TEN years ago. Premier League regulars and FA Cup winners.
A squad brimming with the silky skills of Nwankwo Kanu, Sulley Muntari, and Lassana Diarra.
With Hermann Hreidarsson and Niko Kranjcar shoring up the starting XI, Portsmouth FC were going places.
Unfortunately, it was downhill. Off-field affairs saw the club enter administration in 2010 and a nine-point deduction ensured relegation in an already turbulent season under Avram Grant.
There was no coming back and within four years Pompey had sunk. All the way down to League Two.
Fans were eerily glancing backwards to the trap door out of the football league, rather than upwards at a return to the Premier League.
The low point arrived in the 2014/15 campaign as the south coast club finished in their lowest ever position, 16th. But since then, a wave of optimism.
Paul Cook took the reins for the 2015/16 season, having navigated Chesterfield’s path into League One just two seasons earlier.
Within two seasons it was missioned accomplished for Cook. League Two champions.
Cook departed for Wigan Athletic as Portsmouth prepared for life in League One.
Kenny Jackett took over in June 2017 and leads them in their latest chapter.
In their first season back in England’s third tier, Portsmouth finished eighth, it was a good starter, but all eyes are currently on their next prize – promotion to the Championship.
And what a start they have made. Unbeaten in their first eight games (W6 D2 L0), they sit at the summit.
15 goals scored, just five conceded.
There’s still a long way to go, but Portsmouth are definitely a club going in the right direction – and it’s long overdue.
Todorov fires Pompey to Paradise
Ask any Championship fan from my generation and they will tell you the Portsmouth team of 2003 were one of the finest to grace the league.
Only Louis Saha’s Fulham and an Andy Carroll-led Newcastle United side have found an easier passage to the Premier League since the turn of the millennium.
Bulgarian Svetoslav Todorov led the line for Harry Redknapp’s men and with the ball at his feet, anything was possible.
26 goals contributed to a title-winning season, ably-supported by Arsenal’s former midfield maestro Paul Merson (10) and Vincent Pericard (9) goals.
They clinched promotion to the Premier League with a final day 5-0 home triumph against Bradford City and so began the glory years at Fratton Park.
The money was invested with marquee signings Dejan Stefanovic (£1.85m), Patrik Berger (free) and Teddy Sheringham (free), and three games into Premier League life, Portsmouth sat top of the pile.
Roy of the Rovers stuff. Could they maintain it?
In a word – no. The title went the way of Arsenal, the ‘Invincibles’ going the whole season unbeaten – a remarkable feat in its own right.
Bulgarian Todorov was tipped to prosper in the promised land, but cruelly a cruciate knee ligament injury ruled him out of the season before the campaign began.
A credible 13th place awaited Redknapp’s men as the Premier League welcomed Aiyegbeni Yakubu.
Contributing a staggering 16 goals in his first top-flight campaign, Yakubu remains a favourite among the Fratton faithful, netting against arch-rivals Southampton in a 1-0 victory did no harm.
A thrilling 1-0 triumph against Liverpool, with ex-Red Berger sealing the points, will always be remembered on the south coast as Portsmouth consolidated their promotion.
Steve Stone, formerly of Nottingham Forest – he’s got no hair, but we don’t care – also went down in Portsmouth folklore as Manchester United left Fratton Park on the wrong side of a 1-0 defeat, the midfielder poking home at the near post.
Yakubu excelled in season two, bagging another 17 goals as Portsmouth finished 16th.
Joined in attack by the newly-signed Lomana LuaLua, the duo terrorised all that came before them.
LuaLua earned legendary status with a 90th-minute equaliser at Anfield and a brace against the Saints in a 4-1 derby-day win late in the season.
Manchester United suffered a second successive loss at Fratton Park as David Unsworth joined Yakubu on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win.
And there was yet more top-flight joy for Portsmouth fans as their 2-0 loss to West Brom on the final day saw the Baggies escape relegation, and rivals Southampton dropped into the Championship.
More importantly, second-season syndrome – where promoted clubs are renowned for suffering relegation in their second Premier League season – was avoided.
Question for the Pompey fans out there: which of these players had the greatest influence for Portsmouth in the Premier League? Let us know if you have any other candidates for Fratton Park’s most influential @officialpompey #PlayUpPompey #Portsmouth
— Tale of Two Halves (@Taleof2_halves) September 16, 2018
Redknapp returns for relegation battle
In December 2005, Harry made his return to Portsmouth as the club languished in the relegation zone.
It looked like the dream was over for Harry’s men as they struggled through the campaign, finding themselves eight points from safety at the end of February.
A return to the second tier looked inevitable.
Yakubu left in the previous summer and although Benjani was purchased in January for £4m, he had little impact.
