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Any Neutral Has to Root for Portsmouth and Avram Grant in the FA Cup Final

 Any Neutral Has to Root for Portsmouth and Avram Grant in the FA Cup Final

As the Portsmouth players put on their uniforms in the Wembley locker room this afternoon, they were under no allusions about what the future held for them and their team.  They were going to be relegated down to the Championship League after the season.  Once there, they were far more likely to be relegated again this time next year as opposed to being promoted back to the Premiership.  For most of the players, that would be a future event they would read about in the newspaper, having long been sold by Portsmouth for whatever cash could be gotten in the transfer market and replaced by whatever players could be picked up for free.

Their manager, Avram Grant, had been re-hired at Portsmouth in November to captain what was essentially a ship of the damned.  With no hope of surviving in the Premiership or avoiding administration, this Pompey team was better off simply avoiding injury and making themselves as attractive as possible to a future suitor.  Grant, who was a John Terry-choke away from winning the Champions League two years ago as manager of Chelsea, was now drafted to be a hospice care-giver to the dying body that was Portsmouth Football Club.

Yet, somehow, Grant has inspired this team to play with courage, hope and determination.  Since taking over the team, Grant has managed to steer the team to some dramatic league victories including beating Liverpool 2-0 and a last minute come-from-behind victory over Hull.  However, the Pompey FA Cup run this spring has been nothing short of breathtaking.

Starting with their replay victory away at Coventry City, and victory at home against Sunderland, Portsmouth had to travel down the road to their arch-rival Southampton.  Portsmouth 1-4 triumph over their south coast enemy was supposed to be the highlight in their otherwise season of pain, but when they followed up that win with a victory over Birmingham, bankrupt and relegation-bound Portsmouth found themselves scheduled to play at Wembley in the FA Cup Semis against Tottenham.

If there is a God, He definitely dabbles in creating the football fixture list.  When Portsmouth reached their apex two years ago winning the FA Cup, Harry Redknapp was their manager and, though he was cup-tied for Pompey that season, Jermaine Defoe was their most important player.  After lifting the FA Cup that season, Redknapp saw the financial writing on the wall for Pompey and left for the safer, wealthier environs of North London and Tottenham.  Defoe soon followed.  A year later, Tottenham are on the brink of finishing the top four and going on to the Champions league.  Portsmouth is on the brink of going out of business and down to the Championship league.

Redknapp has managed to break Pompey hearts a couple of times.  He has left Fratton Park twice, once to go to arch-rivals Southampton and another time when the money looked like it was gone.  By drawing Tottenham in the FA Cup semis, Portsmouth had the chance to return the favor.

After bending but not breaking for 90 minutes this afternoon, Pompey held Tottenham to a scoreless draw.  The extra time saw Portsmouth score twice, once courtesy of the embarrassing Wembley turf which helped Michael Dawson lose his feet at the worst possible moment and left Frederic Piquionne with a clear shot on goal.  The ecstasy of the passionate Portsmouth supporters, who clearly deserve a better fate than the one their club is giving them, would warm any cynic’s heart.

Now, Portsmouth faces mighty Chelsea in the finals.  In sports, as romantic as games often are, David rarely defeats Goliath, Butler rarely beats Duke, and Portsmouth is unlikely to beat Chelsea.

But, as Avram Grant looks across the pitch at team that fired him for coming within an ill-taken penalty of Europe’s biggest trophy, and the Pompey fans look upon their beloved team that will shortly be sold-off for spare change, who cannot root for them on May 15?  The players will be playing without hope of collecting any FA Cup bonus money that will be in their contract and without the opportunity to qualify for the UEFA cup, which is prohibited to teams that are in administration.  They will be playing for the most pure reason of all – to pay tribute to their supporters and the love of the game.  The odds are long, but the prize is there to be won.  I, for one, will dig out any blue shirt I have in my drawer, go to my local pub, and cheer on my new favorite team in the world.

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15 Responses to Any Neutral Has to Root for Portsmouth and Avram Grant in the FA Cup Final

  1. Squelch says:

    ‘But, as Avram Grant looks across the pitch at team that fired him for coming within an ill-taken penalty of Europe’s biggest trophy, and the Pompey fans look upon their beloved team that will shortly be sold-off for spare change, who cannot root for them on May 15? The players will be playing without hope of collecting any FA Cup bonus money that will be in their contract and without the opportunity to qualify for the UEFA cup, which is prohibited to teams that are in administration. They will be playing for the most pure reason of all – to pay tribute to their supporters and the love of the game. The odds are long, but the prize is there to be won. I, for one, will dig out any blue shirt I have in my drawer, go to my local pub, and cheer on my new favorite team in the world.’

    Stunning. That nearly brought a tear to my eye.

  2. The Gaffer says:

    Here, here. With Fulham progressing into the semi-finals of the Europa League and now Portsmouth – against all odds- into the FA Cup Final for the second year in a row, there is a lot of romanticism left in the English game this season.

    I was definitely moved when I read this on Pompey’s website this afternoon: “Avram Grant stuck a huge handwritten message up on the wall in Pompey’s dressing-room before their semi-final against Spurs. It read ‘The difference between good and great is extra effort,’ with the words ‘extra effort’ underlined for emphasis.”

    Brilliant!

