IN PRO­FILE

Chris Dunlavy looks at the ca­reer of Portsmouth leg­end Andy Aw­ford

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Chris Dunlavy

THERE is never a good time to break your leg. But for Andy Aw­ford, it re­ally couldn’t have been any worse.

It was Septem­ber 28 1994, when Aw­ford, then 22 and Portsmouth’s star de­fender, went for a 50-50 with West Brom’s hulk­ing cen­tre-back Gary Strod­der and snapped his leg in four places.

Two years ear­lier, Aw­ford had been one of a glut of home-grown young­sters who had cap­tured the na­tion by tak­ing Liver­pool all the way to an FA Cup semi-fi­nal re­play, los­ing only in a penalty shoot-out.

A year af­ter that, those same play­ers took Pom­pey to within a sin­gle point of pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier League.

And one by one those stars were plucked away. Dar­ren An­der­ton, the el­dest and bright­est, joined Spurs for £1.75m im­me­di­ately af­ter the Cup run.

Kit Sy­mons went to Man City, Dar­ryl Pow­ell to Derby. Aw­ford, an Eng­land Un­der-21 in­ter­na­tional, was the last, and the scouts pep­per­ing Frat­ton Park sug­gested the Pre­mier League was an in­evitabil­ity.

But in the split sec­ond it took Strod­der to mis-time his chal­lenge, it be­came an im­pos­si­bil­ity. It was 1996 when Aw­ford even­tu­ally re­turned, his pace di­min­ished and mo­bil­ity gone. And in 2000, he quit the game aged just 28.

“There were four of us back then who had all had a bit of a nib­ble from Pre­mier League clubs,” he says.“It was a spe­cial crop that earned the club mil­lions. They were all sold for for­tunes and I’m the only one who ended up cost­ing the club money!

“In the end, I didn’t re­tire or take an in­sur­ance pay-off. It was just my body telling me it had had enough. My right knee was a mess and I’d had a neck prob­lem since the start of the sea­son. Truth is, if I had gone to an­other club I doubt I wouldn’t have passed the med­i­cal.

“It is a re­gret giv­ing up play­ing. It has been a great life and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

If there is a sav­ing grace, it’s that Aw­ford at least started early. A trainee at Pom­pey, he played part-time for Worces­ter City and in 1987, aged just 15 years and 88 days, came on as a sub­sti­tute against Bore­ham Wood to be­come the youngest player in FA Cup his­tory – a record that stands to this day.

“I was a school­boy play­ing against men, but I think I held my own and it was good ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Aw­ford. “It taught me very early what the game is re­ally about.” Less than two years later he was at it again, Pom­pey boss John Gre­gory mak­ing 16-year-old Aw­ford the club’s youngest-ever player when he started a Di­vi­sion Two match against Crys­tal Palace.

Re­spected

But it was un­der for­mer Ox­ford and Derby boss Jim Smith that Aw­ford made the ma­jor­ity of his 400-plus Pom­pey ap­pear­ances.

“He was a tremen­dous de­fender, one of the best I’ve worked with,” said Smith, who would later ap­point Aw­ford as his as­sis­tant at Ox­ford United.

“Even though he was very young he read the game bril­liantly and was more than strong enough.The year we missed out on pro­mo­tion he and Kit Sy­mons only con­ceded nine goals at home. He should have played higher, no doubt.”

Af­ter re­tire­ment, Aw­ford be­came Pom­pey’s chief scout and later re­serve-team man­ager un­der Harry Red­knapp.

“I re­tired early and at 28 thought I was go­ing to be the next Eng­land man­ager,” said Aw­ford. “Then I met Harry Red­knapp and re­alised it would be a lot harder than that.”

So Aw­ford set about do­ing ev­ery badge he could find, as well as work­ing with Ox­ford and later as an as­sis­tant at lowly Bog­nor – all while work­ing as a teacher.

By the time he re­turned to head up Pom­pey’s academy dur­ing the dark days of 2011, he was rapidly be­com­ing one of the most re­spected youth coaches around.

Though straight­ened cir­cum­stances has­tened their pas­sage, the likes of Jed Wal­lace, Ryan Wil­liams (now at Ful­ham) and count­less oth­ers have been moulded into first team reg­u­lars by Aw­ford, whose work was recog­nised in 2013 by an FA out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion award.

Since then, he has be­come one of just 16 coaches hand-picked for the FA’s elite coach­ing course.

“The lads take the micky and call me ‘Mr Course’ and to be fair I have in­vested a bit of time in them,” he ad­mits.

And it shows. Since be­ing el­e­vated to care­taker man­ager when Richie Barker was sacked in late March, Aw­ford has won three straight games to power Pom­pey away from dan­ger.

“It was a gam­ble to give up teach­ing, which he’s worked very hard at,” said old pal Sy­mons, now academy di­rec­tor at Ful­ham.

“But he’s a great coach with a lot to of­fer and Pom­pey through and through. He’s per­fect for the job.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.