Marlon Pack: Best days of my life were growing up around Portsmouth Premier League greats and meeting Kaka, Ronaldinho and David Beckham

Marlon Pack’s five-year-old son has come of age, growing affection for the beautiful game rendering him ready to be introduced to the footballing scrapbook.

Monday, 1st June 2020, 5:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd June 2020, 10:42 am
Marlon Pack fires in an attempt on goal on his Pompey debut against Crystal Palace in August 2010. Picture: Mick Young
Marlon Pack fires in an attempt on goal on his Pompey debut against Crystal Palace in August 2010. Picture: Mick Young

Dad’s phone contains permanent reminders, cherished photographs of a youth-team midfielder posing alongside playing greats Kaka, Ronaldinho and Pirlo in Fratton Park surrounds.

It has been more than 11 years since AC Milan visited the south coast during a halcyon era, treasured not only by Pompey followers but those apprentices who watched with awe.

Now aged 29, Pack resides in Bristol and represents Cardiff City in the Championship, a level at which he has operated impressively during the past five seasons.

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The lad from Buckland featured just twice for his boyhood club before suffering the heartbreak of being shown the door by Steve Cotterill in the summer of 2011.

Nonetheless, having grown up in the company of Lassana Diarra, Kanu, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin, David James, Niko Kranjcar and Glen Johnson, he reflects on a rich education.

By Pack’s admission, they were the happiest days of his life.

He told The News: ‘They were really, really good times. I think it’s similar to when you leave school and, after a few years, wish you could go back for a bit.

Marlon Pack with Brazilian star Kaka following AC Milan's Fratton Park visit in November 2008

‘That typifies my experiences as a youth-team player at Pompey – the best days of your life.

‘It was a brilliant time to be a Pompey fan. I remember playing in the reserves alongside Djimi Traore, Pedro Mendes and Kanu. That’s three Champions League winners appearing in a reserve match – it probably summed up that period at Fratton Park.

‘I was a Pompey supporter, we were in the Premier League, and I’d volunteer to help out with match-day duties at every home game.

‘Our jobs would be anything Kev (McCormack) needed, such as cleaning the dressing rooms, tidying the laundry, collecting the balls, sweeping, all sorts. There was a rota, but a lot of the lads weren’t from the area and wanted to see their families at weekends.

Marlon Pack leaves the pitch alongside Joel Ward (left) and Tommy Smith (right) following a Pompey pre-season defeat at DC United in July 2010. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘For me, I always wanted to be at Fratton Park. I’m so glad I did, those memories will stay with me forever.

‘I would find myself in those narrow corridors outside the dressing room, pushing myself backwards against the wall to let Sir Alex Ferguson or David Beckham come through.

‘You look back at it now and pinch yourself. You cannot take things like that for granted, that bubble of those few seasons was amazing.

‘When AC Milan came in November 2008, the youth-team lads who had volunteered to work the most were allowed to be on match-day duty, which was four of us.

‘I still have pictures on my phone from meeting Kaka, Ronaldinho and Pirlo. My oldest son, Milan, has just started to get into football, so I’ve been showing him them and he can’t quite believe it.

‘The Italians trained at Fratton Park the night before, so we helped out that evening too. I recall them turning up in their Dolce & Gabbana jacket and suits, it was surreal.

‘AC Milan had a problem with the numbers on their shorts and, for whatever reason, asked my team-mate Callum Reynolds to get them a red Sharpie. They were so thankful that, after the game, he was presented with Kaka’s shirt, although I’m not sure if it was the one he wore.

‘We were always asking the opposition for their shirts, which Kev hated. He did like a moan!’

Pack was raised in Seymour Close, just a two-minute run from the concrete-surfaced Buckland Park where he honed his formative footballing skills.

Initially a free-scoring striker, he represented Copnor North End in the age group above, before switching to Waterlooville. When they amalgamated with Moneyfields, the youngster followed.

The Pompey fanatic was a South stand season-ticket holder who recalls Robert Prosineck’s hat-trick against Barnsley in 2002, as well as the trip to Wigan in the Great Escape and the 2008 FA Cup final.

