Fratton visits offer new boss inspiration

Paul Merson gets Pompey's Championship title celebrations started at Fratton Park on April 27, 2003
Paul Merson gets Pompey's Championship title celebrations started at Fratton Park on April 27, 2003

RICHIE BARKER has experienced Pompey on the up and on the way down.

And both of his previous visits to Fratton Park left a powerful impression on the club’s new manager.

His first trip to the Blues’ home will live long in the memory of all those present.

Sunday, April 27, 2003. Pompey 3 Rotherham 2. And the mother of all division one title-winning parties.

Barker was part of that occasion as he led the line for the Millers on a day all Blues fans will cherish.

Last year marked his second competitive visit in the role as Crawley boss.

The Boxing Day clash saw him guide his side to a 2-1 win but it was the Fratton faithful who made an impact on their manager that day.

‘The atmosphere in the two games wasn’t dissimilar, actually,’ said Barker as he looked back.

‘I remember the score was 3-2 in the Rotherham game and we made a pretty good fist of it for a team away at the champions.

‘That was the game the club got promoted to the Premiership.

‘Then there was the game with Crawley last Boxing Day.

‘Portsmouth were in the relegation zone but the fans were equally as passionate.’

Barker admitted witnessing Pompey make it to the Premier League had an impact on him.

The 38-year-old looked on as Paul Merson was chaired from the pitch by supporters, before lifting the championship trophy.

Barker said: ‘It was a Sunday evening game on Sky and a game I will always remember playing in.

‘Even if you aren’t receiving the trophy, you will always remember that.

‘There was a pitch invasion and it took us a while to get away from this place.

‘You enjoy it. We were never expected to win anything. It was Rotherham. It was good to see the celebrations, though.

‘We just enjoyed the game and the day. We weren’t under any pressure.

‘I didn’t have to research the fact I played in that game. I remember it.

‘Things like that stay with you.

‘If you look at a club like Portsmouth and can ever recreate that again, you will be doing something right.’

The moment Crawley got their decisive goal last year sticks with the new Pompey boss – but not for the buzz of seeing Billy Clarke grab the winner 17 minutes from time.

‘My abiding memory of that game was the fans were singing at the time when we scored the winner,’ added Barker.

‘They didn’t stop. They continued. They didn’t even stop when the ball went in the net. They didn’t stop and start again for the kick-off. They just continued.

‘You just think “Wow!” There aren’t too many places that would happen.

‘Seeing that does give you the motivation to say this place can go a long way.

‘Being on the pitch on Monday made it sink in a bit.

‘But being there with it empty doesn’t do it justice to what it’s going to be like against Newport County, with the number of people who will be here.

‘When the seats are full it will be something different.’

n Jack Whatmough has won a call-up to the England under-18 squad.