The 1997-98 season was yet another significant landmark in my life. There were three defining factors in this season above and beyond another relegation fight. One was that I attended my first ever post-match press conference. Another was that I received my first ever credit card and thirdly I made my first ever internal flight to a Pompey away match.
It has to be said that I didn’t quite understand the mechanisms of credit cards but was nevertheless greatly excited by the £750 cash limit that came with it. In short I was like a modern day Mr Micawber set loose in a butchers shop.
The first match I actually used it was for an away evening match at Middlesbrough followed by another lengthy trip to Bury three days later. It was great to get things like hotel bills and train fares without releasing any cash. I felt extremely elite, one of the privileged classes.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting to happen a month down the line but I had kind of worked out this system in my head on how it would all eventually be paid back. There was also another away game at Birmingham before the dreaded bill fell on the mat and it was here that my gay abandon of the previous four weeks hit home. Sure I had another month till I paid it but there was another series of away games coming up at Ipswich, Norwich and Port Vale in between.
You may detect my naivety on the financial front. I received a valuable lesson in the laws of interest. IE that paying of an accrued bill of £300 at £20 a month slowly accrued greater bills.
As Micawber himself observed: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."
Very soon the new world and freedom that my credit card had promised became a millstone round the neck and I learnt a hard lesson of economic facts. It was great to just stick a card into a black hole and key in a number to spend money you didn’t actually have. But come the day of paying it back you actually still didn’t have it and now owed a whole lot more.
This was also a season where I had begun a little project at Fratton Park even though I had yet to fully work there in any sense. For the early games this involved some media work and my first ever post-match came at Sheffield United when I interviewed the then player-manager Nigel Spackman.
Well to be absolutely honest I didn’t actually interview him. I held a Dictaphone under his nose whilst about ten other far more distinguished journalists did the work for me. To be honest Pompey had lost 2-1 as I sat behind a glass screen on a baking August afternoon and my appetite for what would turn out to be a very short lived badly thought project was already starting to wane. I needed a drink or two.
By the following Tuesday I had another stab when Peterborough visited town for the 2 nd leg of a Coca Cola cup match. What should have been a fairly routine night against lower league opposition after a 2-2 draw first time round turned out to be an excruciatingly bad night with Pompey bowing out 2-1.
So the enthusiasm with which I again held a Dictaphone under the nose of Barry Fry whilst everyone else asked the questions was not one that exuded a relish for the task in hand.
It was here that the office word processor broke down and we were unable to pass these on to the intended bigger audience which was the hallmark of the project. And it was this night that it died a death after two games.
The season had started well enough with a 2-2 opening draw at Manchester City the highlight of which was an offensive gesture made at Pompey fans by Liam Gallagher, though in the interests of balance I do believe he had been the target of some fairly offensive comments also.
At this time having about as much idea of the pop culture as the workings of credit cards I was totally oblivious to who the guy actually was.
This was followed by a home win against Port Vale and in both opening games Australian striker John Aloisi had served notice of an exciting talent, unlike most of the other Aussies joining around this time.
But this new dawn was to have the usual dark clouds hovering not far away. Hence a cup exit to Peterborough, the loss at Sheffield United and then wages unpaid to Fratton Park staff by November.
Around the time my credit card arrived in the post actually by which time Pompey were embroiled in yet another battle for league survival as well as survival of a quite different nature.
The dream team of Fenwick and Venables which had also been the start of the new dawn also went out under a January cloud as did Pompey at Villa Park in the FA Cup.
The return of Martin Gregory to the hot seat kept warm for him by Venables was softened by the fact of Alan Ball returning as manager.
Though whose influence actually brought him back was shrouded in mystery, After a 1-0 defeat at Oxford Brian Howe, unconnected with the club, announced the coming of Ball which turned out to be wholly accurate.
Martin Gregory also took the plaudits for this, but on the Monday it was returning Director Terry Brady who proudly introduced him to the press at Fratton Park as if it was his jewel in the crown.
It was at this press conference that Ball would announce: “that people went to war from this city” and where you suddenly believed anything was possible as he set the tone.
Whoever brought him back there is no doubting the influence he had as the famous ‘wall of noise’ match created by 8,622 in an evening match against Stockport was directly attributable to the small red head in the flat cap.
The fact that a seven match unbeaten run still took them to the final day away at Bradford City needing a win was indicative of where Ball had brought them from.
It was certainly no state for a club which the previous month had celebrated its 100 th birthday to be in as we entered that final day.
And it was here where I experienced my third first by flying from Southampton with three others for the final game at Valley Parade where Pompey’s glorious win relegated Manchester City instead. A Manchester City side that had started the season against Pompey with both Lee Bradbury and Kit Symons.
Now I wondered how Liam Gallagher felt still not much the wiser who he actually was and why he created such interest.
As for me.as I waited for the return flight with a plane fare entirely paid for in hard cash. .As Micawber might have mused “Victory on the last day at Bradford paid by ready cash result happiness.”