What’s that Shep? Trouble down at Old Fratton?
“I was surprised how fierce the rivalry was when I first came down to Hampshire in the late 1970s. I’ve been involved in three other local rivalries – the Merseyside and north London derbies as a player and in Manchester as a manager – and the feeling is as high here as anywhere.” – Alan Ball 2004
With the next chapter in the South Coast saga just twenty four days away, I thought I would take a look at the men who have braved the wrath of the supporters of both clubs by crossing the Hampshire divide. Surprisingly, many have done it, and many have done it without becoming hate figures, notable twitching cockney managers apart.
Much will be made of the passion and sadly the hatred that encompasses the clash between Hampshire’s finest in the lead up to the Fratton Park fixture, but hopefully these profiles will stir nice memories for the supporters of both clubs.
First up is a man who captured the true spirit of what a rivalry is all about and managed to see the lighter side of it.
14th May 2002, Matthew Le Tissier’s Testimonial at St. Mary’s. Le Tissier’s former Saints teammate Dave Beasant is in goal for the England XI in the second half, having recently completed a season playing for Pompey.
The crowd at St. Mary’s are deep into a rendition of a Saints terrace classic “When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother, what should I be, Should I be Pompey, Should I be Saints, Here’s what she said to me, Wash your mouth out son, Go get your fathers gun, and shoot the Pompey scum and support the Saints…..”
Beasant turns to the crowd behind his goal, holds his heart like he has been shot and then dramatically falls to the ground and plays dead.
Lurch, as he is affectionately known has always been a character, and perhaps it takes that level of humour to play for both these fierce rivals, and Beasant had experienced the nastier side of the derby first hand. Beasant was Saints keeper in two derby games, firstly in May 1994 when Saints went to Fratton Park for Alan Knight’s testimonial and then in January 1996 at the Dell for an FA cup tie.
Beasant commented on the 1994 visit to Fratton afterwards ‘The intensity of the fans was something else. It just wasn’t like a testimonial. All sorts of things were going on outside. It was like a mini-riot.”
Beasant joined Saints in November 1993 after Tim Flowers had departed for high flying Blackburn Rovers. Coming armed with a calamitous reputation from his time at Chelsea, and a career very much on the decline after his 1988 FA Cup final high, which had peaked with two England caps in 1989 and travelling to the 1990 world cup to replace David Seaman.
His move to Saints proved to be a good one though, despite a shaky start Beasant became a reliable first team keeper for a Saints side that became rejuvenated under Alan Ball. Still liable to the odd concentration lapse, Beasant was soon forgiven due to his likeable nature and the odd camera save.
Beasant made eighty eight appearances for Saints before dropping down the pecking order behind Paul Jones and Maik Taylor. In the summer of 1997 the veteran keeper headed to Nottingham Forest on loan before making the move permanent.
After four seasons with Forest it was under difficult circumstances that Beasant found himself Hampshire bound again.
Pompey had tragically lost keeper and former Saints youth player Aaron Flahavan in a car crash in the summer of 2001 and Beasant was brought in to take his place.
In a difficult season for the blues, Beasant was a steady and reliable performer under Graham Rix, but the Redknapp revolution was just around the corner and Beasant was surplus to requirements, oddly heading to Spurs and back to the Premier League aged 39.
Pompey fan @BileysMullet gave me his thoughts on Beasant’s time at Fratton:-
“Beasant was one of the few ex-scummers accepted, as a result of some age defying performances and the fact he took the banter so well..”
Beasant would go on to further play for Wigan Athletic, Bradford City, Brighton and Fulham before retiring in 2004, he is now a senior coach at the Glenn Hoddle academy.
It has often been said that being recognised as a talented footballer on the Isle of Wight, is not the easiest job in the world.
Down here off of the South Coast of England, it is hardly a footballing hotbed of talent, not that there isn’t talent, but for obvious reasons the opportunities for young Islanders to shine aren’t as readily available as it is for kids in London or the North West.
