The new great Portsmouth survivor who continues to defy the doubters and haters
Linvoy Primus used to deliver the response with an affable smile and a glint in the eye.
‘Still holding on!’ the Pompey legend would light-heartedly reply to enquiries over his well-being when being greeted at the club’s Eastleigh training base.
It was a typically self-deprecating stance from a man who finished his nine-year Fratton career with 219 appearances and the love and appreciation of a city. And it was one, should there be any doubt, which was referencing his ongoing status as a great Pompey survivor.
Because it felt like Primus was fighting for his Blues career almost from the moment he arrived.
An own goal on his debut and a maiden campaign which saw him spend five months on the sidelines through injury was followed by time out of the picture under Graham Rix.
Then arrived Harry Redknapp, who by his own admission, didn’t fancy the defender.
But nine minutes into the 2002-03 opening-day win over Nottingham Forest the knee injury which would ultimately wreck Eddie Howe’s career struck, providing a route into the first team for Primus. In a record-breaking rise to the Premier League which delivered player-of-the-season plaudits, he never looked back.
Even when the top-flight was viewed as a step too far for him, the devout Christian had other ideas. A total of 112 top-flight appearances ensued over the next four campaigns, as the free transfer arrival from Reading fended off a host of big-money signings for a starting spot at a club in Premier League fantasy land.
It was an unlikely success story for a player cut perfectly in the image of the football club he represented: the honest, no-nonsense and fully committed grafter triumphing against the odds.
A decade on, another man wearing royal blue is penning his tale which offers increasing parallels with one of his much-loved predecessors.
Yet, you won’t hear quite the same acclaim for the manner in which Christian Burgess has doggedly carved out a Fratton career, which has now seen him clock up the highest total of Pompey league starts of any player at the club.
An approach to playing the game which is the complete antithesis of Primus may well contribute to that. Yet the similarities are also apparent - as we’ve once again witnessed over the past couple of weeks.
Off the pitch, the pair are tied by their work in the community which has seen both receive acclaim. And on it, an ability to remain in the first-team picture in sometimes unlikely circumstances resonates between them.
That we’ve seen with Burgess’ no-fuss shift to a right-back role in which he’s shone in the past two outings.
Eyebrows were raised when it became apparent that was where the 27-year-old was operating against Championship QPR in the Carabao Cup. Yet, an accomplished display ensued showcasing an unlikely ambition to push forward and clean sheet in the victory at Loftus Road.
It was more of the same last time out against one of the early pacesetters in Blackpool, who would’ve no doubt targeted Pompey’s right flank as an area in which they may reap success. Yet, Burgess was once again one of his side’s best performers at Bloomfield Road.
It’s not always proved the case among his wider audience, however. Far from it, in fact.
Burgess, of course, has found himself on the receiving end of some very unnecessary and vitriolic abuse, particularly online, in his time at Pompey.
That most notably arrived in the wake of a costly mistake which led to a goal moments after Jack Whatmough suffered his latest injury setback against Doncaster in February.
That error followed two quick-fire mistakes which took place against Shrewsbury and Wycombe towards the start of last season. They proved fertile pickings for the ‘he’s got a ricket in him’ brigade who still forward the evidence despite the fact those events took place a year ago.
Primus went through similar moments after errors, too, which often challenged his confidence until he had the pillar of his faith to lean on in later years.
Burgess portrays an unwavering belief, one which married with his ball-playing style and reliance on ability over hulking physicality is sometimes incorrectly interpreted as arrogance. But he himself has spoken about the natural doubts which can afflict a player’s game in challenging periods.
Likewise, the manner in which the football world has always tended to view anything or anyone which doesn’t conform to its perceived norms with suspicion may hinder a history-loving university graduate with passions for veganism and politics.
Yet Burgess knows and accepts the rules of the game.
‘It’s like what the gaffer said,’ he said amid the flak in February.’ If you don’t want people’s opinions you maybe shouldn’t be in this business. That was spot on.’
The traits of team selection could also be sending Burgess towards another challenge for his place in Jackett’s side, for the man recruited by Paul Cook.
If the Pompey boss continues down the path of keeping his new captain, Tom Naylor, in defence a fully-fit James Bolton will soon be vying for the spot in the side his manager brought him to the club this summer for.
Of course, there are many variables and no doubt unforeseen circumstances, but after spending pockets of Jackett’s tenure out of favour it’s not a huge leap to make Burgess the fall guy a couple of steps down the line.
That will leave him in another tussle to start in the final year of his existing deal, as his club bid to reach a terrain arguably more suited to his attributes than the one he currently inhabits.
If that battle materialises it’s a fight the unlikely scrapper has now become conditioned to, however. And the evidence suggests you shouldn’t bet against this new Pompey survivor, who, along with Gareth Evans, can present the best case of the current crop for joining Primus in the hall of fame.