotion clinched with four matches remaining.

Jake Jervis, a two-time Pompey loanee, opened the scoring on 12 minutes for the Pilgrims, raising hopes among the vast away support.

However, Gary Roberts’ second-half goal claimed a 1-1 draw, ensuring Adams’ side would have to wait a little while longer to seal League One football.

It was the only match the Blues failed to win during their final eight fixtures – and would prove pivotal.

Cook’s men would go on to take the League Two title ahead of their rivals on goal difference.

‘It started with the managers and went from there, transferring to the pitch to become really niggly between a couple of players from each side. To eventually lose to them in the semi-finals, and in the manner it arrived, was heartbreaking.

‘Derek Adams was a bit of an idiot, to be fair, he kept mentioning wages and budgets in the press whenever they played us and there was no need for it.

‘He eventually turned on his own fans and local media before being sacked in April 2019 and, while he seems a good manager, I don’t think he has great social skills.

‘The managers didn’t like each other, while the tackles were always a bit tasty and in April 2016 I was smashed by Peter Hartley in a 2-1 defeat at Fratton Park, leaving me seeing stars.

‘I went to turn on the halfway line and he cracked me with an elbow, one of life’s tricks with centre-halves, and I came off with concussion.’

Despite Cook’s departure for Wigan in May 2017, the rivalry with Plymouth was retained in League One, primarily through the antagonistic presence of Adams.

The maiden encounter with Kenny Jackett’s Pompey resulted in a 1-0 Fratton Park win in November 2017.

The Pilgrims registered one shot on target, 10 fewer goal attempts overall, inferior possession stats and trailed since Kal Naismith’s 25th-minute opener.

Regardless, Adams commented afterwards: ‘There was no way that Portsmouth were better than us. Not a hope in this world. It was 0-0 written all over the game.’

In April 2019, Adams was sacked with Plymouth languishing in 21st and plummeting back towards League Two.

His final match in charge was a 5-1 loss to Accrington, after which he refused to speak to the press.

Since then Ryan Lowe, who struck up a lasting friendship with Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin during Bury days, has returned the Pilgrims to League One.

Rivalry has resumed, with both clubs meeting at Home Park on Monday. Although, in truth, it will never match those previous hostilities which kept us captivated.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

The News has launched a new subscription offer which gives you unlimited access to all of our Pompey coverage.

You can subscribe here to get the latest news and transfer updates from Fratton Park - and to support our local team of expert Pompey writers.