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Bryant's Blues Memories

19 August 2013

Former Pompey star recalls the last time the club competed in the bottom tier

Pompey in the fourth tier of English football is a scenario the club have only experienced twice before.

They occupied Division Four for two seasons between 1978 and 1980 – and it is not hard to find fans who reminisce fondly on their first ever visits to northern outposts like Halifax, Rochdale and Wigan.

More than three decades have passed since, but there is a Blues star from that era who can still be found lacing up his boots – albeit on the other side of the world – just two months shy of his 60th birthday.

Steve Bryant was very much an unsung hero, sandwiched between the likes of Terry ‘far post’ Brisley and skipper Joe Laidlaw in the Pompey engine room.

And yet he played 59 games more than the former and 54 more than the latter between 1978 and 1982.

In the last two years, Bryant was part of the National State League Six side Monaro in the Australian capital city of Canberra, also playing for the State Two League winners Woden.

But at the age of 25, the Londoner joined a Pompey side who – like the current one – had sunk to the bottom division.

Many, including Bryant himself, can be forgiven for having a hazy memory of his debut in March 1979 – a midweek goalless draw in front of 2,738 at Port Vale.

More memorable events happened to a couple of other Portsmouth figures that month, with Jim Callaghan ousted as Prime Minister and Blues boss Jimmy Dickinson suffering a post-match heart attack.

Meanwhile, a potential promotion charge petered out as Pompey finished seventh in their first season in Division Four.

But Bryant missed just two of the 54 league and cup matches as the Blues clinched promotion at former club Northampton on the final day of the following campaign.

After being spotted in a Middlesex schools team he started his career at Birmingham in 1971, moving to the County Ground in 1976 and playing more than 100 games before arriving at Fratton Park three years later for £20,000.

Taking up the story, Bryant recalls: “I obviously knew something about the club when I came here, but I didn’t know the town or how passionate the fans were.

“They really were the best supporters I ever played for and there were absolutely no regrets about joining Pompey.

“Stan Harland was the assistant manager to Frank Burrows at the time and I had played with him at Birmingham City.

“I was joining a club that had sunk to the basement, but were still regarded as big fish. The support was phenomenal and in my first full season I felt we were probably favourites to win the league.

“But, as everyone knows, we were actually lucky to get promoted, having to do it on the final day at my old club Northampton.

“I had no doubts we would beat them – we’d thrashed them 6-1 at Fratton Park earlier in the season.

“The problem was that our destiny was not in our own hands, with us having to rely on Peterborough bearing Bradford.

“In the end it all went right, with Peterborough winning and us doing the job at Northampton.

“To be honest, if I have one regret from that day and my time at Pompey in general it’s the fact I didn’t milk it enough.

“I had a good rapport with the fans, but I wished I’d gone round shaking a few hands and living the moment a little more.

“I can remember going up the old supporters club after games and having a drink with fans, which is how it should be. Sometimes I even had a run in with one or two, but it was all about football and opinions.

“Basically, I was a fan who had stood on a box at Highbury watching Arsenal with my dad.

“I played like a fan in the sense that I always gave 100 per cent and I think the supporters recognised and appreciated that.

“We were not on great wages in those days, but I used to think that it’s these people who pay them.

“I could perform anywhere on the left side of the pitch, but was turned into a left-back at Birmingham because of injuries to other players.

“Even then I was very much an attacking left-back and took every opportunity to get forward if the opposing right-back gave me the chance.

“At times I had a bit of an issue with Frank about having to play so far back, basically sitting deep and breaking up opposition attacks.

“Terry Brisley and Joe Laidlaw used to get the headlines because they would be bombing forward and getting on the end of things.

“At Pompey I tended to sit in front of Archie Styles or Keith Viney and didn’t have the licence to get forward.

“When our left-backs were injured I slotted back there and made a lot of appearances in that position.

“As I said, I used to have a few rows with Frank about it, but at the end of the day it was just another number on my shirt and I was happy to play wherever Pompey could use me.

“They were wonderful times and I’m shocked to see the club back in the position they were when I came to the club all those years ago.

“I never expected to see it and I feel so sorry for those wonderful supporters who have been through so much. 

“I’m sure they will find their way back up the leagues, but who knows how long it will take. At least they are in the hands of the people who care.

“Such are my feelings for the club still that if they ever say come back for a game, I will be on the first plane over there.”

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