The Portsmouth starlet pursued by Crystal Palace and tipped for England: Hopefully Sunderland will finally give goalkeeper the stage his talent deserves

Alex Bass tells the story of an eye-opening Paul Cook post-match drinking session at Mansfield Town.
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Following a disappointing 1-1 draw at Field Mill in March 2016, Pompey’s fuming manager disappeared for several hours, leaving squad and staff twiddling their thumbs on the team bus.

Then Gary Roberts received a text, instructing all to gather in the pub under one of the ground’s stands.

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‘Cook told everyone that they had to get a pint in,’ Bass told The News earlier this month.

‘A couple of people told him they weren’t drinking, such as Sean Duggan the physio and Adrian Cooke our fitness guy – and he was losing the plot with these lads for not drinking.

‘He told them: “If you don’t want to have a beer with us, clear off and get back on the bus”.

‘Then he turned to me and said “Why haven’t you got a beer? Go and get yourself one”. The problem was I was 17!

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‘I explained my age, that I can’t actually order a beer, I’m too young, but he insisted and Kyle Bennett bought me one as part of a round.

Alex Bass has departed Pompey for Sunderland in search of the regular first-team football his career needs. Picture: Dennis Goodwin/ProSportsImagesAlex Bass has departed Pompey for Sunderland in search of the regular first-team football his career needs. Picture: Dennis Goodwin/ProSportsImages
Alex Bass has departed Pompey for Sunderland in search of the regular first-team football his career needs. Picture: Dennis Goodwin/ProSportsImages

‘I didn’t want to drink it. It was in my hand, I’d had just a couple of sips – but Cook noticed. “You’ve had that 20 minutes and not taken a sip. See it off, down it,” came the command.

‘So I sunk it, a youngster trying to fit in with the lads. It was gone.

‘Then Cook said: “Now go and get another!”.’

That shy 17-year-old lad is now an eloquent 24-year-old man – they certainly grow up fast.

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Yet, frustratingly for Bass, despite ongoing attempts to ingratiate himself with the first-team under a succession of managers, he has largely existed on its fringes.

Pompey’s longest-serving player was aged 16 and fresh from leaving school when first called upon at Bognor during the 2014 pre-season under Andy Awford.

Come yesterday’s departure for Sunderland, he had totalled 41 appearances for the Blues over the next eight seasons.

Damning statistics for a highly-talented performer once tipped for England international honours by former goalkeeping coach John Keeley and at one time pursued by Crystal Palace.

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There have been loan spells at Salisbury, Torquay, Southend and, last season, Bradford, nonetheless Bass has been starved of regular first-team football for far too long.

There was even the agony of believing he had achieved his breakthrough when Kenny Jackett turned to the keeper for the second half of the 2019-20 campaign.

Surprisingly displacing Craig MacGillivray on New Year’s Day at Gillingham, explained by Jackett as a ‘gut feeling’ team selection, he went on to play the final 15 League One matches.

That consisted of the two-legged play-off semi-final defeat to Oxford United, in which Bass faced a decisive penalty shoot-out with a dislocated finger following an injury earlier in the game.

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Retaining the shirt for the opening match of the 2020-21 campaign – a Carabao Cup trip to Stevenage in August 2020 – unfortunately a calamitous Blues first half saw the goalkeeper subbed at half-time.

From that point, he made just 11 more Pompey appearances – of which two came in the league.

There were injuries, of course, primarily the misfortune of fracturing his left leg twice, on the second occasion during the first half of a debut at Southend.

Upon his return, Danny Cowley was in place as head coach and favoured Gavin Bazunu and his superior distribution strengths, then, for this season, West Brom’s Josh Griffiths.

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Unquestionably, Bass never let Pompey down during his sporadic outings. A magnificent Checkatrade Trophy match at Oxford in October 2019 instantly springs to mind, while there was Peterborough (March 2020) and Wycombe (November 2021).

It remains to be seen whether Sunderland will grant the first-team opportunities his career desperately deserves and his talent clearly warrants. Certainly, it appears he will have to operate as a number two for a little while longer.

Nonetheless, Bass has the fresh start he needs. Now he requires a manager’s faith to truly flourish.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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