Much of our affection with football is lodged not in the here and now but in the past where if our memories are to be reliably believed then football was more fun, games more competitive and exciting, players far more charismatic and far less robotic with the game easily accessible to the working class masses.
For that matter life itself was far less problematic and stressful in an age where things were far more simple.
So it proved almost 30 years ago when to celebrate my first ever season of watching Pompey in top flight football in 1987 I brought a pair of white brogues with snazzy tassels attached to the front of each one.
The idea of wearing white shoes quite appealed as a ‘stand out’ statement without my really considering the practicalities.
Four games into a season that had so far seen two defeats and a draw Pompey made the glamorous trip to London to face Arsenal which I felt was the perfect public debut for said shoes.
To digress, London away trips very much followed a pattern in these days. All met at Havant Station for the 8.00 train, drink in the buffet car up to Waterloo and then head on the tube to the rough vicinity of where we were playing. On this particular occasion I believe we disembarked at Islington.
When I say buffet cars I mean a full purpose built carriage incorporating bar and tables with stewards in red waist coats serving a number of different beers and spirits as well as a full English on a china plate if you fancied. Considering the unimaginative trolleys of bland mass pre-packed products they push through crowded train aisles these days imbibing on the railways has hardly taken a leap forward for mankind.
Likewise in the age of still rigid licensing laws you always found pubs open at 10.00 am where into today’s relaxed drinking environment most minus Wetherspoons seem shut till mid-day. This I might add extended into the evening hours in London and even Waterloo Station itself appeared to have far more flexibility than in these current supposed enlightened licensing times.
Similarly still in the age of a nationalised rail system trains seemed to have the freedom to run far later than is now the case under the free diverse enterprise that is privatization. Thus on the return trip we would again hit some designated place ending at Waterloo catching the last Portsmouth train out of London-which was always north of midnight.
Or saving that the paper train, also known as Milk Express, though I never saw any crates of white stuff on there, which departed at some unearthly hour between 3.00-4.00 am.
Anyone that fell asleep on the journey home would get their shoe laces tied up and receive a bang on the window just as the train was departing Havant station.
Result being that they would groggily awake from their deep slumber, get to their feet half asleep and find themselves rooted to the spot with the dawning realisation of their predicament.
Plenty of victims were caught during a season that saw Pompey visit Chelsea, Arsenal, Charlton, Watford, Luton (twice) Wimbledon, Tottenham, West Ham and Q.P.R.
I’m proud to say that I was never one of the victims due to the fact I always avoided wearing shoes with laces and consciously endeavoured to stay awake, normally with the aid of a can in each hand.
If you were an unlucky victim you would find yourself going all the way to Fratton having to return home by taxi providing you still had the fare following an expensive day in the capital. If not you either waited till the first train back out around 6.30 am or went on Shank’s Pony for the ten mile journey.
Should you be a lucky victim the train would stop at Bedhampton and you would get away with it with minor inconvenience or none at all.
On the field the highlights were playing at illustrious places such as Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal, Newcastle and even Coventry given you only usually saw them play other teams on the telly and could only previously visualise what it was like to see your own team play in such stadiums.
Even at these you had to enjoy the day as a whole because these visits combined gained a paltry total of four points in a season not exactly full of positive memories on the field.
Undoubtedly the shining highlight in a season where Pompey achieved only 7 wins came on January 3rd on the never to be forgotten day where Barry Horne and Terry Connor grabbed the goals which earned a 2-0 win at the Dell against Southampton. Very much a smash and grab affair as I remember, but that doesn’t alter history.
Even by this stage it was evident that my first season of watching Pompey in the top flight was destined to be the last for the foreseeable future. Only to be rubber stamped days after the historic win with the sale of influential captain Mick Kennedy to Bradford City.
To emphasise the point Pompey would win only two more games from the remaining 16 as they plummeted headlong towards relegation. Much of that down to the sale of Kennedy.
Indeed many would have taken the 2-0 victory at Southampton over survival given that Chairman John Deacon had by this made no pretence of his destruction of a dream he had nurtured since taking over the club fourteen years previously.
Having now lived that all too brief dream of a club in the top flight he had seen fit to sell one of the most influential players and seemed more engrossed with the basketball side in the city that he also financed.
There was an extended FA Cup run where Pompey reached the quarter final beating Blackburn, Sheffield United and Mick Kennedy’s Bradford City on the way only to come short on Luton’s plastic pitch.
Kevin Dillon’s audacious volleyed goal from the half way line in the 3rd round match at Blackburn would have surely been goal of the competition itself, if not the year, had cameras caught it. Unfortunately in these days only the 10,352 at the match were privy to a sensational strike which the midfielder later attributed to visualising the ball as the head of manger Alan Ball with whom he had a tempestuous relationship.
The reality of life was that Pompey having reached a pinnacle after climbing from the summit only seven years previously found that life at the top of the tree was not all it was cracked up to be. So when it came for the last rites to be read at the final home match against a Newcastle side including a young prodigy named Paul Gascoigne only 12,468 turned up, and most of those seemingly intent on calling for John Deacon’s head.
This proving the inspiration for me to suggest an article to the Editor of the Football Mail, its title back then, about penning a jury type for or against piece regarding John Deacon.
With my foot already in the door of The Havant News Office as a community correspondent, then news reporter, this was my first branching out into sport after the Mail printed the said article in the optimum prime position smack bang on the front page directly below the downward thumbed sailor as Pompey ended the campaign with a 4-1 drubbing at Manchester United. And so to return from my lengthy digression back to that early Autumnal day at Arsenal where even this early juncture gave ominous signs of the struggle to come.
4-0 down by half time Pompey were eventually thrashed by six as Alan Ball’s men were dealt the ultimate lesson in top flight football by the team he had once played for after a record transfer fee from Everton. As for the revolutionary white shoes. Somewhere in Islington High Street I trod in a filthy puddle of water leaving them caked in splatters of mud for which the specialist polish I had been given only succeeded in extending rather than lessening the offending marks.
The appearance of them became further besmirched a few days later when the tassels parted company from the right shoe, leaving me no alternative but to physically remove the others from the left.
But to prove that all things eventually come to an end John Deacon sold the club during the summer and I was offered a weekly Sports Mail column culminating in another of those periods of exciting transition in my Pompey supporting lifetime even if it were back in the lower leagues.
Yet even among all the on the field woes it was all such fun in an age which was much more simple minus Twitter, Facebook, mobile phones and computers.
Days of late trains, high jinks and practical jokes long left behind along with one pair of seldom worn grubby white shoes minus tassels and a tube of barely opened polish.