His playing affiliation with the Blues began around the age of six, clambering through the ranks in an age group which consisted of local lads Louis Castles and Ryan Woodford.

Later, Premier League Pompey flexed financial muscle to recruit Tom Kilbey, Andre Blackman, Ryan Gazet du Chattelier, Tero Mantyla and Paris Cowan-Hall.

The year above consisted of Matt Ritchie, Joel Ward and Joe Oastler, yet the trio would become team-mates of the City of Portsmouth Boys’ School pupil in under-18 and reserve football.

While Pack’s off-pitch responsibilities included cleaning the boots of Sean Davis and Niko Kranjcar.

He added: ‘One moment which sticks out was when Niko Kranjcar returned to training after scoring in the 3-2 defeat of England in the Euro 2008 qualifiers in November 2007.

‘They would wear the same boots at Pompey that they had for internationals, so his still had the Wembley turf on – and Steve McClaren’s tears!

‘The funny thing was, one boot was size eight and the other eight-and-a-quarter. When you can get boots tailor-made to fit your foot, that’s when you know you’ve made it.

‘All the first-team players were nice to us, we got on well with them, but didn’t have a massive bond.

‘For me, Hermann Hreidarsson stood out in terms of having that bit of banter with us, while Richard Hughes is a great lad. A lot of the French boys in our group also got on well with the French/African players in the first-team.

‘Hermann was always getting us into headlocks, while I felt for Tom Kilbey most of all.

‘We’d be sat in the canteen having breakfast and Hermann would appear and pull Kilbey’s hair, dragging him to the floor. It was not in a malicious, spiteful way, that was just him playing around. That’s Hermann!

‘There was one match when he was sub and, at half-time, when we were in our tracksuits collecting the balls and equipment, he began wrestling us to the muddy ground in front of the Fratton Park crowd.

‘His character and how he was with us young lads doesn’t exist in football any more. That’s a shame, because it goes a long way towards building relationships between first-teams and youth teams.

‘A lot of training grounds now separate the youth team from the first-team, so you no longer get that communication.

‘A great way to build those bonds was at Christmas when the youth lads would put on a nativity. On one occasion, we sung the 12 Days of Christmas, but instead inserted the players’ names, while using props to represent them.

‘So rather than five gold rings, it was to the word “Benjani” and we would copy his goal celebration.

‘Somebody dressed as Kev with a pig mask and Pompey shirt on, another put a crown on to look like Kanu, while somebody had a toilet seat to represent Glen Johnson and what happened to him at B&Q.

‘I was Pedro Mendes, borrowing my sister’s clip-on extensions to give me the long hair.’

Pack never featured in the Premier League alongside those galaxy of stars.

The closest he came was as a non-playing substitute against Wigan and Aston Villa in April 2010.

His debut arrived in a League Cup game against Crystal Palace in August 2010, coming off the bench to score in a penalty shoot-out as the Blues triumphed 4-3.

The following match he was granted his Football League bow, given a seven-minute substitute outing in a 2-0 Fratton Park defeat to Cardiff. Pack would never represent Pompey again.

Within three days he had been loaned to Cheltenham, the club he would join permanently in May 2011 following his Blues release.

Pack would progress to spend six years at Bristol City, before joining Cardiff for an undisclosed fee in August.

He has this season been a mainstay of the Bluebirds’ midfield, appearing 33 times and scoring twice.

He added: ‘Probably the highlight for our Pompey youth team was every Friday, when we would form the opposition while the first-team worked on shape ahead of a match.

‘That was a Pompey side at the height of their powers, such as Lassana Diarra, Sol Campbell, Glen Johnson, Kanu and Sylvain Distin. I feel sorry for the young lads at Cardiff who have to do shape against me!

‘At the time, the youth team would train on the top pitches at Wellington Sports Ground and, when we’d finished, we would come down and sit and watch the first-team.

‘It may have been different for me as not everyone is football mad, but I loved watching the finishing drills against David James, with Peter Crouch performing his usual acrobatics and Jermain Defoe scoring from everywhere.

‘It was truly an incredible time to be around Pompey – especially as a Buckland lad and Blues supporter.’

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