Why no Pompey player is safe from the timeless critics

Peter Harris
Peter Harris

No player in Pompey history has recorded more goals than Peter Harris’ remarkable tally of 211.

As for number of appearances, the local lad who went on to twice represent England is beaten only by Jimmy Dickinson and Alan Knight.

Yet not even the flying outside-right could outpace the swirling tentacles of criticism.

In a Sports Mail column dated September 6, 1958, a journalist known as Linesman was driven to publicly defend Harris’ honour.

The source of his fury centred on critical letters to The News, some directed towards a player, who, to this day, is regarded as one of Pompey’s greatest.

‘Until I took over this job, I believed that few people liked hitting a man when he was down,’ wrote Linesman.

‘Pompey letters – some of them unsigned – have reached me saying that Pompey should drop “has-been” Harris, that I should write on what is happening this season and not on sentiment from the past.

‘Of course, Harris is not the only one under fire. In fact fewer vitriolic letters arrive about him than most other members of the club. The directors, manager, trainers and other players all come in for their share of unfair insults.

‘Even if I wanted, I could not print the attacks because of the law of libel. The worst are unsigned.

‘Persons who feel so strongly about football that they stoop to such low levels should remember the game is the livelihood of the men they attack, and that every member of the side gives his best.

‘You can only ask that a player gives 100 per cent. Even a footballer cannot give any more, despite what some of the crowd may think.

‘Criticize the team by all means if they deserve it. But do so constructively.

‘Those persons who make unwarranted, cowardly attacks on individual players are wasting their time in writing to me. Their letters go straight into the waste paper basket.’

Quite how Linesman would regard Johnny Ertl, who was subjected to a number of boos before entering the pitch as a substitute, can only be guessed.

Similarly, we will never know his feelings towards those South stand few who booed Kyle Bennett off against Macclesfield, despite his sublime pass to open the scoring.

What we can deduce for certain is the article demonstrates that emotional reactions towards footballers transcends generations and eras.

Even 57 years ago. Even when Peter Harris is involved.

Back then strong views were delivered by letter to the offices of The News. These days they arrive via Tweets directly to the subject of their disaffection.

Although, during the 2002-03 march to the First Division title under Harry Redknapp, the Sports Mail’s letters page was scrapped on account of the scarcity of contributions.

It was revived, however, through popular demand when Pompey began to struggle again.

As for the boos, their existence is not a new phenomena and are presently rising in decibels at Fratton Park as the season progresses, regardless of fourth spot after 17 matches.

Of course, football comes with the oft-repeated disclaimer that fans are allowed to voice their opinion. No argument to be had there.

Neither can they be reasonably expected to display a positive outlook when forced to watch an awful performance. Particularly at home.

However, it remains highly improbable that any player severely lacking form will be handed a Eureka moment inspired by crowd abuse.

Neither will a flailing footballer shorn of confidence suddenly be injected with wondrous self-belief upon subjection to boos and cat-calls.

It was back in November 2013 when Ertl was shamefully booed by a number of Fratton Park supporters as he prepared to replace hamstring-victim Simon Ferry against Exeter.

This was a whole-hearted and honest player who gave his all on the pitch and was a credit to his profession off it. He also continues to do so after retirement.

So much for the clichéd theory that supporters will resolutely back hard-working footballers who don’t shirk a tackle and give 100 per cent.

Then take Bennett, a player attracting criticism so early in his Blues career, irrespective of having provided the most assists to date this season.

The 25-year-old possesses the bravery to crave the ball, he is prepared to take attacking risks in the attempt to create. He does not hide nor seek the safe option.

Inevitably, Bennett won’t succeed at times, his determination to attack the opposition ensuring he tiptoes along the line of failure and brilliance.

As for effort, his work-rate is hugely impressive. Regardless, he has become the go-to player for criticism.

Not that Cook is naive to negative supporter reaction, his Chesterfield side were booed off in April 2004 after Newport had grabbed an 83rd-minute equaliser. They were third at the time.

Similarly, when Swindon inflicted a 3-0 defeat in October 2014, it represented only a second home loss in more than a year. Cue more boos.

Anyhow, the last word belongs to Mr HW Hollier of 136 Highland Road, Southsea, whose letter was published in the aforementioned Sports Mail.

‘I left Fratton Park on Wednesday night feeling disgusted,’ he wrote.

‘I had been watching (Ron) Newman playing football for 90 minutes. He gave us skill, craft, speed and stamina throughout the whole match.

‘He laid on goals for Harris and almost scored twice. He was knocked down and thrown in all directions but he kept going.

‘Yet on leaving the ground after the match loud mouths were acclaiming to the crowd “He ain’t got no class”, “He’s rubbish” and so on.

‘What do they want?’

Pompey had beaten Aston Villa 5-2 at Fratton Park on that Wednesday.

The scorer of all five goals? Peter Harris.