Sorry, but your entry into Pompey folklore has been revoked

The chance encounter suddenly careered down a conversation cul-de-sac.

Saturday, 3rd June 2017, 10:40 am
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 10:01 pm
Paul Cook, right, is welcomed to Wigan Athletic by Latics chairman David Sharpe

Customarily charismatic, Harry Redknapp was in whimsical mood while dancing through Fratton Park recollections. Halcyon days, indeed.

That impromptu audience consisted of members of the Pompey local media press pack, gathered in Southampton Airport’s departure lounge and coincidentally booked on the same Dublin flight as the former Blues boss.

Spotting those familiar faces brokered a friendly reception from Redknapp – and how his words flowed.

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Then attention switched to the modern day, namely the ‘Boys of 2003’ gathering later that month, uniting members of the Division One title-winning team.

Redknapp, however, had not received an invite.

‘It’s not as if I did anything, is it?’, came the awkward reply to smother the fleet-footed nature of discussion.

Indeed, there had been no official approach requesting his presence at the July 2016 event at the Portsmouth Marriott.

The majority of the team skippered by Paul Merson had been contacted, as had many of the backroom staff, including physio Gary Sadler, kitman Kev McCormack and the inimitable Barry Harris.

Not the manager, though. Not, arguably, the club’s greatest modern-day boss.

Such is the precarious state of Redknapp’s standing among Pompey fans, it was decided his involvement could potentially create a negative reaction among some of those supporters expected to be in attendance.

You see, once wronged, neither the passing of time or fanciful praise can recapture the hearts of the Fratton faithful. Upon the final whistle, the game ends for good.

Which brings us to Paul Cook, the first Blues boss since Redknapp to win silverware – and whose accomplishments are similarly, sadly, now forever tainted.

The 50-year-old elected to turn down a contract extension to walk out for Wigan little more than three weeks after claiming the League Two title.

Cook should be forever lauded for his achievements and delivered a metaphorical guard of honour upon each return to the south coast, long after his departure.

By right, he warrants a half-time reception befitting Linvoy Primus, Hermann Hreidarsson, Frank Burrows or Alan Biley.

There must also be an invite for the inevitable occasion of the ‘Boys of 2017’, along with Michael Doyle, Christian Burgess, Enda Stevens, Kyle Bennett, Kal Naismith, Kev McCormack and Barry Harris and Co.

But there won’t.

Cook had entered Fratton folklore, yet opted to jettison himself.

Certainly, there was no requirement to summon a bouncer to intervene and accompany him off the premises – he left of his own accord.

Instead, he sits alongside Redknapp as a Pompey persona non grata for the remainder of his days.

Harsh, but such is the consequence of his actions.

Irrespective of how he is presently regarded by Pompey followers, Cook handed the club two of its greatest moments.

For that, we all owe him a debt of gratitude, despite the perceived treachery.

The emotional magnitude of those glorious outcomes at Notts County and then against Cheltenham are irrefutable and should never be sullied by what would occur later.

Firstly, there was Meadow Lane promotion, Jamal Lowe’s two goals, the pitch invasion, celebrations on the balcony, before players and management joined the fans for drink and song at Fratton Park.

Then the title was captured on a day of drama at Fratton Park.

Cue tears in the press box, the photograph of the little boy kissing the Fratton turf, fans embracing on the pitch, chants of ‘We Are The Champions’ in the Shepherds Crook and then the celebrations on Southsea Common topped by Gareth Evans’ song.

Cook was the mastermind, the manager who assembled those players, drew up the triumphant game plan and motivated the personnel. A city reaped the reward.

This was the boss who inherited a squad which had sunk the Blues to the lowest Football League position in the club’s history.

When a hero was desperately required to lead this proud club from the doldrums, he stepped forward.

The subsequent accomplishment simply cannot be chipped away through the disgruntlement over his departure.

Pompey captured the League Two crown on Cook’s watch – if managers carry the can for failure, they must also be hoisted aloft during success.

Since the Premier League years there have been defeats at York (twice), losing at Aldershot in the FA Cup, a club record run of 23 games without victory, a Blues joint-worst of nine successive defeats, Richie Barker and 546 minutes without a goal.

There was the occasion when Sammy Moore’s last-minute strike elsewhere prevented the Blues slipping into the Football League relegation zone, a 4-0 thumping at AFC Wimbledon, 5-1 at Scunthorpe, Paddy Roche and, of course, Plymouth in the play-offs.

The lows, so many lows, three relegations, two administrations, traipsing to the High Court to avoid liquidation, fans wrestling back control from squatters unfit for tenancy.

Then there was 2016-17 – and didn’t it feel good.

Cook broke down barriers, drinking with supporters in local pubs and delivering an open invitation to meet him at the training ground. He was personable and approachable.

The play-off defeat at Home Park devastated him, often choking on words when asked to revisit that heartache, on other occasions close to tears.

Cook had bonded with Pompey, he’d led the club out of League Two, as a consequence finally achieving acceptance and with it deserved adulation.

Then came Wednesday, when the long-running Wigan saga was finally brought to an unpalatable close.

The result means Cook engineered his own Pompey exile.

His name is no longer on the list, he won’t be coming in.

In truth, he deserves lifetime gratitude in light of his achievements, as does Harry Redknapp.

Yet they wanted more – and now the Fratton faithful do not want them.