The Fratton tea boy who grew into Pompey coach

Pompey first-team coach Paul Hardyman.  Picture: Sarah Standing
Pompey first-team coach Paul Hardyman. Picture: Sarah Standing

That four-year-old boy who hangs around the Fratton end tea bar still exists.

Nobody sees him anymore, of course. Gone is the haunting place he would religiously frequent on match-days, such is the march of change.

As for the lad, he has grown up, got married, had children, moved away – but never left.

Paul Hardyman will forever be that Copnor youngster accompanying his mother to Fratton Park fixtures.

The wide-eyed child’s magic kingdom later provided the glorious stage to perform as Pompey’s left-back, fulfilling his fantasy.

Football life would dictate further adventures at Sunderland, Bristol Rovers, Wycombe and Barnet.

Yet the comeback was inevitable and since 2000, minus a year out following redundancy through bleak times, Hardyman has been a Fratton resident.

Whether it be in the club’s community department, as centre of excellence manager or working in the Academy, the 50-year-old has been an integral and highly popular member of the football club.

Now the former England under-21 international has taken one step further and is flanking Andy Awford following a summer appointment as joint first-team coach.

He inhabits a dug out these days rather than a tea bar.

Hardyman said: ‘It’s great to come all the way through from where I was a youth-team player, to first-team player, to community coach to first-team coach.

‘I don’t think there are too many people that can claim that.

‘This football club has been my life since I was four years of age.

‘My late mum used to work in the Fratton end tea bar and would bring me into games. I sat behind the counter before kick off and then would walk round and stand between the south stand and Fratton end corner and watch the match.

‘Then as soon as a the half-time whistle went I would run back round and get back behind the counter again.

‘About 20 minutes into the second half, the tea bar would shut and she would come round and get me and I would walk home.

‘My dad used to stand on the north terrace and gradually, as I got older, I used to stand with him and then go to be with my mates in the Milton end or Fratton end depending on how many away supporters there were.

‘Eventually I would go and stand above the tea bar where my mum used to work, cheering on Pompey.

‘Then I came through the youth team myself and got selected to play at under-18s before going all the way and through to the first team and then got sold to Sunderland in 1989.

‘I was 25 and wanted to stay, I wanted a testimonial for the work I had done for the club but John Gregory decided he was only going to offer me a one-year contract which meant I left for Sunderland.

‘They offered me a three-year deal on more money and I just had my first lad so decided to go there.

‘My two lads have always been Pompey supporters, though, I have raised them that way.

‘I remember JJB Sports was just starting up, we went into the one in Bristol and my lad walked straight up and bought a Pompey shirt with his birthday money.

‘It was the old black and red striped one with The News on it and his first Pompey shirt. Then when I wasn’t playing we would come down here and watch games – they still are Pompey fans.

‘Then I came back home for good in 2000.’

That was when Hardyman linked up with Pompey’s Football in the Community scheme as he returned to the club.

By 2006 he had been appointed youth-team coach – but in October 2009 was among eight staff made redundant.

Director of youth operations Paul Smalley delivered the cull during the controversial reorganisation of the youth set-up.

Under-15/16 coordinator Mark Chamberlain also departed along with other coaches, scouts and an member of administration staff.

For Hardyman, it was an enforced exit which still rankles and threatened to permanently split him from the club he loves.

He added: ‘Mr Smalley decided he was going to have a staff change.

‘The terminology was I had been made redundant from the Academy, but to be fair you can’t be made redundant if the under-18 coach’s job was mine and that role was still a role.

‘There was no way I could be made redundant, he used that because he wanted to bring in his own people so I got shifted out, eight of us did, and good people as well.

‘The likes of Rod Ruddick, Chambo (Chamberlain), Paul White, a lot of us made redundant who have all gone on to bigger and better things to be fair, so I was bitter about that and the way it was dealt with.

‘I had a year out then Peter Storrie actually brought me back into the community scheme, which I was grateful for.

‘That started when I had an appeals meeting with him about why you felt you should still have your job.

‘I went through two printed out A4 sheets of reasons why I should still be kept in the job and he (Storrie) was brilliant to be fair.

‘I can’t knock him at all, he was fantastic and great for me.

‘He came back to me a week later and gave me the community scheme job and I said not a problem.’

Following his return to community level, it would be newly-appointed youth boss Awford who would bring Hardyman back into the Academy set-up.

The duo had spent one season together as players at Fratton Park, while Awford would later follow in his footsteps as a match-day summariser for Radio Solent.

Then in January 2011 – following Smalley’s departure – Awford was unveiled as the club’s new Academy boss.

The double act proceeded to bring a number of players through into the first team in a climate when youngsters were going to be given opportunities.

Ashley Harris, Adam Webster, Jed Wallace, Dan Butler and Jack Whatmough are just some who have become regular squad members for the seniors following their emergence.

For around 13 years Hardyman has been involved in the development of local youngsters and their progression through the system.

Now he has had relinquish that to focus on the first-team alongside Awford and fellow coach Alan McLoughlin.

He said: ‘Looking back, we went from where we were to where we are now – and it was a massive fall from grace.

‘You have gone from the Premier League where the budget was £3m for the Academy to now it is high £100,000s, so it’s a massive, massive drop and you are expected to still produce.

‘Joel Ward and Matt Ritchie were already in the system and have gone on to do really well in football further up the leagues.

‘There was Jonathan Page at Motherwell, Joe Oastler at QPR and then Torquay, there were some good players.

‘Dave Hurst, Mark O’Connor and Shaun North did a great job and probably didn’t get enough recognition at the time.

‘But we’ve kept on building on that and the youngsters are still coming through.’