Milan Mandaric: Portsmouth gave me my best days and I have to thank the supporters I admire for that
It was a return to pay tribute to a special person which prompted the outpouring of emotion.
And 13 years on from his Pompey departure, it didn’t take long for the senses to be awash with the sights and sounds of his spiritual home which awoke the glorious memories of Milan Mandraic’s seven-year Fratton tenure.
And that offered the Serb a chance to reminisce with old friends over the days which are now etched in Fratton folklore.
‘When people ask me what was my favourite club it doesn’t take much thinking to tell them there’s only one - Portsmouth,’ Mandaric said, in the only interview of his visit.
‘I enjoyed the years in the Premier League. It was the most enjoyable time.
‘Getting there with everyone who deserved to be there was a special mission.
‘I enjoyed every day at the club because I have so much admiration for the supporters because of their love for their club.
‘They know how to respect people who are positive and join force with them to get the club where they belong.
‘They gave me respect and love every day.
‘Of course, when we got promoted to the Premier League that was a top night.
‘To see the smiles and happiness of the people on that occasion is something I’ll never forget.
‘I’ll never forget the mayor put an arm around me and said “Mr Chairman when we win you won’t believe how happy the people will be for the next few weeks”.
‘I thought he was saying it to make me feel good, but then when it happened I recognised he was right.
‘It was the beginning of my best days.
‘I remember the fans started to sing my name and my dear friend George (Best), who is not around anymore, spoke about it.
‘I said “George I know these people sing to the players and the coach, but in England I didn’t know they sang to the president and owners of clubs.
‘He said “Yes they do Milan, but they usually use different words!”.
‘It was special. Special, special, special. There was a good relationship with everyone. I just enjoyed being at the club.’
Of course, Mandaric’s Pompey stay wasn’t all plain sailing as a slew of managers were hired and fired before Harry Redknapp arrived as boss in 2002.
But the affinity Mandaric holds dearest is the one he believes he has with this football club’s supporters.
‘Whenever I speak to Harry, and I still do quite a lot, we always talk about the days when we were together at Portsmouth.’ Mandaric said, as he reflected on his period of ownership.
‘He himself says he never enjoyed football more than when we were together at Portsmouth.
‘Every day was special. I have a memory of big John (Westwood) getting in trouble with the police.
‘I had to go and bail him out! He loves his club and there’s no limits to that.
‘I used to go and have a few beers with the supporters in a few different areas in and around Portsmouth.
‘It was a lot of fun. I couldn’t keep up with them as far as the beer goes but it was still a lot of fun!
‘There’s no doubt the most memorable time in England in 17 years was with Portsmouth.
‘Being part of that with those great people who loved their club so much was special. That kind of thing never leaves you.’