'Three or four of the board wanted him dismissed': The inside story of how Michael Doyle escaped Portsmouth sack after infamous Christian Burgess dressing-room fight

When Michael Doyle and Christian Burgess failed to emerge at half-time of Pompey’s Fratton Park encounter with Stevenage, few could have anticipated the reason.

Monday, 8th November 2021, 10:54 am
Former Pompey skipper Michael Doyle came close to being sacked by Pompey following his dressing-room scrap with Christian Burgess. Picture: Joe Pepler
Former Pompey skipper Michael Doyle came close to being sacked by Pompey following his dressing-room scrap with Christian Burgess. Picture: Joe Pepler

In the aftermath of the November 2016 match which resulted in a 2-1 Blues defeat, manager Paul Cook revealed the pair had been hauled off following a dressing-room fight.

Burgess required stitches in his forehead after the flash point, with frustrations high following a goalless first half at Fratton Park

In the 2020 book Pompey: The Island City With A Football Club For A Heart, Pompey board member John Kimbell revealed how skipper Doyle was subsequently set to be dismissed for the incident.

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However, he was spared a sacking at the last minute by an impassioned speech from his manager.

‘In November 2016, a board meeting was held at Verisona Law’s offices at Lakeside to discuss Michael Doyle’s future following that infamous dressing-room fight with Christian Burgess. Three or four of the board present absolutely felt he should be sacked.

‘We talked about it at length and it was argued that, considering he was the captain and leader of that team, he should be fired for such behaviour.

‘It wasn’t what was expected of any professional in any job, and certainly if it happened in any office, that person would be sacked immediately. So why should Michael Doyle be treated differently?

‘With any board meeting, we’d talk among ourselves before Paul later joined us for half an hour.

‘What followed was the manager putting forward a very compelling argument for why his captain should stay. Michael should be grateful for how persuasive that speech was.

‘It was a split board, then Paul arrived and made it clear he didn’t want Doyle sacked. Although he understood our reasoning should we decide to act, admitting the Irishman’s behaviour was unacceptable, Paul insisted he needed him to remain.

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‘It was explained this was about getting out of League Two and, in order to achieve that, we had to ensure our best players were available. At the end of that meeting we voted: Michael Doyle was staying, but it was close.

‘Paul was obviously right, I don’t believe we would have gone up without Michael. Who would we have replaced him with?

‘Personally, I voted to keep him, but wanted it recorded that a repeat of such behaviour should see him fired for unprofessional conduct.

‘From what I learnt during my time on Pompey’s board and now through my current job as a football intermediary, football is like no other profession. What happens at clubs is just incredible; it’s something you need to ring-fence and do your own thing.’

With Cook quitting as boss in May 2017, Jackett was installed as replacement, the sole candidate to be interviewed, despite early interest registered by former Pompey boss Steve Cotterill, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Alex McLeish.

Keen to avoid prying eyes, initial talks were held around the kitchen table at Kimbell’s former Godalming home, with the ex-Wolverhampton Wanderers boss later signing a two-year deal.

As for Kimbell, following the Tornante takeover two months later, he departed Pompey’s board, before also stepping down from Trust involvement in October 2017 to return to his South Stand seat.

He added: ‘To be fair to the Eisners, the management situation was occurring during the early stages of their takeover. They were very much, “Look, it’s your call; it’s not our club. You do what you think is right as you are the guys in control”.

‘We contacted Kenny Jackett on the day Paul Cook officially left and he became the only person we interviewed.

‘Everyone warmed to him very quickly. He’s a likeable guy and you can't question his credentials, while he possessed a very clear vision of where he saw the club.’

Pompey: The Island City With A Football Club For A Heart is available from Waterstone’s, Pompey’s club shop and Amazon.

Played Up Pompey (paperback) and Played Pompey Up Three are also on sale from the above.

Alternatively, contact [email protected] for copies autographed by those featured in the books.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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