    Cheers,
    The Gaffer

  3. jason says:

    This is wonderful to see a result like this. As much as we want to see a shocker in the final though, I predict a 4-0 score line in favor in Chelsea. It always seems to be that in the final itself the smaller team will finally get stopped.

  4. Raatzie says:

    A shame Portsmouth didn’t qualify for the Europa League today.

    /checks standings, realizes Liverpool about to finish seventh.

    I mean, thank goodness Portsmouth couldn’t qualify for the Europa League.

    /hangs head in abject shame.

  5. Gious says:

    Good story but Chelsea will win by several goals as they will not take them lightly as most have

    Way too much experienced talent for the Blues

  6. Cricketlover says:

    I’ve always thought that Avram Grant was treated very poorly by Chelsea. It wasn’t his tactics that lost them the Champions League to Man United but an unfortunate slip by John Terry. As much as Portsmouth will be heavy underdogs in the FA Cup final and very few will give them a chance to win, I think Grant might just pull off a surprise and lead them to victory. He is a very underrated manager. As a neutral I’ll be supporting Portsmouth.

  7. ZiggerZagger says:

    Re: the title of this article, I’m sure it won’t take too much persuasion for the english media or ‘neutral’ fans to paint Chelsea as the pantomime villians in this FA Cup final. The story of this Pompey team is one for the ages to be sure — along with Leeds beating Man Utd this year. All credit to the Portsmouth players, though I’d be amazed if “Uncle Avi” had a great deal to do with it. He’s never been anything close to a motivational figure, and he could well end up being the first Manager to lose the only League Cup Final, FA Cup final, and Champions League final he’s ever been involved in.

    Grant’s true talents lie in imitating a Rasputin-like figure at various football clubs, always having the ear of the owner through clever politicking, and leaving the players wondering wtf this gormless Hutt-like figure is doing managing a Premier League football club. Apologies for the OTT sour grapes, but most Chelsea fans feel deep regret for failing to grab the Premiership and CL in 2008. The appointment of the unheard-of Grant led to a horrendous and demoralizing run of form at first. The lasting impression is that the players were left to guide and motivate themselves but which they eventually did to their immense credit. I’ll be the first to applaud Portsmouth’s PLAYERS if they manage the same sort of feat and beat Chelsea in the final this year. In any case, it’s a wonderful story that only enhances the romance of the FA Cup.

    • AtlantaPompey says:

      Have you heard any of the Chelsea players say that? Have you heard any of the backroom staff at Chelsea say that? I haven’t. He got slagged off for looking like an undertaker, yet he accomplished something The Special One could not with Chelsea. If those players were capable of doing that, why didn’t they do it the year before? If those players were so good, why haven’t they done it since? How come, with essentially the same team, did Hiddink and Ancelotti fail to get them to the final?

      Other than talking heads spouting their opinions without any facts to back them up, where have you seen this written? Grant was treated like dirt for getting them to the CL final and taking the PL to the last day of the season. If he was/is so bad, how in the world did they accomplish that?

      I think this is just another example of talking heads lousy opinions becoming cold, hard facts due to repetition. He’s a fantastic motivator. He’s a good tactician. His substitutions sometime irk me, and I do wish he would smile a little more often, but he gets an undeserved bad rap.

  8. J says:

    Just one question: why can’t the Pompey players collect any FA Cup bonus money?

    • Eric Altshule says:

      Because a bankrupt Portsmouth has none to pay.

    • AtlantaPompey says:

      They were furiously negotiating those clauses out of their contracts before the semifinal in order to be able to play. Many of them also had appearance clauses that had to be waved in order to play. David James, earlier in the season, waived a clause that would have triggered a new contract for next season based on the number of appearances this season. All of those would be impossible for us to fulfill.

  9. Duke says:

    As a Chelsea fan, I can’t really root for Pompey, but…

    What I’ve seen of the team and the fans this season has earned them a great deal of respect on my part. Fans packing the stadium in the bitter cold, knowing full well that their team was going to be relegated – best case! – and might cease to exist entirely. Players giving their all, knowing their efforts were pointless, but giving their best anyway. Yeah, there’s a lot to like about this Pompey side.

    For my part, I hope the team can be salvaged, and perhaps they can make a run at the top flight some time in the future. In the meantime, here’s to hoping one of the newly promoted teams has as much character. If not, the Premiership will have been diminished.

  10. jacko says:

    As a lifelong Pompey fan, I have to admit I never thought I’d see the day when we lifted the FA Cup back in 2008. For that I am eternally grateful (yes, even to Harry Redknapp) and although our opponents are one of Englands best teams at present, anything can happen on the day. We will be fighting for our pride, if nothing else and for a team that might not even exist in a year or twos time. Any neutral support would be greatly appreciated, we need all the help we can get!

  11. Tom Hingley says:

    Of course, to play Devils Advocate, you could make the argument that they have reached the Final with players they cannot afford, and hence have gained an advantage over other similar sized teams.

    In reality, I am glad for Pompey, and it was good to see Harry twitch, but I found the coverage nauseating. Anyone would think it was a League 2 team getting to the final the way the commentry was going on. Let’s get a bit of perspective. Pompey (for the time being) are a PL side, with PL players. All PL teams can beat each other on their day. It was an upset, but only a minor one.

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