Ward makes journey from fan to fans’ hero

Joel Ward scores Pompey's equaliser against Saints back in December
Joel Ward scores Pompey's equaliser against Saints back in December

Joel Ward was one of the jubilant travelling supporters the last time Pompey went through the gears at St Mary’s.

The next time the two clubs met – the 1-1 draw at Fratton back in December – he was cast as the saviour following an emotional equaliser.

From a fan to fans’ hero in less than two years, the local boy has a constant reminder of the moment he wrote himself into Fratton folklore after receiving the iconic image of his goal from a friend.

Ward recalled: ‘I’ve watched a few of the games down the years and I went as a travelling fan to St Mary’s last time (in 2010).

‘You know how big it is and you can sense it around the two cities in the days leading up to it.

‘But to score the goal against them (earlier this season) was by far the best thing in my career so far.

‘Scoring that goal and seeing how much it meant to all of the fans was fantastic. It will last in my memory for a long time.

‘One of my friends blew up the picture of me scoring and gave it to me for Christmas. It’s a big poster framed up in my room.

‘I don’t think it was the prettiest of games but to pop up and get the equaliser – I will remember it for a long time.’

The Emsworth talent has already sampled the white-hot atmosphere of a derby game at Fratton Park but is now relishing the opportunity to play on enemy territory after playing a significant role in the reverse fixture.

Ward said: ‘The atmosphere even going out for the warm-up last time was electric. To come away with a point after being 1-0 down was a great achievement as well.

‘Of course you get some banter from Southampton supporters but unless there is a break in the game, you are so caught up and focused on the game, you don’t hear it. You can hear it going on but you don’t pay too much attention to it.

‘But it’s a massive game. Everyone across the country knows how big this game is and knows the rivalry between the fans and the teams.

‘Being local, you know how big it is between the two cities.’

While Ward expects a competitive battle against the club’s fiercest rivals, he revealed that discussions with boss Michael Appleton have underlined the need for cool heads.

Ward said: ‘It’s difficult because you’ve got to keep your head and keep your emotions down to make sure you focus on the game.

‘In some senses, you try to keep it as a normal game.

‘But it’s a derby game and not too many end up as normal games.

‘Discipline is vital at this stage of the season. We’ve spoken about it. The gaffer has mentioned that the discipline is vitally important and staying as a unit, too.

‘It makes it almost impossible to win a game when you are down to 10 men.’

While the restrictions on supporters are part and parcel of ensuring safety at the derby these days, Ward revealed that even his family are travelling in the coach convoy for the ‘bubble’ match.

He said: ‘It’s a bit different because you didn’t always have to go by coaches.

‘I will still have a couple of my family going there but all the playing staff’s family had to go on a set coach as well as the other travelling fans.

‘If that’s how it is, that’s the way it’s got to be.

‘If it stops things from escalating, then it’s a good job well done.’