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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Chimes could be a-changing
By John May

Pompey fans celebrate their promotion to the Premiership
Pompey's long top-flight exile is over
Portsmouth's Premiership promotion will light the blue touch paper under one of football's most intense local rivalries.

Manchester, Merseyside, Glasgow and north London showdowns are generally reckoned to be the ones played out in football hotbeds.

But when Southampton and Portsmouth slug it out for south coast supremacy for the first time in the Premiership, the rivalry will be as intense as any.

It is a rivalry whose flavour has intensified for years of stewing.

The pain in a Manchester or Merseyside derby is eased by the knowledge that the opportunity for revenge will come around quickly.

Portsmouth's long exile from the top flight has given them all too little opportunity to knock Saints off their perch.

James Beattie, Godon Strachan and Brett Ormerod
Messrs Beattie, Strachan and Ormerod are waiting...

Even Pompey's win at The Dell in January 1988 left Saints fans laughing last and longest as Pompey were relegated at the end of their only season in the top flight since 1960.

Since then, a 3-0 FA Cup win at The Dell in 1996 only allowed Saints to keep their boot on the back of Pompey's neck, nobbling the Blue half of Hampshire's attempts to tilt the balance of power.

For almost two generations Pompey fans have had to live on memories of the days when Portsmouth were English football's powerhouse, winning back-to-back League Championships in 1948-49 and 1949-50.

Since being relegated from the top flight in 1960, Pompey's long, slow slide into a decline that at times approached terminal, coincided with Saints rise.

Saints won the Division Three title in 1960, and passed Pompey on the escalator the following season, since when they have been the top dogs on the South Coast.

Southampton won top-flight status in 1966 and even during the hiccup of relegation in 1974, Saints managed to lord it over their neighbours.

A few days before their FA Cup win in 1976, a 1-0 win at Fratton Park sent Pompey down to Division Three.

Pompey's Jimmy Carter and Saints Jason Dodd in 1996 FA Cup action
Saints came out on top in the 1996 FA Cup clash

Saints unbroken sequence of 25 top-flight seasons is bettered only by Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton.

During that time, Pompey achieved the ignominious feat of being the first Football League champions to plunge into Division Four.

For all their dislike of their neighbours, Pompey fans could only admire the way Saints were run.

While Portsmouth bumbled along from one financial disaster to another, Saints were run on efficient lines by a gentlemanly cool-headed clique of landowners, accountants and local businessmen.

Since the mid-70s when Southampton businessman John Deacon's failure to get elected on to Southampton's board saw him fly off down the M27 in a fit of pique, Pompey have always been something of a rich man's plaything.

Deacon in turn sold out to Jim Gregory who passed control on to his son Martin.

Pompey invited further sniggering from up the M27 when Gregory failed to sell the club to then chairman Terry Venables for a nominal 1.

Former Pompey chairman Terry Venables
Venables was offered Pompey for a pound

Pompey fans faced more bullet-biting during their darkest hour when they were placed into administration. At the same time, Saints were announcing plans to start work on their new stadium.

Portsmouth found their white knight in the shape of Milan Mandaric, a Serbian-born American millionaire with a passion to own a football club.

To Pompey fans chagrin, Saints have always managed to stay just one jump ahead.

While Pompey's plans to move into a new stadium were thwarted by a flock of geese, Saints upped sticks to the spanking new St Mary's Stadium.

And it verged on spiteful that Saints have managed to take the gloss off Pompey's promotion by reacing the FA Cup final.

The world watches when Merseyside, Manchester and Glasgow slug it out.

Saints and Pompey may be more private, but it will be just as passionate an affair.



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