Remembering Portsmouth's Heroic 2008 FA Cup Winners Ahead of King's Lynn Tie

28 November 2020 12:45

Portsmouth Football Club has always had a special relationship with the FA Cup.

In 2008, a team led by Harry Redknapp claimed the club's second triumph and, in doing so, cemented the cup's place in the hearts of Portsmouth fans and etched Pompey into the history books of the world's oldest football competition.

Over the last decade, as Portsmouth have fallen down the football ladder, cup football hasn't been considered a priority by the array of managers that have taken the helm at Fratton Park. However, it is undeniable that a small fire continues to burn in Portsmouth, which each FA Cup matchday bringing a breath of fresh air.

This subconscious passion for the FA Cup will be awoken once more on Saturday afternoon, as Pompey welcome King's Lynn to Fratton Park for the chance to feature in the third round.

Fratton Park will play host to Portsmouth's FA Cup second round tie against King's Lynn | Harry Murphy/Getty Images

Like all FA Cup matches Pompey play, Saturday's tie will bring back the fondest of memories of the 2008 campaign, in which the Blues achieved a memorable win over one of Sir Alex Ferguson's greatest Manchester United sides in the quarter-final at Old Trafford.

The team that would later go on to win the Premier League and Champions League that season failed to progress past the FA Cup quarter finals, as a Sulley Muntari penalty past Rio Ferdinand (yes, Rio Ferdinand was in goal) snatched a 1-0 win at the Theatre of Dreams.

Speaking to 90min, the Portsmouth club doctor at the time, Nigel Sellars said: "There were no expectations at all. There was one glimmer of hope in that United had to go and play in the Champions League midweek, but when Harry walked into the changing room holding the team sheet, you could see his face sink."

Playing against a full-strength Manchester United side, Redknapp's men walked out onto the pitch, not only excited, but with an air of freedom that eventually led to a shock win. An indescribable wave of elation erupted from the Old Trafford away end and, without having the clearest of memories from that moment, Sellars recalled a 61-year-old Redknapp leaping from the dugout and running onto the turf to celebrate.

The ecstasy didn't last in the Portsmouth camp, however, as Sellars recalls: "It was definitely ours to lose from then on - there was an air of don't f*** up."

The pressure felt throughout the club was due to the fact that Portsmouth were remarkably the only top-flight side left in the competition after the quarter-finals. Barnsley and Cardiff would face each other on one side of the draw, while Pompey would face West Brom in the semi-finals.

After the victory over the Baggies, the jubilation from the Pompey contingent was met with sighs of relief from the dugout, as Sellars admits that while there was an overwhelming sense of joy, the main emotion was relief at full-time.

Relief that a 54th-minute strike from Portsmouth folk hero Nwankwo Kanu had seen them progress to the final to face Cardiff.

Nwankwo Kanu wheels away in celebration after scoring in the FA Cup semi final | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The time from the West Brom victory until the full-time whistle in the final itself was, as Sellars remembers, a rollercoaster of emotions. He recalls that, with nerves, the weeks leading up to the final were filled with excitement and a buzz that transferred onto the players in training and, as he recounts, at meal times in the hotel prior to the tie with Cardiff: "You could sense the buzz and spirit in the players for sure. I remember Hermann [Hreidarsson] doing the best Elvis impression I'd seen, standing on the tables."

However, the tension among the staff was palpable when the game rolled around; Sellars recalls one incident at half-time against the south Welsh side involving Hreidarsson: "Hermann had taken a knock to the head in the first half, and we didn't have a left-back on the bench. I was looking over his head in the changing room with Harry barking behind me: 'Can he stay on or do I need to f****** take 'im off?'"

The image of a somewhat bamboozled, red-faced Redknapp, shaking his head as if angry and yet in disbelief at the same time is easily evoked, I'm sure.

On the day, it was once again Kanu who clinched a messy winner against a tough Cardiff side, in a game that still holds the record for largest attendance at the 'new' Wembley. This time it was not so much relief, but unrivalled joy that swept everyone in blue at Mike Dean's final whistle, and celebrations continued until the bus parade in Portsmouth.

250,000 people turned out to see the squad with the FA Cup trophy. Sellars was on the bus parade: "It's something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. We were a close bunch, so there was a real feeling of togetherness, and to celebrate that with the fans will stay with me forever."

While 12 years ago it would have been seemed unimaginable for Pompey to suffer such a fall from grace, the FA Cup heroics of that 2008 Portsmouth squad has helped see the club through difficult times, with the hope that the Blues will one day be back to their previous heights.

Its importance to the club and the city cannot be overstated, and the second round tie against King's Lynn on Saturday will attract a fervent passion that the Blue Army can't help but release on FA Cup matchdays - even if they can't be in the stands just yet.

Source: 90min