FEBRUARY 14, 2015 at Fratton Park.
For the rest of the world it’s Valentine’s Day. For Jed Wallace it was graduation day.
I came to the club as a boy, and I feel I leave as a man.Jed Wallace
If any Pompey player’s journey has mirrored his club’s over the last two-and-a-half years, it’s the man who today bids an emotional farewell after departing for the Championship and Wolves.
Majestic highs, frustrating lows, irritating inconsistency and, finally, an extended run of form which shone light on a campaign which had descended into gloom.
A voyage of discovery at Fratton Park saw Wallace arrive from humble non-league Lewes as a skinny 17-year-old in 2011.
Four years, 121 appearances and 30 goals later he leaves with the accolades and applause of his club’s fans ringing in his ears.
The journey in between has been a tumultuous one for an attacking talent with wisdom and experience beyond his 21 years.
And there’s not a moment’s hesitation when searching for the moment which best signifies his development.
A 73rd-minute spot-kick miss against Exeter three months ago looked set to be a dagger in the heart of his side’s play-offs ambitions.
But Wallace showcased his unwavering belief and character to step up with a winner as stoppage time neared, which ranks as one of the goals of the season.
‘That was the moment it changed,’ said Wallace, as he reflected on his Pompey career.
‘The Exeter game changed a lot for me.
‘I missed the pen, but I will never give up trying to make things happen.
‘I think people maybe realised that, yes, I do give the ball away sometimes, but I’m trying to do the right things.
‘I’m never going to be the player who picks up the ball and passes it backwards.
‘I was scoring goals up until Exeter, but I didn’t really feel I’d totally got going before Christmas.
‘I maybe struggled away from home at times. But, after Exeter, I really kicked on.
‘Moments like that are unreal.
‘I think that’s why footballers struggle sometimes, because there’s no thrill like it.’
An unflinching conviction in the path he’s on and the potential he possesses has underpinned Wallace’s emergence.
But when the conduit between player and fan is through 90 minutes of football it could be easy to interpret that confidence as arrogance.
Nothing could be further from the truth with the man given his senior debut by Michael Appleton at Plymouth at the start of the 2012-13 campaign.
Wallace likens that fan interaction to being in a meaningful relationship. And there’s little doubt it’s one he cares passionately about.
‘Those fans saw me playing well and playing badly,’ Wallace said, as the words flow at 100mph in typical fashion.
‘It was like being in a relationship really.
‘It was a bit different to what a lot of players have at a lot of clubs.
‘I just want people to know how grateful I am to come through at Portsmouth.
‘I came to the club as a boy, and I feel I leave as a man. There are a lot of people at the club I regard as good friends.
‘It’s somewhere I’ll be going back to next season when I’m not playing a game myself.
‘I’ll be in the Fratton End with the boys watching the boys.’
Wallace now embarks on a new adventure after Kenny Jackett’s lengthy courtship paid off earlier this month.
The release clause of around £275,000 was actioned, paving the way for a long-expected exit.
But there were none of the indignant cries of disloyalty often heard when a player furthers his career.
Instead wall-to-wall appreciation and thanks have been voiced from Pompey supporters, for a player who could have easily departed from the unglamorous fourth tier of English football 12 months ago.
A commitment to his mentor, Andy Awford, and the club who gave him his break convinced Wallace to stay.
It rankles with a talent of his drive that he could never form part of a successful side in that period, something he was convinced would arrive in the last campaign.
But the amicable break-up and conduct on both sides of this ‘relationship’ was cemented in recent weeks. And, certainly from the player’s point of view, that special bond will endure.
‘All the nice messages I’ve received sum up Pompey fans really,’ Wallace said, with conviction in his voice.
‘I’ve not had one bad message – and I’ve been humbled by that.
‘I’m sure there are a lot of people who leave a club and hope they don’t do well. I’m not one of them.
‘When I play for a club I become a fan of the club.
‘So Portsmouth will always be special to me.
‘To have a relationship like I have, with everyone from the office staff to fans, it really fitted well.
‘Unfortunately, the club didn’t do as well. And that’s a frustration.
‘I did well last season, but I wanted to be playing every week and for the team to do well.
‘Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way.
‘I want people to know I’m over the moon to sign for Wolves, but I have a special relationship with Portsmouth,
‘I wish I could thank all the fans individually.
‘It’s been an emotional rollercoaster –but I’ve loved every minute.’
In that Plymouth game when I made my debut in the League Cup, the second half was one of my best-ever performances for Pompey.
I remember going in on the Friday and me and Buts (Dan Butler), who also played well, seriously believed we’d both be playing on the Saturday.
The next thing I knew we’d signed about 14 players and I was nowhere near the squad.
Then I watched the opening game against Bournemouth – a 1-1 draw – and the standard was unbelievable. I thought I was so far off that level.
But things happened with Guy (Whittingham) getting the job and knowing me from the youth team.
It helped to score on my debut and, the next thing I knew, I’d played 25 in a row and done well. It was crazy – but I loved every minute of it.
I played a lot of games since I was 18. I’ve always enjoyed the pressure of people thinking I am going to score or do this or that.
Wolves blew me away with their ambition. It was unbelievable.
After walking around there for two or three hours, I was thinking it was a move which can take my game to a whole new level. They are going for the Premier League – they are gunning for it.
I’m looking at people like Afobe, Dicko and Sako now.
The manager believes in me enough to put me in with people like that. It’s up to me to prove I’m worth it.
I’ll go in three or four days early – I want to make a good first impression. I’m not settling for less.
No one would have thought I’d score 17 goals from midfield last season, but I did because I kept pushing.
That’s what I have to do again now. I’m playing with better players now.
People will see the runs I’m making. The intensity of training will go up. I’m looking forward to seeing how much I can improve.
I’m obsessed with football, and so are all my family.
My sister changed her job so many times because they said she had to work on a Saturday. She wanted to come and watch me.
My mates say to me I don’t even work in a proper job.
Maybe they’re right but when I’m in training for three or four hours I will work and give it a right go – 110 per cent for three or four hours.
People forget that when I’m not playing well it is constantly on my mind – 24/7.
I know I have to play well, do this or do that.
But then, sometimes, you can play well without even thinking about it.
At times, last season, I’d score without even thinking about it. It just happened.
I’m one of those players, that, if I’m not scoring, people think I’m not playing well.
A lot of the time that’s the case. But I’m prepared to put the work in to be the best player I can be.
n Tomorrow, in the second part of his interview, Wallace speaks of his regret and ‘embarrassment’ at Pompey’s failure to gain promotion and lifts the lid on dealing with criticism in his time at Fratton Park.