Exciting Times

Last updated : 15 July 2007 By Jim Bonner

Neville Dalton is a journalist with the BBC News website and a Portsmouth fan of 40 years. His expressed views are his and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Can you believe it?

What a team! And I don't just mean the 11 players who will take the field when Pompey kick off the new season.

Or the impressive group who can step in should any of the first choices be injured or lose form.

It's been a sensational close season for Pompey fans, with the club fast-transforming from promising Premier League newcomers to one of the best teams in
England, almost before our very eyes.

And it strikes me that a new, more professional, approach right through the club has been instrumental in getting us there.

A fantastic start to last season helped us survive a decidedly dodgy second half and end 2006-7 in our best league position for half a century.

It put Pompey on the Premiership map - a genuine top-flight club, now established in the top echelons - and raised expectations for the coming season.

But the new-look Portsmouth Football Club has done its very best to ensure those dream-like ambitions among fans have a genuine chance of success.

Who could fail to be impressed by the sort of players we have attracted to the club in the past couple of months - or the fact that in most cases we have been in true competition with other leading clubs for these signings?

Sulley Muntari, John Utaka and David Nugent have all said they joined Pompey because they were impressed by the way the club went about wooing them.

And I seem to recall Sylvain Distin being impressed that Harry had been tracking him for the past season after failing to land him a year ago.

What's more - and I know it's easy for them to say - the likes of Utaka have cited the fans as a reason for joining… and I get the impression he really means it.

Yes, we're paying big wages now and big transfer fees.

But so are the likes of West Ham, Aston Villa, Spurs and Newcastle. Manchester City are likely to do the same with a new owner and manager in place, and even Sunderland, Birmingham and Wigan have been splashing out.

So it was essential that Pompey competed in that market if they were to avoid going backwards.

For all his faults, Harry has a good reputation among players. He seems to have a pretty good eye for a decent footballer, too.

He (usually) gets them playing good football, and he appears to be able to build close-knit squads with great team spirit.

World Cup

Yet there's more to it even than Harry's twinkling eyes and comforting arm around prospective new signings.

That arm would be wrapped around the shoulders of an ageing former star or some African we'd never heard of with potential but no proven ability if it wasn't for the willingness of owner Alexandre Gaydamak to loosen the purse strings and let Harry go after a different breed altogether.

Yes, there's a fair few Africans (and Harry is not a complete novice when it comes to spotting talent on that continent).

But one was pretty impressive in a much-admired Ghana team at the last World Cup.

Another scored a fair few goals for a team at the top of the French league, and another clearly showed enough promise during his lengthy loan spell at Pompey last season.

All three are of an age where conceivably their best years should still be ahead of them, either directly benefiting Pompey or giving us the chance of making a profit if they move on.

And then there's the home talent. Harry has often been denied the pick of the players already performing in the English leagues because of the inflated home transfer market.

Now we're picking up the likes of Distin and Nugent ahead of other big clubs.

Add to that the phenomenal signings of David James and Sol Campbell, who gave us cause for some optimism at the start of last season, and Pedro Mendes a few months earlier - not to mention the performances of Linvoy Primus, Benjani Mwaruwari and (on and off) Matt Taylor and Gary O'Neil last season - and it's no wonder the Pompey message boards are awash with enthusiasm, excitement and optimism.

We've arrived

I've been impressed with the way we have done our business, too.

Yes, some of the names have been linked with the club publicly for some time.

But there's been no shouting from the rooftops or systematic leaking from within the club, from what I can tell.

Just a heads-down deal-with-the-people-who-matter approach, and then a nice, measured announcement every so often, saying we've signed another quality player… with a sub-text of "By the way, we've arrived."

From a distance, it looks like that means the likes of Peter Storrie, who apart from the odd unnecessary attack on the local media has very much impressed me since he came to Fratton Park, has also been doing his job.

So Harry; the fans; Sacha, Storrie; a new ground a glistening, though distant, prospect on the horizon - and a decent training ground in the offing.

But most of all a promising bunch of players who mostly look like they really want to play for Pompey…

Like I said, what a team!

Let's get going!