Pompey’s timeless task in which Cook must succeed

Pompey boss Paul Cook Picture: Sarah Standing
Pompey boss Paul Cook Picture: Sarah Standing
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The Sport’s Mail’s expectations were delivered with bristling candour.

‘It’s got to be promotion,’ the headline decreed.

The article beneath maintained such demands during a frank assessment of the season ahead.

‘Already the Fratton fans, starved of success in recent years, are talking about Pompey marching out of Division IV as champions, and the bookies have slashed the odds on them winning the title from an attractive 16-1 to 6-1,’ it stated.

‘Everyone knows that Pompey’s facilities and crowds are the envy of most clubs in Division III and IV – but this kind of fanatical support can often result in unbearable pressures being placed on the manager and team as the fans demand instant success.

‘Manager Frank Burrows knows that he must attempt to justify this kind of confidence with the end result that every Pompey fan wants to see – promotion from the backwaters of Division IV.’

The date was August 4, 1979. The perspective provided by The News’ sports reporter Alan Thatcher.

Certainly such sentiments are no less relevant 37 years on, as Pompey in its current guise strive for a similar outcome.

Paul Cook must this season emulate Burrows in steering a famous old club upwards – the unthinkable alternative would be unpalatable.

That 1979-80 campaign represents the last time the Blues were promoted from the bottom division of the Football League.

Burrows, the coach thrust into the top job following Jimmy Dickinson’s heart attack the previous April, went on to secure a fourth-placed finish.

It was enough to seal their escape, albeit a photo-finish ahead of Bradford City, courtesy of a more favourable goal difference.

Crucially, a then club-record league goal haul of 91 had been bettered only by Division Four champions Huddersfield, courtesy of the exploits of Colin Garwood, Joe Laidlaw, Jeff Hemmerman and Terry Brisley.

That summer’s six-man recruitment drive had been heralded as the most dashing in Pompey’s history by Mike Neasom.

‘No pre-season in their existence has been busier,’ he wrote in The News, ‘not even the headline-making affair when John Deacon first flung his property fortune after his dream of recreating old glories at Fratton Park.’

A total of £155,000 had been outlaid on Steve Aizlewood, Alan Rogers, John McLaughlin, Laidlaw and Brisley, while Archie Styles represented a free transfer.

The spending spree had chiefly been funded by the sale of centre-half Steve Foster to Brighton for £150,000 – at the time largest fee received in Pompey’s history.

Further departures of Dave Pullar, Peter Denyer and Jimmy McIlwraith supplemented Burrows’ war chest as he assembled a squad he believed was capable of promotion.

The pre-season had kicked-off with two weeks at HMS Mercury, located near Petersfield, followed by two wins in the five scheduled friendlies.

The final warm-up, however, consisted of Burrows’ first-choice line-up slumping to a 3-2 defeat at non-league Dorchester.

Burrows was certainly aware of the elevated anticipation among the Fratton faithful having the previous campaign finished seventh – nine points adrift of the Division Four promotion spots.

‘I want to be known as the manager of a successful club and as the manager of a club lucky enough to have supporters who support and do nothing to drag the name of their club through the mud,’ he said.

‘If I can attain those twin ambitions by next April I shall be a very happy man and I know that my pleasure will be shared by the thousands to whom the name Portsmouth Football Club is something very special.’

It was actually May 3 – not April – when Steve Davey and Ian Purdie achieved promotion by netting in a 2-0 triumph at Northampton.

Today, the identical outcome is required amid the glare of those precise same pressures.

Football now involves three points for a win, harbours £100m-rated players, has eradicated the backpass and almost unanimously abandoned standing terraces.

A very different world – yet at Fratton Park the manager inhabits a very familiar setting.

In a fourth season at League Two level – two of which Cook had no hand in – expectations are loftier than ever for a successful exit.

There have been 11 arrivals, with Milan Lalkovic, Curtis Main and Michael Smith bought for undisclosed fees.

Meanwhile, home-grown central defender Adam Webster was sold to Ipswich for £700,000 cash and Matt Clarke – a windfall to supplement transfer market involvement.

Cook is building on the foundations of a sixth-placed finish, retaining the bulk of the side which accomplished Pompey’s highest points haul since the 2002-03 promotion heroes.

What’s more, the board’s backing has provided him with an increased player budget to achieve his goals.

Pompey are no longer a club sunbathing in remaining in existence, stability has long been secured and the future thankfully safeguarded.

Now fans’ attention is solely fixed on achieving success on the field of play. Football – not owners – these days dominate conversations.

There is every reason for optimism, last season yielded a number of outstanding displays and thumping victories, both home and away.

The football was, considerably more often than not, a delight, while Cook’s team established themselves as the fourth-top scorers in the division.

Today, it begins all over again with the visit of Carlisle to Fratton Park.

It really has got to be promotion.