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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 11:22 GMT
War of words spices up FA Cup tie
Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe and Portsmouth's Milan Mandaric
Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric may have called a truce with Southampton counterpart Rupert Lowe, but their recent war of words has spiced up their FA Cup fourth-round tie.

Mandaric admitted "a few harsh words were exchanged" when Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore prompted Lowe to give him a call following their public fall-out.

But what makes the bout all the more intriguing is that until recently, the pair were on good terms.

Few local rivalries are as intense as that on the south coast and at times down the years, it has been downright dirty and nasty.

It shows we actually get on quite well
Saints chairman Rupert Lowe

Football has been the main outlet for an inter-city rivalry which goes much deeper historically, socially and geographically.

When Pompey returned to the top-flight last season, holding out the leafiest olive branches were chairmen Lowe and Mandaric, both preaching a brand of friendly rivalry, epitomised by their own buddy-buddy relationship.

Ahead of their first meeting since 1996, Mandaric said: "Rupert and I have a friendly relationship and we want supporters to be just as friendly.

"You can be rivals but we want it to be a friendly rivalry," said Mandaric as he was pictured with his hands in mock stranglehold round Lowe's throat, while the Saints chairman went along and mugged it up for the camera.

In keeping with that spirit, Lowe and Mandaric met regularly and as the new boy, Mandaric learned much on Southampton's infrastructure as an established Premiership club.

Southampton boss Harry Redknapp drives out of Fratton Park
Harry Redknapp drives out of Fratton Park and into a row

But fast-forward a year, and it is a different picture. The catalyst for the Solent sea-change was Harry Redknapp's decision to join Southampton two weeks after walking out on Portsmouth.

It raised Mandaric's hackles, especially when Redknapp returned to raid the cupboard for assistant Jim Smith and coach Kevin Bond.

Beneath the public shoulder-shrugging acceptance that Redknapp's resignation left him free to take up another job, Mandaric is said to be convinced the two events are linked by some sleight of hand from Lowe.

The first wedge in the relationship appeared when Mandaric accused Lowe of a lack of courtesy for not informing him of Redknapp's appointment.

Lowe would have felt he had no reason to tell the Pompey chairman of his hiring of a free agent.

"Rupert Lowe did not have the decency as a chairman to a fellow chairman to talk to me about it," complained Mandaric. "He should have picked up the phone out of courtesy when he decided to take Harry."

Mandaric was not miffed enough to turn away Saints 2m for Nigel Quashie and Lowe said the transfer was "conducted amicably and shows we actually get on quite well".

But the relationship plummeted into what divorce lawyers call "an irretrievable breakdown" after a spell of Chinese Whispers.

With friends like him, who needs enemies?
Pompey chairman Milan Mandaric

Mandaric went ballistic at reports of Lowe claiming the Quashie sale was prompted by the Pompey chairman's waning interest and a desire to recoup some of the near 30m he has spent.

The Saints chairman was never publicly quoted and whether it was the leaked result of a private conversation, it was enough for the fiery Serb to launch a tirade.

"I've spent more on petty cash than Rupert Lowe has spent on players," he said.

"The only time I would ask him for advice is if I want to buy a hockey club, as that is his field of expertise.

"We'll see which club spends more in the transfer market," said Mandaric, whose parting shot was: "With friends like him, who needs enemies?"

Ironically, at a time when the two chairmen are at each other, the vast majority of supporters have decided they can live together.

Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric and Southampton manager Harry Redknapp
Milan and Harry kiss and make up

It has became a tradition for supporters groups to play a pre-clash football match, while relationships built and blossomed on the BBC's 606 message boards have seen red and blue get together for numerous fund-raising charity events.

Hampshire Police has said it is not unduly concerned about the spat and will not be feeling any collars or issuing any warnings.

It all seems so sad and unnecessary, the bridge built with olive branches, handshakes and goodwill looks to have collapsed.

And instead of an 18-mile gap between the clubs, the state of unease appears to have left a gulf between the two chairmen.


WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Portsmouth coach Joe Jordan


Interview: Southampton goalkeeper Antti Niemi



SEE ALSO
Southampton v Portsmouth
27 Jan 05 |  FA Cup
Mandaric reveals anger with Lowe
26 Jan 05 |  Portsmouth



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