MONTH long contracts, precarious finances and points deduction looming. Portsmouth is not exactly the most desirable destination on England’s sporting scene.
However Michael Appleton, their long-suffering manager, has proved adept at luring supposedly disillusioned, disenfranchised but definitely talented footballers to the south coast with six current or former internationals likely to feature in the squad which faces Sheffield United tonight.
One of those, experienced defender Jon Harley, told The Star yesterday how these supposedly toxic ingredients have blended to produce such a formidable team.
“There’s a great spirit here,” Harley, previously of Sheffield United, Chelsea, Fulham and Burnley, said. “The adversity the club has been through has helped being everyone closer together.
“I can remember getting ready to go away during pre-season and there were only five senior professionals here.
“The great thing was though, still is now, is that nobody had forced any of us to be there.
“We’d walked into the situation with our eyes open so that’s why we’ve never used what’s going on off the pitch as an excuse.
“We wouldn’t have been able to.
“Basically, despite everything that was going on, we were all just proud to play for this club.
“We were all in the same situation, all facing the same challenges and that actually helped to foster a really good atmosphere in the camp.”
Portsmouth are never going to win a battle of the bank balances.
But, as administrator Trevor Birch strives to untangle them from a complicated knot of debt, Blades boss Danny Wilson acknowledges they are more than capable of scoring a victory at Bramall Lane.
While a supporters’ collective, backed by local businessman Iain McInnes, attempt to translate their preferred bidder status into a concrete buy-out of this financially stricken club, Appleton’s side travelled north having won four of its last six outings.
Tonight’s visitors might be potless. But they demand respect.
“I think we’ve been able to get a lot of really top lads in purely because it’s Portsmouth,” Harley said.
“They might not have wanted to play for, without being disrespectful, a lot of other teams in this division.
“Take Ákos Buzsáky. He was playing in the Premiership not so long ago and he just wanted to come here.
“He wasn’t bothered about the money or anything else. He just wanted to play football.”
“The people behind the scenes are working hard to make sure everything works out okay off the pitch,” Harley said. “They’ve made sure that we can come in and just focus on football.
“Hopefully everything gets sorted out and then we can start to push forward properly.”
“We all want to be around when that hopefully happens,” Harley, who made over 70 appearances for United, added. “Because people can see the potential here.”
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Lee Williamson, Brian Howard, Izale McLeod, Paul Connolly and Johannes Ertl complete Portsmouth’s collection of United veterans.
Ertl, one of eight players to depart South Yorkshire during the close season, should be assured a warm welcome from the home crowd.
Williamson’s fate, despite helping propel United to third place in last term’s table, is uncertain with him having refused the offer of a new contract three months ago.
Howard, who arrived from Barnsley in October 2008, left when circumstance prevented him from recapturing his best form.
United, averaging two points per game since August, entertain the visitors from Hampshire looking to complete a hat-trick of wins following victories over Preston North End and Walsall.
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“Portsmouth and Sheffield United are two of the biggest, probably the biggest, names in the division,” Harley, who left South Yorkshire seven years ago, said. “A lot of us played for United and all of us, to a man, have got the utmost respect for their standing.
“I’ve got a lot of affection for Sheffield United. Even if some others, for whatever reason, didn’t have the best of times in footballing terms, I know they’ve still got a lot of respect for the people there and the name.
“Brian can’t play and he’s gutted about that.
“But he’s still coming up with the rest of us and going to the game because he wants to catch up with some of the lads.
“I think it’s fair to say that when the fixtures came out that this was the first one a lot of us looked for.”