I had the pleasure of speaking to former Portsmouth goalkeeper Alan Knight. The Legend, as Alan is known by the Pompey faithful racked up 683 appearances, playing across four decades.
He chose Portsmouth over West Ham aged 16, signing as an apprentice and remained a one club player. ‘Arsenal supposedly made a bid with the manager told me go home and await a phone call, which never came. It seemed they never agreed a price, then they went and signed John Lukic instead.’, and at the end of his career there was a chance of joining Chelsea on loan but Portsmouth wanted a loan fee.
Reflecting on his long period at the club, where he played behind so many defenders, I asked him who he thought the best was. ‘It’s difficult to name the best as I always miss someone out and then I’ll get caught by someone listening to the podcast. I had some great defenders in front of me. But then one who doesn’t always get the real recognition he deserves was Billy Gilbert who was a cultured centre-half.’
The 1991-92 season promised so much. Portsmouth were in League Two at the time, with Jim Smith managing the side. An excellent FA Cup run saw them reach the semi-finals, where they faced a fancied Liverpool side. The Liverpool side included a front three of Ian Rush, John Barnes and Michael Thomas.
The first game at Highbury ended 1-1 after extra time, with a replay to be played at Villa Park. The second game ended in a 0-0 draw, with Liverpool progressing to the final after winning on penalties. Alan remembers the games, mentioning that he regularly gets asked this question.
‘It was tough to take, I didn’t have a great deal to do during the game. I was rarely tested and the manager [Jim Smith] got the tactics spot on in both games but it just didn’t happen.’
‘Bruce Grobbelaar was certainly the busier of the two keepers over the games, he was fantastic that day and got them through. It just wasn’t to be, it was a real shame and I felt we could have beaten Sunderland in the final.’
Alan Knight played his final game for Portsmouth in 2000, and moved onto a few endeavours, including coaching in America with FC Dallas, and a managerial stint at Dorchester Town. At present, he currently works with the FA and with Portsmouth.
‘Now I’m doing all I can to help young players not put all their eggs into one basket, working with the PFA. It’s a tough business and I didn’t have any alternatives, nothing serious was an option and my focus was on playing football. I didn’t turn up for my GCSEs, as terrible at it seems. I also work in the local community and with schools. I’m involved in local projects including working in mental health, with the homeless and in attending funerals for former players. I’m also an independent judicial member for the FA, and work on things such as red card appeals, that sort of thing.’
We finished the interview by discussing Portsmouth at the moment. They won League Two on the last day of the season last year under Paul Cook, who then left to manage Wigan, to the anger of some of the supporters. Kenny Jackett has come in as the manager this season, and has done a solid job to get the side into mid-table. Alan says that it is important to focus on the stability of the club and guards against being over-ambitious.
‘Paul was always very supportive and respectful, as well as the staff he had around him. The only thing I would say is that if he had been truthful about his wages which seem to have been doubled or trebled, then he may have had more respect. Good luck to him going forward.
‘Kenny Jackett has come in for what could have been a turbulent time, but he has been very organised. First and foremost they have got to keep to the club in the division, with anything else this season being a bonus.’
There appears to be positive times ahead for Pompey. After some controversial ownership which saw them drop from the Premier League down to League Two, the fans then took over the club. Recent developments have seen former Disney CEO Michael Eisner take over the club. Alan said the following:
‘The new ownership have big plans for the infrastructure. That should be the focus rather than the playing staff. Within the last forty years, the club hasn’t has this kind of investment with everything chucked at the first team. For the Eisners to say that they will build from the bottom up will serve the club well over time. The owners aren’t stupid and will have a plan.’
Thanks to Alan Knight for taking the time to answer my questions. You can check out my interview below. You can listen to the interview in full here:
Ownership is an important factor in football at the moment, with bad ownership ruining Blackpool, Leyton Orient and numerous other Football League clubs. Portsmouth have been one of the victims, with the club dropping from the Premier League down to League Two. So far, the Eisners seem to be making the right noises and saying the right things, to the delight of the fans.
Portsmouth have acquired a very good manager in Kenny Jackett, and if he is given the time and the resource, can make the club successful. It is imperative that the fans and owners are patient and acknowledge the threats both on and off the field, rather than just looking at the riches in the leagues above. I would expect Portsmouth to be in the Championship within the next couple of years, but beyond that is impossible to call.