We've seen you before '“ unfortunately for Pompey
It was a gentleman's agreement, bound by honour and wax sealed with respect.
A managerial pact to spare Paul Cook the potential ignominy of returning players leaving an indelible mark on Pompey’s promotion aspirations.
The January 2016 squad clear-out saw James Dunne depart for Cambridge United and Nigel Atangana venture to Leyton Orient.
All parties mutually recognised the benefit of cancelling contracts with six months remaining – but Cook had one more crucial stipulation.
‘They had a gentleman’s agreement that I wouldn’t be allowed to play, which is a bit annoying, I would have loved to have featured,’ said Dunne ahead of Cambridge’s February 2016 visit to Fratton Park.
‘I knew about it. When I left, Paul Cook told me it would be there. It is understandable, Pompey paid up my contract for me to go six months early. They don’t want a player they’re still paying scoring the winner against them, it wouldn’t look good.
‘Both managers have enough respect for each other to stick by the agreement. Besides, Cambridge are not the sort of club that would take the mick and play me when asked not to.’
Similarly, the same month saw Atangana sidelined for Orient’s visit as newly-appointed boss Kevin Nolan kept his club’s word.
Perhaps the less said on Rommy Boco the better, with Cook still bearing the scars of John Coleman introducing him off Accrington’s bench against Pompey in March.
An understanding was supposedly reached at the time. But, in the midst of battle, they couldn’t agree on what agreement had been agreed. The pair struggle to exchange pleasantries these days.
Still, the Blues produced one of their finest displays of the campaign to triumph 3-1 in that encounter.
Cook’s approach to silencing such playing threats was impressively shrewd. Likewise, the lengths taken to ensure a one-match inactivity.
Avenging footballers can provide an unpalatable outcome – as Pompey have already found to their cost this season.
With the proviso now expired, the shackles have been removed from Atangana to enable him to face the Blues in today’s Brisbane Road visit.
A groin injury threatens to abort that potentially awkward situation, although the match remains marked as the Frenchman’s comeback.
Regardless, Pompey have so far come up against six former players during the campaign – of which three have scored.
It’s precisely the reason why Cook continues to be so eager not to host such Blues reunions.
To think, last term John Akinde was the sole ex-player among 38 faced who succeeded in netting against the Blues.
Of the trio to have this season carried out their retribution, Izale McLeod registered on his full Yeovil debut in the 4-3 Checkatrade Trophy defeat at Huish Park in August.
Incidentally, it remains his only goal for the club.
The striker netted 11 times in 27 Pompey games during the first half of the 2012-13 campaign, without truly endearing himself to the Fratton faithful.
Then there was Akinde, with his penalty breaking the deadlock in last month’s Fratton Park clash – although, Barnet subsequently suffered a 5-1 defeat.
Another ex-Pompey player, Bondz N’Gala, emerged from the bench in an attempt to stem the flow, only for the hosts to net twice more.
The third goalscorer was John Marquis, swooping for Doncaster last weekend, albeit aided by poor defending as the visitors ran out 2-1 victors.
He scored twice in six appearances during a loan spell from Millwall in the 2013-14 season, but largely failed to convince.
Thankfully, the return of former Blues Academy player Andre Blackman with Crawley was not as profitable, although Boco has enjoyed a win for Accrington having, once more, entered as a substitute.
Not that the wrath of former players is anything new during this Cook reign.
In each of the four knockout events contested last season, the team which eliminated the Blues contained an ex-player.
For the September 2015 loss at Exeter in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, former loanee Lee Holmes was in the opposition line-up.
It was Reading who eliminated Cook’s men from the Capital One Cup, with Jordan Obita in the side. The winger briefly served at Fratton Park in 2012-13.
Premier League Bournemouth were the conquerors in the FA Cup, with Sylvain Distin in the starting XI and Gosport’s Matt Ritchie appearing from the bench for the last 28 minutes.
Finally, both legs of the League Two play-off semi-final saw Jake Jervis in action for Plymouth.
Jervis, of course, previously had two Blues spells, totalling five goals in 18 outings, before released in the summer of 2014.
Yet of the 38 different ex-players who featured against Pompey last season, Akinde was the sole scorer.
His penalty gave Barnet a 1-0 victory in February 2016 – a spot-kick trick he would repeat last month.
Remarkably, the striker failed to find the net during 11 Blues appearances at the back end of the 2012-13 season.
Since then his reinvention has produced a total of 79 goals in 140 appearances for Alfreton and Barnet.
Not that former players wreaked absolute revenge last term, even if they did snatch 29 points from Cook’s team.
Pompey still managed to collect 50 points from such encounters on their way to a sixth-placed finish and the play-offs.
Aside from Atangana, also expected to turn out at Brisbane Road today are Alex Cisak and Paul McCallum.
Blues fans, of course, have seen you before.