This week I had a quite surreal but pretty damn good start to 2014. On Wednesday I did something I always wanted to do – call a Portsmouth Football Club match for radio. When I was growing up I didn’t want to be a professional footballer but I did want to be around the game and in turn around my club. However there was one big caveat to that – I was calling it for radio in Southend and for presumptive Southend fans. Therefore my bias couldn’t be towards the club of my youth. Well I say that, I should rephrase, my voice should not show my bias.
It was also nice as a long time friend was in the commentary box calling the game for ExpressFM in Portsmouth, Bunky Bowers. I have known Bunky for well over a decade, going back to the days of when he was the press officer for Portsmouth and I was writing the Portsmouth page of fromtheterrace.co.uk, now fansfc.com and a completely different style of website. I was but a teenager back then. Oh those were the days.
So anyway I remember sitting there and wondering where my loyalties exactly lay. I am from Portsmouth and they have always been my team but I haven’t seen them play in person since the 2008 FA Cup Final. I haven’t lived south of London since 2009. Since then I have lived in Southend and commentated on their games for the past few seasons.
I was co-commentating and the lead commentator asked me on air where my bias lay and I said that I knew who the audience were so I’d be calling it that way. It isn’t a secret that Portsmouth are my team, it is often spoken about. I have however grown to support Southend to some degree due to the fact I live here, they are the team in the local paper every day and of course I call their games. I think it’d be hard not to grow a soft spot for a team in those circumstances.
As the game started though, I knew firmly where my heart was and it was with the 998 away fans and I was in my head rooting hard for Pompey. I did however keep in pretty straight on air and having spoken to those who heard it since, they agree I came over as neutral, which I said I’d do. I would call it straight down the line. I couldn’t actively root for Southend in this one.
Pompey started fast and were terrific early. I feared a heavy defeat before the game but it was wave after wave of Pompey attack. Jed Wallace, who seems very highly rated had John White in his pocket in the first half. He was outstanding. Crosses kept coming in, but not meh league two crosses, dangerous crosses and young Dan Bentley in the Southend goal pulled off a string of fine saves. That kid has real potential to move up the leagues in the coming years. Several corners were whipped in and caused Southend all manner of problems and finally a goal came from one, Sonny Bradley stabbing home. It was no less than Pompey deserved.
Phil Brown though didn’t wait until half-time to make a change and he went 4-4-2 and just before the stroke of the interval, Ryan Leonard, who had the best game by far I’ve seen him have in a Southend shirt, saw his effort deflected and send Trevor Carson the wrong way. It was very much against the run of play. The only other real chance in the first half for the home side was another Leonard run, from a Pompey corner where he ran the length of the pitch before being knackered by the time he went to take his shot. 1-1 at the break.
At this point I want out that Bunky turned down the free media sausage roll not once, but twice…and then after being asked, ‘are you sure?’ he took it and scoffed it double quick. I expected nothing less from Bunky.
Second half it was more even but Southend had more of the ball but weren’t creating the guilt edged opportunities to win it. Pompey looked very dangerous on the break and had a couple of big chances. When Jed Wallace cut in from the left and fired a shot that Dan Bentley just watched go past, I sprung up from my seat and gesticulated wildly as it smashed back off the bar. The people to my right outside the commentary box told me to calm down.
Then it happened. Deep in injury time Ryan Leonard drove a shot low and hard into the bottom corner and Southend won it. My co-commentator leapt from his seat as he enthusiastically called the winner for the home side. I stayed rigid in my position with my arm folded. As he summed up the goal call I then had to sound excited as I described the goal and I think I did it pretty well considering how disappointed I was inside. Pompey were very impressive and didn’t deserve to lose but Southend did what good sides do and won games they probably didn’t deserve.
For the rest of the season, for whatever games I’m down to do I’ll very much be in the pro-Southend camp. I want them to succeed not only because of having a soft spot for them, but also long-term in they get promoted then it raises the chances of the new stadium being built and that would mean a new commentary position, with possibly more room and maybe even not having pillars in the way that block our view.
All in all though it was a great advert for league two and a thoroughly enjoyable game to commentate on. Hopefully in the future they’ll be more Southend v Pompey games. It was great to finally meet a long time friend and then bumped into one or two other Pompey related friends. It was quite a surreal experience but it did show me that despite all the nonchalance I’ve had about Pompey due to the menagerie of interesting owners, my heart is still very much with the club and here’s hoping their stay in the bottom tier of league football is as short of possible.
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