Reunited at last: When players rediscovered football fans

Jed Wallace, left, pens a non-too legally-binding agreement to stay at Fratton Park, witnessed by Pompey fan Carl Paddon
Jed Wallace, left, pens a non-too legally-binding agreement to stay at Fratton Park, witnessed by Pompey fan Carl Paddon

There was a contract offer waiting for Jed Wallace when he managed to find his seat at the table.

Constructed upon official club paper, the document stated: ‘I hereby agree to a further three years lighting up Fratton Park with my worldly skills’.

The seven Pompey fans sat around the midfielder chuckled knowingly as the youngster pored over the non-too legally-binding agreement in front of him.

Then Wallace signed.

The smiling 19-year-old even posed with Carl Paddon – one of the culprits – for photographs, with his pen poised above the tabled deal.

The occasion was the Portsmouth Supporters’ Club London branch meal at Fratton Park after the victory over Rochdale.

It was an event when Wallace joined team-mates Johnny Ertl and John Sullivan in spending the evening mingling with fans in the Victory Bar.

After dinner, Ertl and fiancée Selma Adzem had to meet family, but Wallace and Sullivan remained to participate in a frank question-and-answer session.

Also in attendance that night were chairman Iain McInnes, first-team coach Alan McLoughlin, Alan Knight and club director Mick Williams.

Earlier, Guy Whittingham, Andy Awford, chief executive Mark Catlin and Pompey Supporters’ Trust chairman Ashley Brown had popped in, but alternative arrangements prevented them remaining.

As one member of the London branch joked, there were more people representing the club in one night than the previous 30 years put together.

An exaggeration, granted, yet it hammered home how distant Pompey had become to its fanbase – and how the gap has closed in recent months.

Players, management and board members socialising with the supporters, largely a concept unheard of during those golden Premier League years when priorities were focused elsewhere.

Still, a week after that London branch event, Andy Barcham attended the Chichester branch’s monthly meeting, following in the footsteps of Sullivan and McLoughlin this season.

Whittingham had turned up to thank Northern Blues members for their support in the hours leading up to the York fixture, with McInnes, Brown, Catlin and engagements manager Micah Hall also present.

Wallace attended a Central branch event a few months back, while in July he accompanied Sullivan to a London branch function in Covent Garden.

At last, Johnny Moore, the club’s fans’ liaison officer for the past 15 years, has his long-standing wish to recapture the bygone days and reunite Pompey with the supporters.

He more than anyone has been forced to watch grim-faced as a succession of apathetic owners and arrogant players have refused to attend branch meetings and community events, some not turning up even when instructed.

There were good times, of course, during those Premier League days in terms of such occasions.

Richard Hughes drove from Bournemouth several times to be present, Jamie Ashdown was a regular.

Yet with various managers not interested in implementing such a requirement, even those initially keen questioned why they should attend and no-one else.

Back in January 5, 2008, in the Sports Mail, I penned a strongly-worded column criticising the attitudes of modern-day footballers when dealing with fans.

It contained a mention for Sean Davis who, in December 2007, missed two community functions – one involving more than 150 school children.

A few weeks later, two Pompey players failed to turn up at a Victory Suite function, once again also attended by children.

One was Niko Kranjcar, who was given a last-gasp leave of absence to receive treatment on an injury.

It did the trick, he played the following match.

As for Glen Johnson, he just didn’t turn up.

Days later, I received a phonecall from then director of communications, Gary Double, scolding me for my piece.

He claimed, as skipper, Sol Campbell was extremely upset over me criticising the players in such a manner. It was out of order.

Although, Campbell never subsequently displayed his anger to me during his remaining one-and-a-half years at Fratton Park and always obliged with an interview.

My response was to ask Double if the club had punished such errant players who had effectively refused to carry out their responsibilities within the community.

His reply was ‘No, we don’t want to upset them’.

Not that Campbell was blameless. On one occasion he was scheduled to take a training session with youngsters at Eastleigh as part of a promotion with sponsors OKI.

Having also been invited for publicity reasons, I walked out after one-and-a-half hours of waiting for him to show. Campbell was instead having a massage.

One year for The News’ Sports Awards, apparently no player could attend because Manchester United were on television in the Champions League.

Instead, Andy Awford, who was not even working for the club, represented Pompey.

Contrast that to 2011 when Steve Cotterill, superbly aided by his PA Ashleigh Emberson, instructed all players and coaching staff to attend, albeit minus Dave Kitson and Hayden Mullins.

Cotterill even wrote the interval Mastermind-style quiz.

Similarly, Michael Appleton insisted on a mass attendance when he was here, although couldn’t be present himself.

Back to the present, and last month I attended a function at Medina Primary School to publicise England Ladies playing at Fratton Park.

Whittingham took part in a question-and-answer session with children, while Tom Craddock and Marcos Painter enthusiastically joined in with a training programme put on by community coaches.

Welcome to new-look Pompey, with players and staff operating with old-style community values.