Links to the Island have traditionally come from the South Coast Clubs, Saints and Pompey have both run initiatives and scouting programs over the water and Bournemouth have also given many youngsters the chance to make a name for themselves, but still relatively few set the world alight.
Having said that several have made the grade and gone on to achieve great things in the professional arena. In fact we even now have a professional manager amongst our Island alumni. Lee Bradbury has had an impressive start to management after hanging up his boots and replacing the outgoing Eddie Howe at AFC Bournemouth, seven games in and Bradbury is yet to taste defeat as it becomes more of a case of Eddie Whoe at Dean Court!
Cowes born Bradbury is probably the most prominent of the Island pros, making the step up back in 1995 with Portsmouth. It was in 1996/97 season though that he really launched his career, his goal output in a struggling Pompey side was enough for Frank Clark to invest £3 million to take the Islander to Manchester City. While the move may not have worked out exactly as he would have liked, it was a monumental milestone for Island footballers, especially as it was soon followed by an England U-21 call up, and Lee wasn’t finished there. Going on to make over 500 football league appearances including spells for clubs as prominent as Birmingham City and Sheffield Wednesday before opting for the dugout at Dean Court this year, versatility played a key part in a long career, a player that started off very much a striker used his experience to perform in midfield and at full back in the latter stages.
While Bradbury was forging the early stages of his career another Islander was progressing in the youth team at Bournemouth. Sandown lad James Hayter used a loan spell at non-league Salisbury City to show the Dorset club what he could do, and soon found himself a first team regular.
His impression on Bournemouth manager Sean O’Driscoll was notable, as soon after he moved from Dean Court to Doncaster Rovers he broke the Yorkshire club’s transfer record to take Hayter with him. It was here that Hayter had his finest moment, when he headed Rovers into the Championship, scoring the solitary goal in the 2008 League One Playoff final at Wembley.
The year 2000 saw two Islanders hit the local headlines, Lewis Buxton from East Cowes and Shaun Cooper from Newport both signing professional terms with Portsmouth. Buxton made an almost instant impact, earning rave reviews while still a teenager in Graham Rix’s side. Unfortunately, both players were victims of a policy that didn’t involve the use of the clubs younger players when Harry Redknapp took over, both players spent spells away on loan before moving away permanently in 2005, Buxton to Stoke City, Cooper to Bournemouth.
Lewis’ stay in the potteries was interrupted by injuries, but he still managed to play 50 games before a loan spell at Hillsbrough became a permanent move, where now he is the first choice right back for Sheffield Wednesday.
Cooper made himself at home with the Cherries and captained the side through both the difficult points deduction season and the following promotion campaign.
It was also the youth system at Pompey that saw the emergence of another Islander, Gary Silk, now plying his trade for Blue Square Conference side Mansfield Town via Notts County.
Islanders have fared less successfully at the Southampton Academy, famed for it’s production of top players. As recently as the start of this season Island youngster Tom Dunford was released by the Saints, while Lake born Goalkeeper Simon Moore may have felt his chance of a career in the professional game may have passed him by after his time there. Moore though now finds himself on the books of League One Brentford after biding his time at Brading Town and Farnborough. Moore is now Wembley bound after the bees reached the final of the Johnstones Paint Trophy. While Cowes lad Aaron Martin had to “do it the hard way” via Non-League clubs before signing for Southampton last season.
Though not a born and bred Islander former Cowes High student Gary Rowett got as far as the Premier League with Everton in the mid nineties, matched by Jamie Lawrence who went from Westwood Park to the likes of Leicester City, all be it that his stay on the Island may not have been through choice……
From a county that boasts just 140,000 people, our contribution to the sports professional ranks isn’t really that bad. The biggest hurdle faced by Island footballers certainly isn’t the stretch of water that separates us from everyone else but the number of local clubs and the size of the local leagues which seem to dwindle year on year. Add to this the reduction in efforts of clubs like Portsmouth because of financial issues; it might be more difficult than ever to shine.
Hopefully all the names mentioned above will show talented kids that location can mean nothing if the dedication to succeed is there and certainly not to give up.