When brutal January blues devastated Pompey

The cream-coloured three-seater sofa was bundled into the SSD van as Pompey's dismantling continued.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 20th January 2018, 9:30 am
Former Pompey captain Brian Howard
Former Pompey captain Brian Howard

Finances couldn’t stretch to employ hired help, so caretaker boss Guy Whittingham, coach Andy Awford and masseur Colin Clement provided the training ground muscle.

Having been ejected from their Wellington Sports Ground home due to no longer being able to meet the £223,000 annual rent, the Blues held one final press conference before wrapping up.

The Kanu lift, so branded as the striker often employed it rather than take the arduous climb to the first and only floor, had one final load to haul.

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Guy Whittingham

At least the sofa had a home, allocated for a Horndean neighbour of Awford’s. Pompey’s evicted squad had no such luxuries as they adopted traveller status.

It signalled the end of a brutal January 2013 – a merciless month and surely the most turbulent transfer window in Fratton Park history.

That tumultuous period saw 12 playing departures, six arrivals, three backroom staff exits, and a club in administration forced to slash employee wages by 10 per cent.

Whittingham’s men lost all four of their matches, scoring once, with another two games postponed.

Guy Whittingham

They staggered out of that January languishing one place off the foot of League One and cemented into a 16-game winless streak.

And there was no training ground.

It has been five years since such January blues, Pompey now inhabiting brighter times having been helped back on to their feet by the outstretched hand of fan ownership followed by the Tornante takeover.

Kenny Jackett’s troops reside seventh in League One, positioned one place off the play-offs, while a stable playing squad utilise a training ground restored to the city.

Yet January 2013 was a wretched time, underpinned by monthly playing contracts as a skint club gasped for air while awaiting rescue.

The 12 exits kicked off with Jack Compton and Josh Thompson, while Izale McLeod’s contract was cancelled by mutual consent with 16 days left amid managerial concerns over his attitude and ongoing commitment.

The 11-goal top-scorer would turn out for another six clubs before retiring last summer aged 32. He is now a business sales executive at MK Dons.

The month’s opener was a 5-0 hammering at Swindon, followed by a televised 2-0 defeat at Walsall which marked the final Pompey outing for six of those who featured.

Lubomir Michalik, Mustapha Dumbuya, Lee Williamson, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Paul Benson and substitute Scott Allan never appeared for the club again. Neither did Jon Harley, who was an unused on a six-man bench.

Next was a home clash with Notts County, yet a waterlogged pitch scrubbed out that encounter, prompting the curious sight of scheduled starters Dumbuya, Benson and Harley leaving the ground with bulging black bin liners of belongings slung over their shoulders.

Harley, whose smile never deserted despite troubled times, put his head into the press room to wish those gathered all the best. He never again played in the Football League.

Skipper Brian Howard, sidelined by a hernia problem which days later required surgery, was also shown the door during that chaotic period.

The personable midfielder struggled for Blues form and these days is a football agent for Sidekick Management, acting for Nathan Thompson among others, and a regular presence at Fratton Park fixtures.

Incidentally, Mendez-Laing’s loan from Peterborough had been torn up by mutual agreement after failing to shine. He presently represents promotion-chasing Cardiff, starting 22 Championship matches this term.

Pompey’s following match at Scunthorpe was also postponed, albeit this time due to a frozen pitch, perhaps timely considering the now 12-strong squad required bolstering.

Yassin Moutaouakil was recruited by physio Steve Allen, a colleague from their Charlton days, while Frankie Sutherland (QPR) and Adam Reed (Sunderland) arrived on loan.

Ex-Blues youth-team players Shaun Cooper and James Keene returned for loan spells, with free-agent Sam Sodje also joining.

Meanwhile, following administrators PKF implementing pay cuts, goalkeeping coach John Keeley, strength and conditioning coach Chris Neville and head of recruitment Luke Dowling quit to join ex-boss Michael Appleton at Blackburn.

Keeley was replaced in the backroom by the familiar figure of Alan Knight, no doubt willing to also lug furniture.

Back to match action, bottom-club Hartlepool’s visit saw five debuts, with Reed, Sutherland, Keene, Cooper and Moutaouakil appearing, taking the season’s tally to 47 players used.

The Pools had scored the fewest number of goals in the four English divisions and won just two league games. They left Fratton Park with a 3-1 triumph.

As for Jed Wallace scoring on his Football League full debut, it turned out to be Pompey’s only goal that month.

Within days Darel Russell rejected a fresh one-month deal to pursue winning trophies. Alas, spells at Toronto FC in the MLS and the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the NASL yielded no more silverware.

The month ended with a 2-0 home defeat to Notts County in the rearranged game, with the Magpies netting twice in the final nine minutes against the luckless Blues.

It formed part of a 16-match winless streak stretching back 103 days – yet still short of the post-war record of 19 set in Ian St John’s 1975-76 campaign.

Not until a 2-1 triumph at Crewe in March was that run banished, after 23 matches without victory.

So as attention is rightly focused on strengthening a play-off push during the current transfer window, spare a thought for five years ago.

Back then Pompey couldn’t even beat the January blues.