Great Expectations

Neville Dalton looks ahead to Pompey’s new season. You can catch his excellent coverage of Ladies football including Pompey Ladies on Twitter @pompeynev and at

We’re going to win the league. Apparently. That’s what they’re all saying. 

From blog to forum to good old-fashioned pub, the talk is that after a couple of (oh, OK, half a dozen) years of under-achieving, Pompey are finally going to live up to expectations and take the League Two title that we* all said we were going to take last season (and some of us* even the season before).

It really is different this time. Apparently. We’re signing player after player of proven pedigree. Players who have not only done the business in this division and know how to get out of it, but players who can hack it at an even higher level.

Like Brian Howard (“best player in League One”). Like Lee Williamson (“second-best player in League One” – well, you know what I mean). Jake Jervis?

Or more recently, Simon Ferry, Andy Barcham, Tom Craddock, Ben Chorley and Joe Devera, all of whom arrived at Fratton with the familiar whiff of hype not far behind them – in fact, in this rapid-fire world of the internet, usually ahead of them – and all of whom justified their impressive billing with varying degrees of credibility.

That’s not to criticise any of them. By and large, it wasn’t they who were building themselves up as the club’s saviours, around whom a successful Pompey side would be built.

In fact, many* rated the likes of Ferry even during his shortish stay, and most would agree Devera has worked his way into many fans’ affections with a series of reliable performances, during which he’s often been the pick of an inconsistent bunch of defenders.

But none of them really lived up to the hype. And certainly, none of them led Portsmouth Football Club back towards the Promised Land.

And yet, a year – or two, or three – on, and I’m reading and hearing the same things. Adam McGurk is an excellent signing, apparently, according to a journalist who covers his former club, Burton Albion.

I don’t doubt he has ability. But he was also inconsistent and could appear lazy, according to the same journalist – not traits that will go down particularly with Pompey’s fickle fans (oh yes we are) if the promise he has shown thus far does not surface instantly at Fratton.

Gary Roberts is the bee’s knees. A star in League One surely destined for the Championship rather than good old Pompey.

Many of us will have seen him perform impressively, either in person or via the various means at our disposal these days. And he has earned a decent reputation by delivering on the pitch, in goals and assists (as they insist on calling them).

Kyle Bennett, a man who knows how to win promotion. Just what we need. And he has unbelievable ability, according to his former team-mate at Doncaster Rovers, Brian Stock. Although his lack of consistency has held him back.

Inconsistent? Where have we heard that before?

Christian Burgess? Another coup.

Indeed, let’s throw our new manager, Paul Cook, the man who has attracted all these players to the club before he has even overseen a game here, into the mix.

He’s the man most fans seemed to want as manager. Again, that proven track record was the clincher with most onlookers.

And I must admit, his Chesterfield side were the best – and most attractive – side I saw at Fratton Park in the campaign before last.

So where’s the problem?

I’m not sure there is one. Certainly, I hope not.

But we* fans seem to have short memories. We’ve been disappointed more often than we’ve been delighted, particularly in recent seasons, yet we* insist on seizing on summer signings as the breakthrough we’ve needed to get back to where we belong (wherever that actually is).

The News’s excellent Steve Wilson made some good points in his column earlier this month that when it comes to players from the lower levels of the Football League, most of our judgments on new signings are made on the back of the flimsiest second- or even third-hand evidence.

Of highlights packages or on the view put around on social media (or maybe even still in the pub) which, after a retweet or two (or a second shandy) becomes the definitive.

And let’s face it, even at higher levels, that midfield supremo with Standard Liege or Athletic Bilbao, who was going to “walk” the Premier League, often has a culture shock when he joins Newcastle United or Hull City and never hacks it in the chilly English game.

I know less than most Pompey fans, who take to the ether to impart their knowledge on the rest of us, about other teams in the lower leagues, and I’m happy to accept that this group of signings that Cook has made, courtesy of a generous Pompey board, sound very promising indeed.

But good on paper – even good for their previous clubs – guarantees nothing. Time, attitude and a hell of a lot of work on the training pitch will go some way to moulding their – and Pompey’s – futures.

And even if many work out, the law of averages suggests some will fall by the wayside. Not since Harry Redknapp’s radical overhaul in 2002/03 have the bulk of Portsmouth Football Club’s signings gelled and flourished.

Personally, I don’t mind either way. If they play anywhere near the style Cook’s Chesterfield did, and if they have the application, endeavour and pride in playing for Pompey that Fratton Park expects, I’ll be satisfied.

It’s all about expectation. And despite possible appearances, I’m not a pessimist. I just hate being disappointed, love to be pleasantly surprised.

I haven’t had enough of that feeling over my near-50 years of watching Pompey, and I’ll be delighted if 2015/16 turns into another 2002/03.

If it doesn’t, life will go on and no doubt Cook will find work elsewhere while Pompey bring in another highly regarded manager who will recruit some top, top players at this level.

I just worry how Portsmouth’s long-suffering supporters who are adamant that this really is the year will react.

*Author’s personal disclaimer, as I never – ever – thought any of those things