*** A PFCSWSC photographic chronicle of ALL Portsmouth FC competitive fixtures played from Seasons 2006/07 until 2015/16 ***

Monday, April 12, 2010

Article : Pompey's 'Dirty Dozen'

Portsmouth FC
FA Challenge Cup
Semi-Final Winners 2010

Life imitating art is not normally a subject that troubles the back pages but when an emotional Avram Grant ran onto the Wembley pitch on Sunday to embrace his Portsmouth players it was difficult not to recall Lee Marvin's Major John Reisman character in The Dirty Dozen.

In the 1967 American war film Marvin is charged with unifying a motley-crew of misfits and outcasts, albeit ones with sociopathic tendencies rather than poor goalscoring records, to carry out a top-secret mission.

Although the task seems little more than a suicidal long shot, the majority of the men see it as a last chance for redemption, an opportunity to right previous wrongs and to provide a possible escape from the death row gallows.

The analogy stretches only so far. David James probably wouldn't have faced the firing squad had Peter Crouch's effort in extra-time been allowed to stand, but the unity shown by Portsmouth's embattled players - a raggle-taggle collection of has-beens and have-nots - was not dissimilar to that demonstrated by Marvin's men.

That it was a Tottenham side managed by Harry Redknapp and containing Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar, poignant symbols of the boom-and-bust years, who were defeated only added to a script that has long-since veered from the believable.

Redknapp made a trip to Wembley as Portsmouth boss for the FA Cup win over Cardiff City two years hence; a period in the club's history that was made for the phrase bitter-sweet.

The class of 2008 has long-since been dismantled, with those that remain essentially the players the administrators could not find a buyer for. It's a remarkable story and one that for the neutral came to life in such an engrossing fashion courtesy of a cup tie that was all about romance and passion. It was a game that exhausted every emotion in both fan and player as Portsmouth's XI found a level of aptitude for the battle that was nothing less than Herculean.

A week in which Tiger Woods' late father asked his philandering son in a new Nike advert 'Did you learn anything?' to which the rest of us replied 'only that the world's best golfer can't possibly stoop any lower in trying keep his sponsors happy' needed a spectacle that was all about sport rather than brand image.

Sunday's game provided just that. Both sides played their part in an absorbing contest that was relentless in its drama over a tumultuous 120 minutes.

On paper, with Portsmouth relegated on Saturday without even playing due to West Ham's win over Sunderland, it was a total mismatch. It was as though North London's biggest school bully had picked the sides: 'Okay, we'll have Crouch, Defoe and Kranjcar. You can have Rocha, Brown and Boateng'.

I wouldn't have been surprised had Portsmouth lined up with the fat kid in goal and been forced to play Hassan Yebda in just his vest and Y-fronts. The cynic, though, will allude to the fact Portsmouth's irresponsible behaviour under four owners this season deserves more scorn that sympathy and even question whether their punishment of nine league points was enough, given their Cup run has been allowed to continue unabated despite financial mismanagement that would make the Lehman Brothers blush.

Such a standpoint certainly has credence when taken from a hardened business perspective but does not take into consideration a football club like Portsmouth is also about community; a focal point for a city as much as its port.

The creditors have pulled all but the players' fillings out of the club but its spirit remains undiminished. It's difficult not to romanticise a game like Sunday's, so why bother?

Rare is it that a contest has the neutral hanging on each lunging tackle as if it's their own, but as Ricardo Rocha flung himself into every challenge I'm guessing I wasn't alone in willing the Portuguese (man o' war for the day) to come away with the ball.

Rocha, whose first three games for Portsmouth upon joining the club in January included a 5-0 defeat to Manchester United and two red cards, was magnificent all afternoon as he marshalled a backline that included 40-year-old David James, midfielder turned centre-half Aaron Mokoena, 33-year-old Steve Finnan and Hayden Mullins at left-back after Telly Savalas failed a late fitness test. He was the guy on Portsmouth's bench sucking a lollipop.

It was Rocha that was given the match sponsor's man of the match but the 2-0 victory was very much a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

There was not a single player in blue who did not stretch every sinew to the death, but it would be wrong to suggest this was, as some have done in today's press, a simple backs-to-the-wall job.

In Frederic Piquionne they had a front-man who led the line as intelligently as I have seen all season. The Frenchman always made himself available and combined being tireless in his work-rate with sprightliness in possession. Although isolated for long spells he gave Michael Dawson, who slipped for Portsmouth's opener, and Sebastian Bassong the most uncomfortable of afternoons.

His closest companion for much of the contest, Aruna Dindane, who had not played for a month due to a clause in his contract that could have triggered another payment and only figured after painstaking negotiations with his parent club, was equally effective as he persistently drove at Spurs' defence. Certainly some of Portsmouth's football on the counter-attack was as appealing on the eye as anything Tottenham could muster.

When in the 117th minute of a game in which you have precisely zero affinity with either club you are desperate for a man called Prince, with a tattoo of a crown on his neck, to bury a cheaply awarded penalty it's safe to say the magic of the Cup has you by the short and curlies.

Even half-time was entertaining as Jamie O'Hara demonstrated why he'd make a terrible politician as he nailed his colours to Portsmouth's mast with the type of straight talking that will delight Grant ahead of the final and exasperate Redknapp in equal measures.

The Tottenham midfielder, remember only on-loan at Portsmouth, repeatedly referred to the latter as 'we' as he spoke with boundless enthusiasm about his loan side's performance. He stopped just short of flicking the bird to Spurs' fans but it was entertaining to see a player so engrossed in the contest that he lost the diplomacy that paralyses seasoned pundits. Let's just hope Harry didn't see it.

As Redknapp testified, Tottenham conjured enough chances to have won the game in normal time and James' face, when Alan Wiley spotted a non-existent foul on him by Kranjcar in the build-up to Crouch's leveller that never was, captured the contest's most iconic image. This is where Spurs and their manager deserve real credit as there was no 'typical Pompey' retort at the final whistle, no posturing from their players but rather a sporting acceptance that they'd taken part in a fine game that had gone against them on the day.

Redknapp's embracing of Grant on full-time seemed genuine and was a touching moment between two men who had a tetchy start to life together during the former's time in charge of Portsmouth, but grew to both like and respect each other during their time in unison.

During his spell at Chelsea Grant was perceived as lacking emotion, his hangdog expression at odds with the theatrics of his predecessor Jose Mourinho, but the complex Israeli has shown on his South Coast sojourn he is far from emotionally stunted.

The sight of Piquionne leaping onto his manager's back at the final whistle affirmed the affection the players hold for a man who has never let the backdrop of administration, empty pay packets, redundancies and points deductions be used as an excuse for a lack of effort.

Grant is unlikely to be at the Fratton Park helm next season but his efforts amid the most trying of circumstances have already woven his name into the club's rich tapestry. Lee Marvin couldn't have done it any better.

With thanks to Mark Blackmore for the above link

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