Marlon Pack on Portsmouth spirit which drove golden Academy crop Joel Ward and Matt Ritchie to Premier League

Marlon Pack has hailed the Pompey spirit behind the flourishing careers of three of the club’s brightest products.
Matt Ritchie has gone on to be a Premier League performer, purchased by Newcastle for £12m from Bournemouth in 2016. Picture: Owen HumphreysMatt Ritchie has gone on to be a Premier League performer, purchased by Newcastle for £12m from Bournemouth in 2016. Picture: Owen Humphreys
Matt Ritchie has gone on to be a Premier League performer, purchased by Newcastle for £12m from Bournemouth in 2016. Picture: Owen Humphreys

Matt Ritchie and Joel Ward are established performers in the Premier League, while Pack is in his fifth Championship season, presently with play-off hopefuls Cardiff.

While Ritchie and Ward occupied the same age group, Pack was affiliated with the year below, yet the trio regularly featured together at youth-team and reserve level at Fratton Park.

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They emerged during a Premier League period when the Academy, under Paul Hart, splashed significant sums to recruit highly-regarded talent, from England and France in particular.

Yet it was Pompey-supporting youngsters from Buckland, Emsworth and Gosport who went on to shine the brightest.

Pack told The News: ‘Me, Matty and Joel were already at the club when the others arrived.

‘When they brought them all in, we obviously then played with better players. But we were the ones which have done the best out of that bunch.

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‘I don't know whether we had a point to prove. I always felt I did. If someone gets brought in for your position, you have the motivation.

Pompey Academy's under-18s in 2007. Included are Joel Ward (back row, second right) and Matt Ritchie (front row, second left)Pompey Academy's under-18s in 2007. Included are Joel Ward (back row, second right) and Matt Ritchie (front row, second left)
Pompey Academy's under-18s in 2007. Included are Joel Ward (back row, second right) and Matt Ritchie (front row, second left)

‘The club were going upwards and bringing in all this top talent to compete. We played in a strong Academy league back then too, it was a great level.

‘These players were potentially bought for big fees, probably put on decent money as well. However, sometimes there might be a lack of appetite – which you see a lot in football.

‘Players have the talent, but that gets you so far. You need to have the application and work-rate to match that. I would say me, Matty and Joel had that.

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‘You must have a level of dedication. Some have a higher degree of dedication than others.

‘Matty and Joel have now played Premier League football for many years.

‘While the closest I got was at Pompey on the bench a couple of times, but that also remains my goal.’

After leaving Pompey for Crystal Palace in May 2012, Ward has totalled 238 games and five goals for Crystal Palace.

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Ritchie was a £12m signing for Newcastle in July 2016 and has since amassed 22 goals in 140 outings for the Toon.

As for Pack, he left Bristol City last summer for Cardiff, where he has so far made 33 appearances for the Championship club.

He added: ‘Matty was never the biggest, he’s a prime example of how being a certain size and height doesn’t mean that you can’t make it.

‘One of the things that stood out when he was young was he was so effortless and natural with both feet, his technical ability speaks for itself.

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‘I am so proud of how well he’s done, we still speak now. He is Gosport mind, he’s not Pompey!

‘With Joel, he probably didn’t have the natural ability, but his attitude made up for it, he got better and continued to work. His career probably speaks for itself in terms of how far attitude can get you.

‘He’s now an established right-back in the Premier League. I remember him always in the gym, working hard to improve on his game.

‘The pair of them are prime examples of working at your craft, dedicating yourself to it – and hopefully it gets you to where you want.’

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