Terry Fenwick claims to have ejoyed his time as manager of Portsmouth. Steve Morgan and thousands of other Pompey fans did not
There is a strange no-man’s land in football, a place reserved for those who inspire a unified raising of the hackles, whether you watch at St James’ Park, Exeter, or Newcastle. In any self-respecting fan’s Room 101, there is surely a corner table set aside for Terry Fenwick. Fenwick’s appointment at Portsmouth for his first managerial post in February 1995 was symptomatic of the malaise that descended on Fratton Park after the club failed to clinch promotion to the top flight by scoring one goal fewer than West Ham in 1992-93. (Thanks to the Hammers’ 2-0 win over Cambridge on the last day which saved Terry Butcher’s Sunderland.)
The then boss Jim Smith had lost his spark, it was true. Last-gasp failures in the league and an FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out, as well as a lengthy public enquiry which wrecked plans for a new stadium, had taken their toll. Smith was offered a sabbatical by acting chairman Martin Gregory in order to “recharge his batteries”. The suggestion was that a man with more than 20 years’ experience should take a break from what had become a relegation struggle, to let the untried Terry Fenwick sort it out. It was the equivalent of trading a vintage Jag for a Capri with furry dice. Smith told the club where they could stick the offer.
I had never liked Fenwick – I found it impossible to forget that Bobby Robson thought he was an arsehole because he’d said going away with England was boring. It wasn’t that he was the worst manager we’ve ever had. In fact, seventh place in 1996-97 remains the club’s only finish above 17th in eight attempts, which frankly shows a) just how crap it is supporting Pompey and b) how unpopular he was, even when guiding the team to within three points of the play-offs.
With the assistance of his mentor Terry Venables, who described him as “the son I never had”, Fenwick did make a couple of reasonable signings – such as Lee Bradbury, later sold for £3.5 million to Manchester City (a pretty good profit for an ex-soldier) and Matt Svensson, a snip at just £75,000.
But God, was he unlovable. Fenwick possessed an unflinching self-belief characteristic of anyone who has spent too long larging it in Scribes West thinking he’s in Goodfellas, but looking more like an extra from Minder. Even at what passed for the height of his success, a 3-2 FA Cup win at Leeds in February 1997, “Terry Fenwick’s Blue and White Army” was a chant scarcely, if ever, heard as a succession of deadwood Australians were wheeled in by Venables, now juggling his role as Pompey chairman with his day job as the Socceroos’ coach.
When Fenwick left on January 13, 1998, Pompey were rooted at the foot of the First Division, having embarked on an 11-game winless stretch during which gates plummeted at times towards 7,000. Fenwick’s last match was a 3-0 reverse at Fratton Park against a marginally less dismal Manchester City, who were eventually relegated while Alan Ball pulled off an unlikely last-gasp escape act for Portsmough.
The following season’s grudge match at Crystal Palace included an hour long anti-Fenwick and Venables sing-in after a 4-1 defeat, fuelled by some choice pearls of wisdom made in the press concerning Pompey’s small-time status. One of the banners on show that day depicted the pair grinning grotesquely from a burger van. “The two Terrys take-away” it read. “I take away the football and I take away the money.”
Things have not altered that much on the pitch in the three years since Fenwick left. What sticks in the craw is his continual harping on about how much he enjoyed his time at Fratton Park and what he did for the club. “I look back on my first managerial position as a real success,” he asserts on his cv in the “available members” section of the League Managers Association website. The fact that he is still available suggests the watching footballing world does not agree. He has since reached the lofty heights of director of football at non-League Southall. Suits you, sir.
From WSC 167 January 2001. What was happening this month