It was the Pompey boy’s dream which came true.
From watching the team he loves on the terraces, to playing a key role in helping them to the highest level of the English game after an absence of 28 years.
Paul Hardyman had to pinch himself that he was one of the stars of the boys of ’87 side.
As a junior member of Alan Ball’s heroes, it meant everything for Hardyman to be part of that never-to-be-forgotten side.
They are to be honoured 25 years on at a Faith & Football organised dinner this Saturday.
Hardyman knows he was part of something special.
‘It was a great time, especially being a local lad,’ said Hardyman as he looked back.
‘I was living the dream, playing for my hometown club.
‘It was what I’d set out to achieve as a youngster.
‘So to get promoted to the top league was something else.
‘It was a fantastic time, phenomenal.
‘The year we got promoted we conceded 28 goals. That was a phenomenal record to have from 42 games.
‘We had a consistent back five with Knightsy in goal, Swainy (Kenny Swain) and me at full-back and Noel Blake and Billy Gilbert in the middle.
‘We had a wonderful team spirit which was crucial.
‘I was a young man among hardened professionals.
‘It was a great experience for me and good times.’
The reputation of the promotion-winning side and their hell-raising antics went before them.
Hardyman admitted that tag was well justified with a drinking culture prevalent in that side.
The man who now plays a key role in Pompey’s Academy set-up explained there was a professional side to Ball’s battlers when game time came around. But there were also plenty of examples of excess among the team.
Hardyman said: ‘I saw some crazy things you wouldn’t believe.
‘I remember celebrating the day after we went up.
‘I went in with my boots and kit for training.
‘Bally turned around and asked me: “What have you got that for, son? We’re going in the pub!”. That was 9.30am!
‘We lost the last game at home to Sheffield United after promotion, but I think if we’d been tested for alcohol in that game we’d all have been over the limit!
‘We were an all-for-one team.
‘I was a young lad, but even I was shocked by some of the antics. Being the youngest, Bally used to send me out with a fiver to get some drinks for the coach on the way back from away games.
‘Even the directors, like Jim Sloan, had a big role in the drinking culture. He was probably the worst!
‘But we used to work hard and play hard. We would always prepare well for the games and look at opponents on a Thursday.
‘And that would usually help us to the right outcome.’
Ball was the figurehead of the boys of ’87 side – someone who will sadly missing from Saturday’s dinner after he died five years ago.
His part in the Pompey pantheon of greats is assured, something Hardyman knows is richly deserved.
Hardyman said: ‘Bally was a special character.
‘That cap came off and was thrown on the floor a few times!
‘And he literally dragged us down the tunnel a few times at half-time if we weren’t performing.
‘He used to tell us the Fratton end would suck the ball in for us if we weren’t playing well, though.
‘And that would always lift us.
‘It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up to hear.
‘Bally used to say it was a working-class city and they would stick with us if we gave 100-per-cent. That was true.
‘His team talks were very passionate.
‘For me, Bally was a good motivator and good tactically.
‘I don’t think we’d have got there without him.’