When the grand old lady did England proud in Europe

Younes Kaboul gets between Milan defenders Philippe Senderos and Gianluca Zambrotta to head Pompey in front in the 62nd minute to engite an already booming atmosphere at Fratton Park back on November 27, 2008
Younes Kaboul gets between Milan defenders Philippe Senderos and Gianluca Zambrotta to head Pompey in front in the 62nd minute to engite an already booming atmosphere at Fratton Park back on November 27, 2008

There’s the occasional grainy footage you can unearth from YouTube, accompanied by hysterical foreign commentary which swiftly irritates.

Alternatively on the same video-sharing website are clips of television sets in various front lounges displaying the live coverage.

Not forgetting the camera phone contributions from people inside the stadium at the time. Although such technology has strode forward impressively since half a decade ago.

Visual reminders of when AC Milan visited Pompey – frayed and often unintelligible, but no less enjoyable.

And despite the dubious quality of the sources, there is one outstanding feature which noticeably dominates.

The Fratton Park atmosphere.

A Guardian journalist haughtily painted the old lady as a ‘cowshed on life support’ and the ‘Gulag Archipelago of the Premier League’ for that Uefa Cup occasion.

Yet, on November 27, 2008, Channel 5 opened the curtains for the world to witness one of the outstanding performances by football fans of an English club in Europe.

The subsequent 2-2 draw against the Italian giants also wasn’t too shabby in a match the Blues came within 120 seconds of winning.

This coming Wednesday marks the five-year anniversary of that night – a match always going to enter club folklore and, thankfully, on this rare occasion, fully justified the hype.

There were 20,403 fans packed inside Fratton, including 700 Milan followers, and beneath the floodlights they were treated to a magnificent sporting event.

To think, the spine-tingling 15-minute non-stop rendition of ‘Tony Adams’ Blue and White Army’ approaching half-time was when the scoreline was goalless.

Ronaldinho is later credited with labelling it ‘the best atmosphere in the world of football’.

Weeks earlier, a Milan delegation visited the ground ahead of the fixture for a fact-finding mission to assess the facilities on offer.

According to then-chief executive Peter Storrie, the visitors were unhappy about the size of their dressing rooms on the basis they were used to far more substantial space.

Then a day before the match, flight LM5503 touched down at lunchtime at Southampton airport – a chartered plane, so its landing was not illustrated on the arrival boards. Out of it emerged a squad decked out in Dolce & Gabbana designer suits and soon they were on their way to a hotel in Shedfield, mistakenly described as ‘Sheffield’ by their official club website.

That evening they trained on the Fratton Park pitch, surveyed by local fans allowed into the stadium – then came the day of the match.

On the Pompey team front, four players who started the 2008 FA Cup final victory over Cardiff had been ruled out by injury.

The most high profile was Lassana Diarra, having 12 days earlier turned his right ankle following a challenge from West Ham’s Scott Parker and was stretchered off.

Ultimately, he would play just 27 minutes more for Pompey before departing for Real Madrid in a £20m deal in January 2009.

Also absent that night were skipper Sol Campbell (toe), John Utaka (groin) and Niko Kranjcar (ankle).

In addition, Jermain Defoe, cup-tied at Wembley, was sidelined with a calf injury.

Lauren and David Nugent had not even been registered in the 23-man Uefa Cup squad by Harry Redknapp in August so couldn’t be considered.

Youngster Matt Ritchie had been listed, yet days earlier he extended a loan spell at Dagenham & Redbridge until the end of that year.

It meant Adams named just six substitutes, while Milan’s benched full house included the likes of Ronaldinho, Alexandre Pato, Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo.

As Pompey fans will testify, the introduction of the first two by Carlos Ancelotti would transform the match and snatch a draw.

Still, with the Blues squad injury-ravaged, Kanu was given his first start since the FA Cup final in which he netted the winner.

Glen Little, who was presented with his fourth-ever appearance for Pompey, operated in a midfield alongside Papa Bouba Diop, Richard Hughes and loanee Armand Traore.

Directly up against them were Kaka, Gennaro Gattuso, Emerson and Mathieu Flamini.

The pre-match build-up consisted of the Royal Marines brass band, while announcer Roger Higgins made an address in Italian welcoming the visitors, penned by Hughes.

Meanwhile, Glen Johnson turned up just 10 minutes before kick-off after being delayed by traffic – he would go onto produce a man-of-the-match display.

It wouldn’t be until the second half when goals were struck – Younes Kaboul heading home Johnson’s first-time cross in front of the Fratton end on 62 minutes.

It prompted a tannoy announcement at the request of the referee, calling for fans to stay in their seats – few listened.

Then on 73 minutes, Kanu bundled in Johnson’s delivery from the right and Pompey were in dreamland with a two-goal cushion and 17 minutes remaining.

‘Are you Bournemouth in disguise?’, rang one chant, while ‘Can we play you every week?’, chimed another.

Then, six minutes from time, substitute Ronaldinho was adjudged by referee Serge Gumienny to have been fouled by Johnson.

From 30-yards the Brazilian stepped up to strike a sublime free-kick into the top corner.

Then two minutes into stoppage-time, Gianluca Zambrotta clipped the ball into the box with the outside of his right foot. Filippo Inzaghi controlled it and poked it home.

To think at half-time Channel 5 pundit David Moyes had stated: ‘A lot of games are won or lost in the last 15 minutes’.

In his post-match press conference, Ancelotti admitted Milan had been fortunate to escape defeat.

‘Ronaldinho’s free-kick changed the face of the game, but we almost lost hope,’ he said. ‘We were a little lucky.’

No Mr Ancelotti, it was us who were lucky.

Lucky to have been present for such a wondrously enchanting footballing occasion.