Step forward Matthew Taylor. Having contributed six goals to the Championship winning side from 2003, Taylor was known among the Portsmouth supporters.
But it was not until Redknapp’s second spell that the pacy winger really announced himself on football’s greatest stage.
A 45-yard strike against Sunderland earlier in the season ensured fans tuned into Match of the Day on a dreary October night, but it was his penalty kicks against Sunderland and Wigan Athletic in the 2-1 victories that salvaged Portsmouth’s season.
A four-point margin in 17th place was enough for survival.
The coup of former African Footballer of the Year Nwankwo Kanu on a free from West Brom got the pulses racing as the 2006/07 season began.
Unbeaten after the first five games, Portsmouth were a much-improved side and in an unprecedented situation.
Bolstered at the back by the arrival of England internationals Sol Campbell, David James and Glen Johnson, exciting times beckoned.
Victories against Manchester United and Liverpool had become child’s play at Fratton Park by this point and Taylor backed up Kanu’s 10 goals with eight of his own from midfield.
And anyone will tell you, when Taylor scores, it’s worth seeing.
Following on from his 40-yarder at the Stadium of Light, the home fans witnessed an audacious goal as Taylor’s strike from the centre circle that left Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard stranded.
Portsmouth went on to finish ninth but Redknapp had built an ambitious side.
The dynamic among the squad was electrifying.
With Kanu and, the now-firing Benjani, up front, the midfield service was exemplary, with Taylor and Kranjcar driving the engine, while Pedro Mendes and Gary O’Neil also played pivotal roles.
From 17th last season, they exceeded all expectations and they were a club on the up.
Silverware at last as dream becomes a reality
History is made. The. Greatest. Season. Ever. FA Cup winners and a top-eight finish. Dizzy heights.
Ghanaian Sulley Muntari was signed from Udinese in the summer for £7.1m and, with £6m splashed out on Preston North End’s David Nugent, Redknapp had a back-up for his back-ups.
Portsmouth went in search of European football.
Benjani had settled in England at last and was the key man for Portsmouth in the early stages of the season.
A ridiculous 11-goal thriller at Fratton Park was played out against Reading in September with Benjani nabbing a hat-trick as the host won 7-4 – a ticket worth buying if ever there was one!
Matt Taylor said his farewell to Portsmouth midway through the season as Kranjcar became a midfield regular alongside Icelandic influencer Hreidarsson and exited for Bolton.
But Portsmouth’s journey was just getting started.
There were no scalps to be had against the Top 4 this time around, at least not in the league, but Portsmouth went on to finish comfortably in the top half.
16 wins was a staggering return from 38 games, especially considering their end of season form tailed off as they prepared for two big ties at Wembley.
Having negotiated victories against Ipswich Town, Plymouth Argyle, and Preston NE, the biggest test was to come in the quarter-final, against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
United were on course for a treble under Sir Alex Ferguson, but Portsmouth were determined to spoil the party for Ronaldo and Co.
With Edwin Van der Sar subbed off through injury at half-time, it was Tomas Kuszczak who was put between the posts.
There were just 12 minutes left on the clock when he felled Milan Baros and saw red.
In a bizarre situation, United had no alternative goalkeeper on the bench and so Rio Ferdinand became a makeshift ‘keeper – his first task to face a spot-kick from Muntari.
Muntari kept his cool and slotted home, creating ecstatic scenes in the away end as Portsmouth reached the FA Cup semi-final and a guaranteed trip to Wembley.
Kanu bundled home the winner against West Brom to set up an FA Cup final against Cardiff City.
And Portsmouth fans were no longer dreaming when Nigerian Kanu bundled home at the near post after Bluebirds keeper Peter Enckelman could only parry a Muntari cross.
It wasn’t a classic. But does it matter?
Rapturous applause rippled around Wembley to the tune of Play Up Pompey.
They had done it. A long-time dream for silverware was checked off.
Every fan dreams of seeing their team lift the FA Cup at Wembley.
For Portsmouth fans, job done. Just desserts for a team who had lit up the Premier League for the previous few seasons.
A brief foray into the UEFA Cup followed at the start of the 2008/09 season, the highlight being a 2-2 home draw against Ronaldinho’s AC Milan but ultimately the good times were coming to an end.
Despite a 3-0 home win against Heerenveen, Portsmouth exited Europe and their league form tailed off too as they stuttered to 14th place.
The off-field problems dominated in 2010 and the aforementioned administration closed the door on their greatest era as the club finished 20th and last.
A return to relative mediocrity awaited.
Now though, the football gods are smiling down on Portsmouth.
Is their time in the doldrums coming to an end?
Are the glory days returning?
As one man who enjoyed following their Premier League journey, I certainly would love to see them back in the big time.
Watch this space.