Portsmouth’s visit to Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier league today promises to be a vitriolic encounter, with both sets of fans anxious to vent their rage at hate figures in the opposition camps.
Spurs supporters have never forgiven former England center-back Sol Campbell for leaving to join bitter local rivals Arsenal more than seven years ago, while Pompey fans are still smarting from the double blow of losing manager Harry Redknapp and striker Jermain Defoe to the White Hart Lane club.
Eleven Tottenham fans were charged on Tuesday following alleged racist and homophobic chanting directed at Campbell when the two sides met earlier in the season.
Redknapp, who was Pompey boss at the time, called the chants “filth” and branded Spurs fans who joined in as “nutters.”
The Fratton Park faithful were stunned less than a month later when Redknapp seized the opportunity to take charge of the struggling north London outfit and were further enraged when he made star forward Defoe one of his first signings.
With Arsenal legend Tony Adams replacing Redknapp at Fratton Park and with both clubs desperately in need of points, a white-hot atmosphere at the Lane is almost guaranteed.
Both clubs released statements in an attempt to stamp out any potential flash-points, but all pleas could be forgotten with the first hint of on-field controversy.
“With the possibility of heightened tension we implore our traveling supporters to maintain their excellent reputation as ambassadors for Portsmouth Football Club. Please don’t let your club down,” the south coast club said.
“What’s it all about? It’s a game of football,” Redknapp said. “Racist chants or homophobic chants, there is no place in football for that.”
“What reception I should get and what reception will I get are two different things. I had six fantastic years and brought the club nothing but success,” the former West Ham boss argued. “I left them with great players. The two midfielders in the cup final last year are playing for Inter Milan and Real Madrid, that is the type of quality player I took to Portsmouth.”
One person who apparently did not read the script was England and Pompey keeper David James, who defended the right of his supporters to barrack the boss who led the south coast club to FA Cup glory last year.
“You pay your way and you are entitled to your opinion. As long as it is not racist or homophobic — give stick,” the veteran stopper said. “As Isaac Newton said, there is an equal and opposite reaction to every action.”
The home team occupy the final relegation place in the table, but are only three points behind today’s opponents, albeit having played a game more.
Despite their respective league positions, it is perhaps the Pompey fans who are most worried about their club’s situation following the managerial upheavals.
Redknapp’s arrival kick-started a Spurs revival that saw them pick up 10 points in four games, but the magic touch has deserted him of late and a last minute defeat at Wigan Athletic last week made it five games without a win.
Adams’ side have accumulated just 10 points in 12 games and are lacking firepower following the departure of Defoe, who has scored a third of their league goals.