Small beginnings '“ but big Pompey futures
It was 4am when Alan Dowson clambered out of bed to embark on the fight against the frost.
Soon he was flanked on the Beveree Stadium pitch by 20 cars, engines growling and exhausts billowing in attempts to thaw the playing surface.
A procession of bacon rolls and cups of tea generously prepared in the club’s kitchen fuelled the hardy group of volunteers.
Yet, shortly after 10.30am, they were defeated. The non-league encounter with Gosport endured the same fate which earlier that Saturday befell Pompey.
The hands-on involvement of Dowson, manager of Hampton & Richmond, is indicative of a club bonded by community spirit.
Located in south-west London, the Beavers presently stand eighth in National League South – three points adrift of the play-off spots.
Their impressive campaign has been inspired by the talents of Jamal Lowe and Nicke Kabamba, before they were plucked by Pompey.
The talented duo, both recruited by Dowson, totalled 48 goals before this month earning moves into the Football League for undisclosed fees.
Last weekend’s match was scrapped, the talismanic twosome have departed, yet life for Hampton & Richmond continues.
And a proud Dowson is anticipating a bright future not only for his club but also Fratton Park’s new arrivals.
He said: For the last 20 years I have been helping out at Weston Green School in Esher, a lovely school.
‘They were the first people to give me a job outside the professional game and I try to aid the kids in any sport I can, whether it be through coaching or driving the minibus.
‘In November, Jamal went to Estonia to represent England C, with Nicke also travelling as a member of the stand-by squad.
‘When they stepped off the plane having arrived back in England, they went straight to the school and gave the kids a talk.
‘Over a couple of hours, they showed their England shirts, answered questions and played football with them.
‘Pompey haven’t got themselves big-time charlies, these are proper lads, and to get them to visit my school was massive to me.
‘As manager I’m gutted to lose them, of course I am, but I’m also delighted. They will be excellent for Pompey.
‘Jamal can go all the way, in my opinion. I am telling you now, no mistake about it, he is an unbelievable talent.
‘Nicke is a latecomer who has got better as he has stepped up through the leagues.
‘He could easily play in the Football League, it’s about how high he can go. Jamal will go all the way, though.
‘After making his Pompey debut against Leyton Orient, he rang me that Saturday night and told me how he had helped set up the winning goal.
‘Then I saw it on television and he had passed the ball two yards to Carl Baker to make the cross!
‘I rang him straight away and said: “don’t you give me all that cobblers!”
‘You can’t pull the wool over my eyes, that’s for sure.
‘He probably thinks he now deserves a new contract, he has to do a lot more than that for me!’
While Dowson was responsible for recruiting both Lowe and Kabamba, he is swift to credit the roles of coaches Ian Dyer and Martin Tyler in the pair’s development.
Tyler is perhaps more widely known for his football commentary with Sky Sports and possessing one of the finest voices in his profession.
The management team last season steered Hampton & Richmond back into National League South after clinching the Isthmian League premier division title.
While claiming the sole automatic promotion spot, they finished a point ahead of Bognor, who subsequently perished in the play-offs.
And featuring prominently among the Beavers’ haul of 105 league goals were a pair of familiar faces.
Dowson added: ‘I once watched Jamal against Crystal Palace and then saw him again in training. When he became available, I signed him.
‘When he walked into the office he was a miserable so-and-so, but I got him to laugh.
‘I then said: “that’s better, you’ve got a smile on your face, that is how I want you to play”. You don’t actually coach people like that much, you try to make them smile by giving them the ball and letting them enjoy it.
‘At the start of this season there were eight or nine clubs in for Jamal, some at a higher level.
‘I persuaded him to sign a contract, but promised once a league club came in I would shake his hand and let him go. I kept my word.
‘I always knew he would push on, he possesses unbelievable talent and has a great attitude.
‘Jamal had his hands burnt before at Barnet when he was younger, he’s not going to make the same mistakes twice. He’s playing with a smile on his face and is under a good manager who will educate him more.
‘Play Jamal anywhere, just give him the ball. He can play wide right, wide left, behind the striker – once he gets cracking he will be sensational, just you watch.
‘Nicke initially arrived on loan from Hemel Hempstead before we signed him permanently last summer.
‘He’s a raw talent who will come in and work his socks off. He works at his game more than Jamal, to be honest, whereas Jamal has natural talent.
‘Nicke must be horrible to play against, he really puts himself about. He’s very much an old-fashioned centre-forward, closing down defenders and working hard for the side, definitely a team player.
‘I honestly believe he will get better and better with full-time coaching.
‘In my opinion, they were the best two players in the National League South and now we have lost them.
‘But it’s great for them – and a really good deal for Pompey.’