Spurs – Pompey would ordinarily be deemed a rather tepid fixture, the sort assigned for commentary to Tony Gubba on a Saturday MOTD. Today however, the fixture carries the sort of needle more usually associated with a local derby.The return of big Sol to the Lane will have had N17’s finest clearing their throats in preparation for his usual pantomime villain treatment, and this week’s game neatly coincides with the arrest of 11 fans for singing anti-Sol songs at Fratton Park earlier in the season. While, mercifully, the homophobia will no longer be heard, rumour has it that a censored version of the Sol song is being fine-tuned in preparation for today, possibly including that most magnificent of derogatory monikers, “rotter”.
Moreover, today’s game will also be the first time ‘Arry and Defoe face their former employers, since shrugging their shoulders, eschewing loyalty and nonchalantly strolling up to the Lane with cheery one-fingered salutes at the great and good of Fratton Park, routines completed with faux astonishment at the heckling they receive from Pompey fans.
And on top of all that, just when you thought it couldn’t get any juicier, global bragging rights are at stake, as I have a mate in New Zealand who is a Pompey fan. Honestly, could the build-up to this game be any more dramatic?
While the police and clubs have officially pleaded for calm, the self-styled Descartes of the Premiership, David James, has rather stuck a spanner in the works by urging Portsmouth’s travelling support to give ‘Arry and Defoe some grief, a call to arms which will have security staff at the Lane rolling their eyes and cursing under their breath.
Ever since insisting he had Zidane’s last-minute free-kick covered and then freezing on the spot as it sailed past him, at Euro 2004, I’ve had an axe to grind with James. He probably is quite thoughtful and intelligent, but he acts in all sincerity like he’s a Nobel prize-winner. Memorably, on a Rio Ferdinand wind-up, he waxed lyrical about a painting of a house, and specifically the symbolism of its over-sized windows, before being told it had been painted by a 5 year-old. Why can’t he just stick to football? It’s like going to a U2 concert and hearing that Bono chap rant on about how in third world countries there are 18 dying kids living in a mud-hut with only a beetle to eat between now and Christmas. Fair point, but the punters are paying to hear Angel of Harlem and other late 80’s classics. If they wanted to save the world they’d stop washing and go on protest marches, not attend U2 concerts.
David James’ self-importance has rubbed off on his boss, Tony Adams, who also likes to try throwing in the odd philosophical platitude when being interviewed on his appalling managerial record. Heaven knows what the team-talks at Portsmouth are like. So in the build-up to today’s game James has gone and made the sort of remarks that would land Joe F*cking Kinnear with a disrepute charge – but being David James he’s got away with it. With his battle-cry ringing in the ears of Pompey fans, and Sol making his latest return to the Lane, the noise from the stands ought to be pretty fiery today.
Oh that the Spurs players would display that sort of frenzied aggression. How pleasing it would be if they picked up where they left off against Burnley. Instead I fear that we’ll be outfought and outfoxed in midfield by footballing luminaries of the ilk of Kaboul and Nugent, prompting ‘Arry to blame the players, stewards, groundstaff and any other remnants of the old regime.