Textbook progress for Pompey’s boss-elect

Andy Awford was inducted into the Hall of Fame back in 2010. Picture:Steve Reid
Andy Awford was inducted into the Hall of Fame back in 2010. Picture:Steve Reid

As the Ditcham Park School minibus negotiated its way home down the A3 that Saturday night, a former teacher was arriving at his own destination.

Northampton may have provided the backdrop for the safeguarding of Pompey’s Football League status following a fretful and highly stomach-churning crossing.

Yet it also sealed Andy Awford’s candidacy to be permanent boss, ahead of the ceremonial rubber-stamping from the Blues board at the start of next week.

A remarkable journey for the ex-footballer previously employed in the Petersfield school’s PE department before the lure of a Pompey return proved too enchanting to dismiss.

Shortly before his January 2011 home time, Awford was coach of the under-16s side which had impressively reached the quarter-finals of the Independent School Football Association (ISFA) Trophy.

Having also taught at Purbrook Park, Park Community and Brune Park across the area during those early days of a burgeoning teaching career, he had reinvented himself.

Throw in a weekly column with The News and a summariser’s job on local radio covering Blues fixtures and there was clearly life after football.

Awford, though, never did get the chance to help Ditcham Park defeat Chilton Cantelo from Yeovil the following month to further progress in the national competition.

After all, Steve Cotterill came calling.

Initially the approach from Pompey’s manager to replace departed head of youth operations Paul Smalley, certainly a much-maligned figure, was rebuffed.

A mere two days later following a change of heart, Ditcham Park were a PE teacher light and Awford was once more a Fratton Park employee fulfilling yet another role.

Now aged 41, he has served the Blues as a player, captain, first-team coach, scout, reserve-team manager, caretaker assistant boss, Academy manager and twice caretaker boss.

It represents natural progression to next become manager.

‘I enjoyed my time as a PE teacher and in a funny way it probably helped me do the job I am doing now,’ said Awford.

‘You are dealing with different people in the real world. The bubble of football is a different world, it’s not real, but in the real world – as I call it – you are dealing with different people and that helps me now.

‘I had five years out of professional football. I had a year off, then did a three-year degree at university, then I did a year’s teaching – and then I came back.

‘I think about all the experience I have gained from 14 years’ coaching under different managers, some top managers, but also that little five-year gap benefited me, without a shadow of a doubt.

‘I was set in teaching, I had no ambition to come back into football.

‘Then Paul Smalley left and me and Steve Cotterill had a conversation. I said “no” and two days later said “yes”. That was it.

‘I was ready to be a PE teacher for the rest of my days and be on Radio Solent and watch Pompey play that way but it was too big a temptation to come back.

‘Within a few days of returning, my missus said to me “you’ve got the spark back in your eyes”. She noticed it.

‘I spoke to a lot of people about what to do and when the decision was made, there was a spring back in my step, whereas teaching was a job.

‘In the PE world I enjoyed it, it was good knowing when you can have a holiday and a day off, like seeing your family on Christmas Day.

‘I appreciated having a bit of structure, whereas football is week-by-week, month-by-month, as well as being a bit of an insecure career – so there were lots to weigh up. I made the right decision, though.’

Awford made 361 appearances for Pompey over 11-and-a-half years, earning induction into the club’s Hall of Fame.

Forced to retire through injury in November 2000, initially the defender was appointed as chief scout under then-boss Steve Claridge to retain his Blues working association.

In April 2006, Awford linked up with his old boss Jim Smith at Oxford as first-team coach but next turned his attention to teaching after leaving the League Two outfit.

For three years he studied to obtain teaching qualifications, in the process given work placements at a number of local schools.

Awford, however, maintained close links with the Blues through his media work and was an ever-present in the press box.

In addition, on February 11, 2010, when Pompey fans converged to plot a way forward for their club and form a supporters’ trust, he was in attendance.

Along with Alan Knight, the pair paid £5 for Trust membership that night in the Rifle Club as the fans stood shoulder-to-shoulder in defiance towards their failing owners.

It should be remembered, neither Awford or Knight were employed by the club at that stage and not under any duress or obligation to attend.

He added: ‘During those five years out there were all these little pieces you draw upon and come together to help you do the job you are asked to do.

‘For instance, doing the radio at the same time gave me my (Pompey) fix, if you like.

‘They were great moments with the FA Cup run but obviously the troubled times as well and being involved in the radio has probably helped me with the media side of things since.

‘Knightsie takes the mickey because once you give me a mike in front of a TV camera they can’t shut me up but it has helped me understand what goes on a bit there.

‘And the boys from the school I used to work at have a curry night once a term and I still go along and see them, they’re good people.’

Since taking on the Academy in January 2011, Awford has overseen the development of a number of players who have broken into the first-team.

Some have been blooded in senior football through necessity, nonetheless Jack Whatmough, Jed Wallace, Adam Webster, Ryan Williams, Dan Butler and Ashley Harris have made excellent impacts following promotion.

How the club handle his expected relinquishing of such reins to become first-team manager remains a crucial question, although talented staff remain to ensure it won’t unravel in his absence.

In the meantime, the Ditcham Park School minibus these days has another PE teacher carrying out driving duties on its frequent sporting travels.

And Pompey are set to have a different manager, whose face is all-too familiar.