Record books will never reveal true Pompey season

Former boss Richie Barker struggled in the Pompey hot seat Picture: Joe Pepler
Former boss Richie Barker struggled in the Pompey hot seat Picture: Joe Pepler

The record books will forever depict an unremarkable campaign yielding a mid-ranking occupation of the Football League’s bottom division.

League tables don’t lie, of course. Such essential statistics formulate the backbone of healthy competition and its associated success and failures.

Except, taking on face value this season’s League Two finish for Pompey would be foolhardy.

Certainly, the Fratton faithful know the real truth hidden behind the sturdy facts and figures which actually serve to sugarcoat 2013-14.

The reality is it has been yet another agonising campaign, blighted by mistakes, disappointment and misjudgment in terms of purely footballing matters.

Had it not been for Andy Awford, the end result would have been non-league football, no question of that.

Staying up with three games remaining was nothing more than a hollow triumph – the inevitable victory jig tinged with what should have been a hint of embarrassment that it even came to this.

For a club like Pompey and a home support averaging 15,344, there was nothing glorious about remaining in the Football League in the final month of the season.

The bookies may have earmarked the Blues as overwhelming promotion favourites when they possessed just three players on their books, yet the more reasoned among us were anticipating a top-10 finish.

Which is, curiously enough, where the club will be heading should there be victory over Plymouth today – but what a journey in between.

The euphoria which oozed from the build-up to the season’s opener against Oxford soon descended into a relegation struggle from October onwards.

It was a season of three managers, four goalkeeping coaches, 40 players, three assistant managers and two physios.

Crucial errors were made during this first campaign under community ownership, particularly over the appointment of Guy Whittingham and Richie Barker.

Yet, such mistakes were honest – decisions designed to benefit the club and bring success to Fratton Park rather than for selfish financial means.

As Pompey fans, the board’s commitment and loyalty could never be criticised. Certainly a novel concept contrasting the previous eight years.

Similarly, in my 13-and-a-half years at The News, never have I encountered such transparency around the club when dealing with the media and supporters alike.

There have been several evenings held in Fratton Park’s Victory Lounge during the season when fans have been able to quiz managers, players and board members at first hand.

Chief executive Mark Catlin and chairman Iain McInnes are highly-approachable characters and I have yet had either decline a request for an interview or refuse to answer a question.

Not forgetting director Mick Williams being a regular communicator on Pompey Online, with Mark Trapani and Ashley Brown joining him also as frequent exponents of Twitter.

To think before the change of ownership in April last year, a chief sports writer of The News had not conducted an interview with an owner, chairman or board member of Pompey since January 2006.

The winds of change which have swept through Fratton Park have been truly bracing.

In addition, legacy debts scheduled to be repaid by July 2016 are now on target to be removed by December 2015, such has been the outstanding commercial success off the field.

Meanwhile, a budgeted loss of £750,000 is heading for a deficit of £300,000.

Throw in scheduled ground improvements and a new training venue at Roko, there has been impressive progress elsewhere which should not be ignored.

Mistakes were made, though, and perhaps the biggest lesson of all for those running the club is that football matches have to be won.

The expectations and demands for at least a play-off challenge will be even greater next term from a fan base which has remained outstandingly loyal through the long-running woes.

Few disputed the appointment of Whittingham, who had the tough, tough task of effectively building a whole squad from scratch and to then swiftly mould them.

The appointment of physio Steve Allen as his assistant ahead of a highly-experienced alternative was clearly ill-judged – admitted by Allen himself when he left the club for Bristol City.

As for the goalkeeping situation, it wasn’t until the recruitment of Trevor Carson in October – a ‘mate’ of Catlin’s who fans haven’t objected to – when the crippling problem was rectified.

Yet once McInnes was spotted storming out of the directors’ box while the AFC Wimbledon debacle was still in play, the writing was on the wall for Whittingham.

Next up was Barker on December 9, heading off Chris Wilder, Paul Tisdale and, intriguingly, Awford for the job.

Just five days following his mutually-agreed exit after 108 days, ex-club Crawley ventured to Port Vale in a League One clash.

They were accompanied by 29 visiting supporters, going some way to highlight the gulf between his two former employers.

By all accounts, Steve Coppell was even more of a disappointment, with his involvement seemingly nothing more than peripheral.

Although a fixture at Pompey matches, he largely avoided mixing with the club’s hierarchy, maintaining a low profile.

When the ex-Reading boss was wheeled out in an attempt to force back the growing tidal wave of criticism heading Barker’s way, McInnes sat in on interviews – just so he could hear more than a few minutes of Coppell in action.

After a 3-0 defeat at Rochdale, Barker alarmingly represented a beaten man when dealing with the press and, soon, both had gone.

Enter band-aid Andy to apply his plaster as a short-term fix and keep Pompey in the Football League.

Now he is manager and thoroughly deserved, too. His impact on and off the field has been breathtaking.

So let’s get today out of the way and savour the season coming to a close.

Then it starts all over again on August 9 – although please not along similar lines.