Why grounded Portsmouth record-holder Joe Hancott refuses to celebrate his encouraging progress

A moment to cherish, yet Joe Hancott wisely opted for steely self-restraint.

Thursday, 11th July 2019, 7:24 pm
Joe Hancott appeared at half-time to feature in Pompey's 11-0 demolition of USD on Wednesday night. Picture: Arnold Byrne

His contribution arrived in the 79th minute, pouncing inside the box to convert goal number nine in the demolition of UCD.

A demonstration of the left-back’s talents – and reminder of a name already etched in Pompey history.

‘It’s an awkward one,’ said the youngster from Ryde.

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Joe Hancott on his Pompey debut in August 2017 - becoming the club's youngest post-war debutant. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘People have asked the question “If you ever scored for the first-team, what would you do?”.

‘I’ve always said I would go mental and do a knee slide – but I didn’t realise it would arrive in a friendly and winning 9-0 at the time!

‘Normally you would give it a bit of a celebration, but the fans were on the other side of the ground and, with the scoreline, no team-mate was going to be running over.

‘Instead I turned around and walked back!’

Wednesday’s 11-0 destruction of their League of Ireland opposition marked the opening friendly of the Blues’ pre-season schedule.

It also signified the first-team re-emergence of the youngest debutant in Pompey post-war history.

It was August 2017 when Hancott was named at left-back for the visit of Fulham under-21s in the Checkatrade Trophy.

Aged 16 years, five months and nine days, the Academy first-year apprentice featured for 90 minutes in that 3-3 Fratton Park draw.

In doing so, he overtook Gary O’Neil’s record, posted in January 2000.

Yet injury, illness and youth-team commitments ensured Hancott slipped away from the first-team frame – until now.

He added: ‘At the time of my debut, the reports mentioned the name of Gary O’Neil.

‘So my dad Googled him and it was “Wow, he’s had some career”. If I can have half of that, I’ll take it!

‘That game feels like ages ago and I do take pride in it. Everything happened so quickly.

‘I had finished school at the end of June – then six weeks later was playing in Pompey’s first-team. I was so young, only 16, and had probably done four gym sessions by then.

‘When you get chucked in that young, people maybe expect you to go on and play 100 games by the time you reach 20, but that’s hard to do.

‘I still went on to have a good season in the youth team, then after injury last year had another good campaign, before getting the contract I wanted, so it didn’t hinder me.

‘But maybe I didn’t reach the heights some people thought I would after playing at such a young age.

‘Being that young and immature at the time, for the first week or so it probably got to my head a bit.

‘I remember going back home to the island and seeing my parents. They told me: “It’s brilliant, we are really proud of you, but you need to keep yourself grounded and not get too focused on things such as social media”.

‘They were right, it can be quite dangerous. You’ve seen some people in the Premier League break through when aged 16, play a couple of games and you never see them again.

‘I don’t want to fall into that trap. You cannot live off the past.’

Hancott’s Pompey association began at under-nine level, rising through the Academy system before this summer graduating with a 12-month deal.

It’s progress overseen by a wealth of fine youth coaches, including Mark Kelly, Liam Daish, Mikey Harris, Andy Awford, Alan McLoughlin and Paul Hardyman.

But the former Fratton end season-ticket holder’s development was hampered last season, depriving him of joining other youngsters in the successful Checkatrade Trophy campaign.

Hancott said: ‘I had really bad tonsillitis after the first day of last year’s pre-season. It kept me out for a week and I was actually in hospital for a few days.

‘I gradually eased my way back into it and my first game was a fixture at Portchester – and I broke my right foot.

‘We were on thisrock-hard pitch and, two minutes in, I heard a click in my foot and didn’t know what it was, even trying to carry on sprinting. It kept me out for three-and-a-bit months.

‘Then, in the October, I felt my quad go in an FA Youth Cup match against Bristol Rovers.

‘I tried to carry on, a goal was probably down to me because I couldn’t run, but, being quite naive and immature, I didn’t want to go off because I had been out so long. I came off at half-time.

‘I didn’t actually get playing again properly in my second year as an apprentice until Christmas time against Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup.

‘After that, though, I played regularly and earned a contract at the end of the season.’

Handed a three-year scholarship, Hancott has since been involved with first-team training following their pre-season return.

On Friday, he discovered he would be among Kenny Jackett’s squad for the six-day trip to Dublin after Ryan Williams’ injury.

And on Wednesday afternoon, Oli Hawkins’ back strain allowed Hancott to be feature among the 11 substitutes introduced at half-time at the UCD Bowl.

He said: ‘It was the first time I have played on the left in a 4-2-3-1 and I actually really enjoyed it.

‘Although it wasn’t the toughest test, I felt I learnt the role more and more as the game went on, especially positionally.

‘In the pre-match meeting, the manager told me to get in between the sticks when a cross came in, while Brandon (Haunstrup) was behind me constantly giving good advice.

‘Then the ball fell to me and I swept it in to make it 9-0 – but I wasn’t celebrating.’

There may be plenty of time for that, Hancott’s development continues to be watched with interest.