Time to turn Pompey mortals into kings

Jed Wallace is among the favourites to pick up this season's News/Sports Mail player-of-the-year award Picture: Joe Pepler
Jed Wallace is among the favourites to pick up this season's News/Sports Mail player-of-the-year award Picture: Joe Pepler

The moment of May 10, 1983, still conjures up emotion deep from within Alan Biley.

‘At the time I had never won anything individually in my life when playing football,’ he recently recalled.

‘We were playing Walsall at Fratton Park, I was running out last as usual and Bobby Campbell pulled me aside.

‘I thought: “What have I done now?”’

‘But he shook my hand and said: “Congratulations son, you have got player of the year”.

‘Do you know, I am getting goose bumps now just thinking about that moment!

‘It was presented to me on the pitch. I might as well have been a chocolate fireguard out there when the game kicked off, it was totally and utterly overwhelming.’

Already promoted from the old third division, that day Campbell’s men beat the Saddlers 1-0 courtesy of Steve Aizlewood heading home Billy Rafferty’s cross.

The following match, Biley grabbed the decisive goal at Home Park to take his 1982-83 tally to 26 goals in 50 matches – and clinch the title for Pompey.

For some players, The News/Sports Mail honour ranks as a moment of immense pride. Ask Biley, it is something he still cherishes to this very day.

For two consecutive years David James displayed his award on a shelf in the kitchen of his Devon home, while Glen Johnson opted to leave it at Fratton Park rather than the trophy taking pride of place in his Surrey residence.

It was feared last year’s victor, Ricky Holmes, had mislaid the coveted silverware, only for it to be discovered 100 yards from Johnny Moore’s desk in the Fratton Park offices on Thursday.

Even then it had escaped Johnny’s attention – instead chief executive Mark Catlin’s PA, Ashleigh Emberson, gloriously came to the rescue.

Good news then as the trophy first presented to Peter Mellor in 1979 is scheduled to be handed over to the next incumbent before kick-off against York a week today.

The season may have been unquestionably poor, the Blues could well be heading for their lowest-ever Football League finish in addition to losing to a non-league side in a cup competition for the first time in the club’s history.

Nonetheless, there are several players who have served the club with reasonable distinction and are certainly worthy of recognition for their consistent efforts.

And it is all decided by supporters sending their preferences into The News via sport@thenews.co.uk since voting booths opened on Tuesday.

Without wishing to influence the electorate, my own view would be Jed Wallace narrowly ahead of Paul Robinson, with Ryan Taylor behind shouting at them to slow down.

Then again, I wanted Trevor Carson to claim it last season and favoured David Nugent ahead of Hayden Mullins in 2011. Out-voted miserably on such occasions, of course.

Mind you, even Mullins was taken aback at his honour. ‘I guess I’m fighting the corner of the unsung hero,’ he said in his victory speech.

With refreshing honesty he also conceded he had expected it to have gone to Nugent, Joel Ward, Liam Lawrence or Jamie Ashdown.

Although, I would emphatically agree with Johnny Ertl (2013), Jason Pearce (2012) and Jamie O’Hara (2010) to name but a few of the more recent awardees.

An injured O’Hara was presented with his News/Sports Mail trophy at half-time against Wolves in May 2010 – the club he joined permanently in a £5m deal a year later.

Still, that season he spent on loan at Fratton Park – the club’s last in the Premier League – he scooped no fewer than 10 player-of-the-year awards, as voted for by supporters.

Looking further back, neither Paul Merson nor Robert Prosinecki, regarded as two of Pompey’s greatest modern-day players, collected our prestigious award.

Linvoy Primus took it in 2002-03, while Prosinecki was beaten to the title by Peter Crouch in 2001-02.

Interestingly, Crouch wasn’t even at the Blues for the final five matches of that season, having departed in a £5.5m deal to Aston Villa.

So I was dispatched to present him with the trophy in April 2002 at the final match of the season at Villa Park.

Now it just so happened the opposition that day were none other than Southampton – a perfect situation considering I covered them for The News during those days.

However, when the pitch-side announcer heralded my entrance on to the Villa turf to conduct the handover pre-match, it was greeted with cascading boos from the away supporters.

It seems they didn’t take too favourably to both mine and Crouch’s Portsmouth connections.

Growing up I had long dreamed of appearing at Villa Park, although being booed was most definitely not part of the fantasy.

The News/Sports Mail’s player-of-the-season trophy reads like a who’s who of Pompey favourites, generally a fair reflection of those who have displayed quality while representing the club.

Since Mellor kicked it off there has been recognition for, to name but a few, Neil Webb, Noel Blake (twice), Alan Knight (three times), Alan McLoughlin, Scott Hiley, Andy Awford, Mark Hateley, Guy Whittingham, Paul Walsh, Arjan De Zeeuw and Steve Claridge (twice).

Which brings us to the here and now and the current debate on who should hoist the trophy aloft.

A quick glance at The News’ e-mail basket reveals my preferences of Wallace, Robinson and Taylor have indeed won favour among some.

But then so have Joe Devera, James Dunne, Andy Barcham and Jack Whatmough to muddy the waters.

Interestingly, it was Wallace who scooped the first award of the season at last weekend’s Pompey London Supporters’ Club’s presentation meal.

An indication? Well, you have until midday on Thursday to decide.