Roberts revelling return to glorious Pompey swansong
It was a fitting Pompey swansong, not that Gary Roberts realised.
Fratton Park witnessed the capture of the League Two title, rejoicing supporters spilled on to the pitch and jubilant players celebrated in the directors’ box.
Now the experienced midfielder returns to the stage of his last competitive Blues appearance, this time representing Wigan.
The heartache of his Pompey exit three months later has eased, yet glorious memories of May’s Cheltenham encounter will never fade.
Roberts these days represents Wigan, reunited with former Fratton Park boss Paul Cook to make 26 appearances and score once.
The duo are back on the south coast tomorrow after differing departures in the aftermath of that title triumph.
Roberts subsequently appeared in Pompey’s pre-season friendlies at Salisbury, the Hawks and Poole ahead of a mutually-agreed exit under new boss Kenny Jackett.
As a consequence, two assists and the League Two crown in a 6-1 Fratton Park success over Cheltenham in May was his final competitive outing for the club.
‘I’m really looking forward to coming back, to be honest,’ said Roberts.
‘You never know what the reaction is going to be but it will just be nice to see a few faces and get back to the ground.
‘Cheltenham was my last appearance at Fratton Park. That seems a long time ago now but what a day, what a great day.
‘I don’t think anybody expected the outcome going into that game.
‘We knew we were going to win, we knew that. Cheltenham had nothing to play for and we were flying. We were on a terrific run.
‘The pitch was great, the ground was full, we knew we would batter them. It was just about other results. Lady Luck was on our side that day.
‘The last couple of minutes are what you’ll remember forever. Great scenes.
‘You couldn’t write it. You could not write a better ending to the season, especially from where we were eight weeks earlier when people thought the season would fizzle out.
‘We were promoted comfortably in the end – with games to play – and then to win the league on the last day was the icing on the cake.
‘I can remember us cruising in that Cheltenham game, speaking to fans around the ground asking “what’s the score?”.
‘The game was done, it was a testimonial at the end, we were hurting them at will.
‘Taking a corner, throw-in or the ball going out wide, I was asking fans what the score was.
‘But the signal is not great at Fratton Park, some were saying other sides were getting beat, others saying it was over when it wasn’t over!
‘It was a good set of lads to share it with, too. They worked hard, especially those there for two years, who had felt the pain the year before in the play-offs.
‘We were out straight after the game, we had our clothes with us at the stadium and headed right into town as a club – ending up in Bar 38 with our wives and girlfriends.
‘Then we had the event on Southsea Common the following day, everyone drinking again and staying out with the fans drinking some more.
‘The next thing, you are back in training and the manager has gone. A new manager has come in and doesn’t want you. You are up the wall.’
Signed from Chesterfield for an undisclosed fee in June 2015, Roberts went on to register 80 appearances and score 20 times.
Cook’s maiden campaign saw elimination in stoppage-time of the play-off semi-final second leg at Plymouth.
Then there was the title-winning season, when Roberts climbed off the bench in the 61st minute to contribute two assists in the hammering of Cheltenham.
However, new boss Jackett didn’t regard the 33-year-old as part of his plans, commanding him to train with youngsters or by himself.
Despite one year remaining on his deal, an upset Roberts was finally removed from the playing squad in August – with the familiar face of Cook offering a new home at the DW Stadium.
He added: ‘I was gutted to leave the club. But it’s gone, it’s water under the bridge, clubs move on, managers move on and players move on.
‘It is what it is, it can happen for a reason and Pompey have moved on.
‘The club stays the same, fans stay the same, players come and go – and it was my time to go.
‘When you look back, what we achieved during those two seasons looks even better.
‘In the first year we struggled with players towards the end when I thought we would have gone up but the second year was phenomenal. To get promoted at a good club like that puts you in the history books.
‘I scored 20 goals in two years, no bad return, and felt I had a good time there, even though I could have done better by my own standards.
‘Still, when you look at the stats, it was not a bad return.
‘When I signed the club were desperate to get out of League Two – and deserved to get out of it. They don’t deserve to be in League One either but they are where they are.
‘When you go to Newport and whatever, no disrespect to small clubs but with Pompey it’s just a mismatch in size.
‘To get them out of that division and on their feet is great to look back on and something I am proud to be part of.’