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14 June 2014

Boss on the challenges that lie ahead

Andy Awford is well aware that his honeymoon period will not last forever.

Pompey’s transformation in the final seven games of last season resulted in five wins, two draws and 18 goals scored.

It also saw the feel-good factor return to Fratton Park following a largely turgid and uninspiring campaign.

Not only did those matches see the very real threat of dropping out of the Football League averted, but it was done in a cavalier fashion that made a mockery of what went before.

When Pompey kick-off the 2014/15 campaign, Awford will start with the clean slate and a side that he has assembled and prepared.

But just as at the start of last season – and even more so after those seven games – expectation will be high among the Fratton faithful.

The manager himself is under no illusions about the challenge ahead or the fickle nature that is inherent in football.

However, he has no qualms about leaving a more secure position overseeing the academy for his current, more precarious, position.

There might be days when things do not go to plan for Pompey, with the possibility of frustrating trips home from the north or periods without a win.

But if those eventualities come to pass then Awford is adamant that his side will at least show plenty of fortitude and commitment.

“I’ve had five wins, two draws and a summer break, so I’m wise enough to know I’m still in the honeymoon period,” he muses. “Of course I don’t want to envisage there will be tough days or periods, but we will inevitably lose games.

“For me it is important how we lose because there is a right way and a wrong way to be defeated in a game. By that, I mean as long as we come off the pitch having given absolutely everything, but have been beaten by the better team, then we have to accept that and take it with dignity.

“If we lose to a dodgy refereeing decision then people know me and I will be ranting and raving at that. The popular saying is that these things even themselves out over a season, but I’m not sure it does personally. However, if that happens then it does.

“But there is the flip side of losing in the right manner and if that happens then it is something I will need to address. 

“I am trying to instil the mentality into players about the right way to lose, but essentially I want everyone to think positive and that’s how we will treat every game. 

“Of course people have posed to me that staying with the academy would have afforded a lot more security than managing the first team. But I turn that on its head by saying I may be managing in the Championship two years from now so you never know.

“For me coming into management was the right time and I’m confident for the future given those around me.”

When Awford departed football following two decades of playing and coaching at various levels, he thought it was a chapter that was closed for good.

In 2006 he turned up at Oxford as assistant to his old mentor Jim Smith after differences with the Fratton Park hierarchy.

But with United plummeting from the Football League and then failing to come straight back the next season he entered a more stable environment in Civvy Street, reinventing himself as a PE teacher.

Awford could at least stay in touch with life at Pompey in his role as match analyst for local radio. 

The fact he still had a physical presence at Fratton Park was probably critical in the most unexpected of returns which has now led to the managerial hot seat.

“When I went out of the word at Pompey I didn’t see eye to eye with the regime and I didn’t agree with what they were doing,” explains Awford. “So I left and had a year at Oxford with Jim Smith, which was an experience, and then further time at Bognor, which I Ioved.

“Some might say the Oxford situation was on par with what I faced at Pompey. I went there with six games to go in the season, they ultimately went out of the league on the final day and it wasn’t nice.

“But the parallel there was that with seven games to go at Pompey I knew we were staying up, while at Oxford I always felt it was touch and go.

“The following season we were running away with the Conference then had a tough spell, fell away and ended up losing in the play-offs, so it really doesn’t bear thinking about ending up down there.

“Eventually I went into the world of PE and my only thought then was moving up the rungs and one day ending up as head of department.

“Football couldn’t have been further from my mind with respect to working back within it and I was looking forwards.

“I was keeping my hand in as a BBC Radio Solent analyst on match days and it was Steve Cotterill who had a chat with me about coming back and looking after the academy. 

“Until then coming back to football had not crossed my mind, but I suppose the change in ownership paved the way for me. Had the old hierarchy remained I wouldn’t have been back because there would have been issues that were impossible to resolve.

“But we now have a board of directors and senior people at the club who are a pleasure to work with and doing things the right way. They are honest people trying to make things right at the club, like we all are, and moving things forward.

“I turned down the managerial position previously and this time round I wouldn’t have done it if it didn’t feel right.

“With the strong financial year the club has just had and the right people in place, I do have a strong feeling that the club is ready to move forward and if I can lead that then it is as proud as it gets for me.

“If it doesn’t go well it won’t be for the want of trying and if it does then we’ll have a party and make sure we celebrate in style. I’m ready for both scenarios.”

So a journey into the unknown begins, but Awford’s confidence and man-management are factors that give early signs of a trip in the right direction.

In Part Four: Andy talks about the importance of Pompey having a place to call home and why his relationship with the club’s hierarchy is so important.

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