‘This bunch of scallies has invigorated me’- coach Paul Barton on US Portsmouth’s FA Vase heroes
Paul Barton has praised the ‘bunch of scallies’ who stand on the brink of a truly remarkable non-league football achievement.
The US Portsmouth coach is tonight due to put the squad through their final training session ahead of Saturday’s momentous FA Cup semi-final.
If US can make Berkshire club Binfield their seventh higher division scalp of the tournament, they will book a sensational Wembley appearance on May 22.
Barton is full of praise for the US players who have pieced together one of the most memorable cup runs in Hampshire non-league history.
But he freely admits he ‘under-estimated’ them on accepting an invitation to come on board by US boss Glenn Turnbull and his assistant Fraser Quirke in the summer of 2019.
‘I’d been out of football for a year,’ Barton recalled.
‘I remember my wife asking if I’d get back into the game and I said ‘I can’t see it really, I might go and watch the odd game’.
‘I had a message from Glenn, who I knew socially, and I’ve known Fraser through the Navy since the late 80s. We met up, had a fairly quick chat, it didn’t take too long, there was some common ground as to how we wanted to play.
‘I had no real idea (what the squad could do). To be brutally honest, I probably under-estimated them a bit.’
Barton - an Everton fan - added: ‘I call them a bunch of scallies, but they’re a great bunch of lads.
‘They figure things out quickly, they adapt to the drills really well.
‘They’re great fun, every day they make me laugh in the WhatsApp group.’
Barton is a UEFA A licenced coach, having rubbed shoulders with some legendary names during his two-week course at Lilleshall in May 2008.
Current Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was on the course along with his ex team-mates Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, while former Chelsea pair Gus Poyet and Roberto Di Matteo were also there. ‘It was a great experience,’ said Barton.
He held a full-time coaching role at the Portsmouth Academy, but was a casualty when the club encountered financial woes - ‘I was like Yosser Hughes looking for a job’.
Barton later also spent time with the Havant & Waterlooville Academy at South Downs College.
Regarding his time at US, Barton said: ‘I thought I was done with football, but the lads have invigorated me, it’s been a great experience.
‘Glenn and Fraser are very professional, I just turn up with some balls and cones and put on some sessions.
‘Working with the lads has been more enjoyable than working in academies.
‘There’s a lot of pressure in academies on the players and their parents, but you can have some banter with adults which you can’t have with under-14s!
‘Glenn tells me how he wants to play - 3-5-2 mainly - and we work around that. It’s quite a fluid system though. Recently we’ve been working with the lads on defensive work off the ball - all the top teams work hard off the ball.
‘We’ve tweaked things. Last week we knew Flackwell (Heath, who US beat 2-0 in the Vase quarter-final) had a right footer on the left and a right footer on the right, so we did a little session about that.
‘We’ll do the same on Thursday, 20-25 minutes on things we’ve seen in the Binfield team, the rest will be player-friendly.
‘I think the players appreciate the bits of insight, it just makes it a bit more professional. They buy into it, they listen.
‘With the run of the mill Wessex games, we tend to worry about ourselves.
‘In our first season I went to watch Hythe & Dibden in midweek, a scouting trip. We put a session on around that, but one of their players didn’t play and another was suspended - the lads were pulling my leg about that!
‘For the Vase games, we’ve looked at videos and we’ve got a lot of reports. One of the good things about being in the Navy is we’ve got good connections in all areas.
‘We’ve got good contacts with clubs in Binfield’s league. They are a very good side, they will be red-hot favourites and rightly so.’
Barton played for US’ predecessors Portsmouth Royal Navy, who were among the Wessex League’s founder members in 1986.
‘I was a centre half - I headed the ball clear and I kicked it clear, none of this cultured stuff! Thou shalt not pass - that was my motto,’ he declared.
Among his colleagues were Bob Brady, a former US manager who is now the club’s secretary.
‘I’m made up for Bob. He scored in the very first game I played for RN, and he’s still involved.
‘When I played for RN a top half finish was a success for us.’
That is true. Barton might not thank me for saying Portsmouth RN only once finished in the top half of the Wessex Premier in 15 seasons. After finishing fifth bottom and fourth bottom in the first two seasons, they were rock bottom in 1988/89, 1989/90 and 1991/92. The highest position they finished was 10th out of 21 clubs in 1996/97. They were bottom again in 2000/01 and dropped into the Hampshire League after that.
The club’s Vase record during that period was equally inauspicious. In 13 seasons they won just five ties and after one of them - a 3-0 win against Danson Sports in 1985 - they were disqualified for fielding two ineligible players.
Times have certainly changed.
‘There’s lads all over the world I played with - in Florida, New Zealand, Australia - messaging me asking what’s going on,’ said Barton. ‘There’s lots of support for us.
‘The Vase run has been great for the club, but great for the city as well. This is a footballing city, a working class city, and the lads are proud of where they are from.
‘They should be rightly proud of what they’ve done.
‘It’s helped put the club on the map - nobody had probably heard of us before.’