Chester 0 Pompey 1 on the final day of the 1980-81 season will be remembered by very few given it was a meaningless end of season encounter as the Blues ambled in at sixth place for the first season back in Division 3 following their first ever exile in the basement.
Years later the mundane nature of this contest actually beings home the significance of today’s play-off system when you realise that in comparison the game might have been etched on the memories of every Pompey fan alive at that time.
For in different circumstances the win would have edged Pompey into the play-offs along with Charlton, Huddersfield and Chesterfield with the 2,153 gate at the now defunct Sealand Road that day doubled, maybe even trebled.
David Gregory whose 80th minute goal signed off the meaningless encounter and season would have been seen as a hero. The goal would have been seen as equally heroic, and the campaign would have extended another month leaving Pompey two matches from Wembley.
How did we ever get on without the play-offs? Well as it happens we got on like this with meaningless encounters long forgotten and containing no memories.
For a first season back this was by no means a bad effort though many were disappointed by the eventual finish, which again the play off scenario would have allayed at least temporarily.
Therefore for the highlight of this particular season we had to, uncharacteristically in Pompey’s case, look to the League Cup which consumed us over seven mostly enthralling matches.
After accounting for fellow third division side Plymouth over two legs in the first round Pompey did the same to second division Oldham.
It should be noted that absolutely nothing has changed over 36 years. The first leg at Boundary Park which Oldham won 3-2 drew a crowd of 5,251. The second leg at Fratton Park which saw Pompey triumph 1-0 drew 18,549.
They triumphed by virtue of away goals on an emotional night courtesy of Joe Laidlaw at one end and keeper Peter Mellor at the other who I will return to later as one of the main subjects in this article.
Meanwhile it was then on to Bristol Rovers where Pompey fans present can claim the unique honour of watching a Rovers v Pompey clash at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate-in a goalless draw.
Come the replay, legs being only for the early rounds, it was already known that the winners of this would travel to domestic and European giants Liverpool which set the scene for another emotion soaked evening under the lights at Fratton Park.
Cue another 18,000 + crowd who roared Pompey on and when Steve Perrin’s 90 th minute clincher added to David Gregory’s early opener the roar could probably be heard on Merseyside.
I’ve often thought that that the Perrin goal and the guy himself deserved more prestige all these years later such was its importance and significance at the time. But like Gregory’s at Chester it’s very much finding the person who still remembers it when the Liverpool match is ever discussed.
A game where the ticker tape welcome resembled a snow-storm in which half the 32,000 crowd must have been Pompey fans present in every area of the ground baring the Kop.
I will always remember the trip to Liverpool in a bitter-sweet kind of way. On boarding the special at Havant my cans of lager were confiscated then stolen from a siding at Lime Street by the time I got back.
Getting back was indeed problematic in itself. On the trek from Anfield to Lime Street, roughly three miles, I was jumped on by a set of Liverpool fans who emerged from the top of a bus. They were pretty gentle with me but it wasn’t long before I realised my wallet had gone. Hence maybe reason for their generosity.
A 4-1 defeat with no alcohol and now no money had not been my planned itinerary for the day and looking back it was a mercy that it came before the age of the credit card when I could have potentially lost a little more than the £20 within, though this was not an insignificant amount in those days.
When the wallet arrived back through my letterbox a few days later in an envelope with a Liverpool post mark I was hugely excited on discovering the content within.
It had been sent back by Liverpool City Council who had found the wallet in their car park and were alerted by a medical prescription inside carrying my name and address. Obviously the thief had either not seen any great need for a month’s supply of penicillin or had been hit by a pang of conscience.
Humbled by the thought that someone generous and thoughtful enough actually existed in Liverpool to pay the second class stamp and return the wallet I opened it to discover that any pang of conscience had had not run as far as four £5 notes which had been replaced by one worthless written note which simply said: “Thanks mate.”
And so to Peter Mellor the distinctive blonde keeper who like most could be either brilliant or embarrassing.
My first recollection of him was collecting his sticker for a soccer album many years before when he was at Burnley.
I was at the 1975 FA Cup final when he twice spilled the ball into the path of Alan Taylor to present West Ham with a 2-0 win over Fulham at Wembley.
Only two weeks previous to that he had been in action against Pompey in a 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage on one of those enjoyable spring afternoons down by the River Thames.
Little could I imagine back then that he would become part of my most audacious project which came in Peter’s first season at the club when I was on a government run course at Chichester College.
It was one of those dead end courses foisted upon you which were not really designed to lead anywhere other than a six month release from being an official unemployment statistic.
As part of the course we each had to devise a social media project and I decided to interview Peter Mellor even though I’d never met him up close.
The easiest thing might have been to contact the club but as the weeks went by with this unresolved and the completion date coming closer I decided to pull a bit of what I thought to be a master stroke.
When I was a kid I used to mimic radio interviews where I would be both the interviewer and interviewee.
I decided that I could easily mimic the Lancastrian tones of Mellor so my project consisted of me asking question, then me giving answers in a different voice.
“So Peter how are you enjoying your time at Pompey”?
“Well Johnny It’s been great, this is a fantastic club with great supporters” (spoken in a deep Manchester accent.)
It sounded quite authentic to me after about the tenth attempt but come the time of playing it back to the whole class and tutors it sounded far less so.
As it boomed out on my Sanyo cassette recorder the size of a large transistor radio I really wanted the ground to open as I stared downwards throughout.
The Manchester accent was probably slightly less convincing than the plan itself which to me sounded exactly what it was. Me interviewing me.
Nothing was said but the plot thickened a week or so later when I was went to a three monthly review with one of the course supervisors.
It was a Scottish guy called Jim O’ Kane who unbeknown to me had another position. Can you believe he was assistant to Stan Harland who was then Pompey’s youth coach? You couldn’t have made it up.
Years later I got to know Jim really well but back then he just told me that perhaps the course wasn’t for me and the temporary blip in unemployment figures was slightly tweaked to the detriment of the Conservatives.
As it was a very basic course that I was really totally unsuited to I can never be sure whether my contrived interview was one of the decisive factors as around three others also departed.
But I always wondered if Jim had ever asked Mellor himself about the interview? It will remain one of the things I will never discover as by the time we did become acquainted some twenty years later Jim had forgotten the incident or indeed my existence at Chichester College. Or though I did relate it to much amusement.
Neither did it close there. Towards the end of the season and into the summer my sister’s June wedding was coming closer onto the horizon.
Imagine my surprise when she announced that the man she was hiring a white Rolls Royce off for the occasion was no other than Pompey’s keeper.
Among the many side-lines he had Mellor also ran a car hire business so I went over to his West Wittering home with the bride to be.
It will always go down in history as the first Pompey player’s house I ever went inside and as he offered me a beer from the fridge I couldn’t escape the irony of the situation.
There I was sitting in a house and drinking the beer of a man whose soccer sticker I had proudly stuck in my album aged 10 and then made the unwitting subject of a bogus interview aged 19. What a truly marvellous web life can weave.
It was actually the first and last time I saw Peter Mellor as he would depart Pompey usurped by a certain young keeper called Alan Knight who I wasn’t too sure about back then.
1980-81 had been a season where I found myself £20 and a vast number of beers lighter, deprived of penicillin, temporarily removed from the countries official statistics and sat in the house and white rolls of a Pompey player
Had only they had invented the play-off system back then it would have put the icing on a season of vast extremes.