Mick Kennedy set the tone even before he stepped on to the Fratton Park turf. After signing for £100,000 from Middlesbrough in the pre-season of 1984 the midfielder was suspended for the opening game-ironically against the Teesside club that had just sold him.
The 23 year-old was one of the first pieces of the jigsaw that new manager Alan Ball fitted into the Pompey engine room.
Gone was the flamboyant style of previous manager Bobby Campbell whose side scored goals for fun but conceded them even more irritatingly.
A flamboyancy that had worked in the third division as Pompey strolled to the title but which was then found out and ruthlessly exploited in the division above.
Ball replaced the soft-centre spine of the side replacing it with one of teak which Kennedy was an integral part.
Call Ball’s side ‘The Gremlins’ or ‘The Ale House Boys’ both affectionate titles labelled on the side of those year. Whichever you went with Kennedy leader of both.
To this day I remember one ferocious tackle Kennedy engaged in with Birmingham’s Robert Hopkins, who was no shrinking violet himself, resulting in the Brum hard man giving out an audible scream that echoed around a packed St Andrews such was the ferocity.
Yet contrary to what some may think Kennedy was not a dirty player. In 144 games he was sent off just twice.
No he was a fierce competitor who hated losing, a man in Ball’s image who when on the field transformed from a quietly spoken mild mannered Irishman into a man possessed. From Clark Kent to Superman.
The Falklands War was still fresh in the minds of the Pompey public and this was the side that waged their own war and looked after one another. Played and partied together in equal measure.
Getting to the First Division after two late abortions previously was a war of attrition in itself but you knew if anyone retained the spirit from those setbacks it was this lot epitomised by Kennedy himself.
He didn’t score a lot, nor was he silky or fast but still his effectiveness and endeavour endeared and etched him on a generation that 31 years after he left Pompey erupted into a tribal mourning at the news of his sad death.
Out of the ten clubs he played for I feel Pompey was undoubtedly home to Kennedy despite his northern upbringing. It is where he looked in his element.
When owner John Deacon brought Kennedy’s four year reign to an end in the most ill-timed manner one could imagine, a day after a 2-0 win at Southampton, it was a waving of the white flag that ripped the heart out of the team in one fell swoop. No greater testimony can be laid on the player’s spiritual and physical contribution.
When Kennedy came back with Bradford City in an FA Cup tie just weeks later he looked half the man decked out in opposing colours at his spiritual abode.
I suspect a modicum of vibrancy and devilment died in Mick the day he left Fratton Park which he never really found again.
If he is looking down tomorrow at the weight of affection around Fratton Park then perhaps he will discover those feelings one more time.