There have been plenty of eulogies written about Alan McLoughlin following his sad passing earlier this month.
Some of them have already mentioned ‘the fox’ incident, so apologies to those of you who have heard about this favourite tale of mine.
It was around three in the morning when a weary and deflated Pompey team arrived back at Fratton Park following a 3-0 defeat at Stoke in the League Cup.
Macca was first team coach at the time and was attempting to wheel one of the kit trollies into the ground, only to be stopped by a security guard and told he could not go any further as pest control were dealing with foxes.
Looking ahead, and without a flicker of emotion on his face, the Blues legend retorted: “Do I look like a fox?” He then continued on his route along the side of the pitch and down to the dressing rooms.
Those words alone do not necessarily convey the most hilarious of put-downs. To gain the maximum effect, you have to be familiar with Macca’s deadpan expressions and dry sense of humour. Then the ribs should begin to be tickled.
I’m not renowned for laughing out loud, but when manager Andy Awford relayed the tale a couple of days later, I resembled an imbecilic hyena chained to a cannister of laughing gas.
It became a standing joke between us – even after he left the club. I would not say we had a long friendship and, unlike others, I cannot recall the first time we had a meaningful conversation.
I was there to watch him score that famous FA Cup quarter-final winner against Nottingham Forest and hit a hat-trick against Blackburn, as well as being proudly present inside New Jersey’s Giants Stadium when he represented Republic of Ireland in a World Cup clash with Norway.
It was not until his return as a coach, however, that I got to know a man who I once saw exiting the hospital with new-born daughter in arms before we were even on nodding terms.
I mention that only because it reminds me of an apt saying: “Strangers are merely friends we have yet to meet.”
Our interactions became more regular through several interviews and I found him to be an absolute dream – simply pose the first question, then sit back and let him do the rest.
This included that depressing night in Aldershot, when the club suffered a first ever competitive defeat against non-league opposition.
At a time when most people associated with the Blues found words difficult to come by, his honest and epic assessment flowed like a raging river that had burst its banks.
Prior to this, I had already resolved to right a wrong from his playing days after learning how, with 10 years of service approaching, he had been royally stitched up over a testimonial match that was written into his contract.
You only have to delve into one of Neil Allen’s acclaimed series of books to discover generations of former Pompey stars who served us so well, only to leave with bitterness and resentment over broken promises about money.
But I realised that, in this instance, we could do something to correct the injustice – and, by the way, without even a hint of encouragement from the man himself.
Within the confines of a fan-owned club, the timing was perfect and following several weeks of meetings, Macca was granted what should have been his many years earlier.
Looking back, I’m relievded that it happened, having previously learnt of the struggles of boyhood heroes like Albert McCann and Colin Garwood to gain their own deserved recognition.
Over lunch, a grateful Macca presented me with one his prized Ireland caps. It’s something that moves me to this very day and takes pride of place alongside my diplomas in social sciences and counselling.
If only we could effectively treat cancer – in all its variants – with a couple of jabs, then he would still be here with us.
One thing is for sure, when Alan McLoughlin reached those pearly gates, he would have found the foxes running around freely and no hard stare or withering sarcasm needed to induce Peter into granting him access.