Grant's departure marks a sad day - and another cruel one
By Steve Bone
Thursday 20 May 2010 22:59:00
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Typically, when it came, Avram Grant’s departure was a little crueller than it needed to be.

On Tuesday morning, we were told he was off to West Ham that day. There and then. But Tuesday passed and he was still here; Wednesday the same. Could we hold on to Uncle Avram after all? No. Thursday night brought confirmation he was resigning, presumably ahead of accepting the job at Upton Park.


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And so another story of hopes raised followed by hopes dashed was complete. Not that that was Grant’s fault; if anything the administrator possibly got our hopes up without foundation when he stated on Wednesday he still thought Grant may stay. Maybe, in fairness to Andrew Andronikou, he actually believed it.

Whatever, at least now we know. We know Grant, a man who in just six months and only a handful of wins, has earned the sort of love and respect from the Fratton faithful that certain others who have done the job before him could only dream about.

Grant, in many ways, was the nearly manager at Pompey just like he was the nearly manager at Chelsea. At Stamford Bridge, he moved into the gap left by Jose Mourinho’s departure three seasons ago and nearly led them to the Premier League, and nearly led them to the Champions League. At Pompey, he nearly kept us up and nearly led us to the FA Cup.

Those are the facts, but the facts alone don’t begin to do Grant justice. The circumstances under which he had to manage the team made his job almost impossible. He wasn’t paid as he was told he would be, he couldn’t buy players in January as he must have believed he could, and then he had to stand by as players were sold and points were deducted.

Lesser men would have thrown in the towel months ago, but not Grant. He knew he faced a fight to keep Pompey in the Premier League but it was a fight he faced up to with courage and dignity.

The fact he goes down as the manager who took us down means nothing (and incidentally, his wins and draws total outnumbers the defeats in his 33 games as boss). Pompey’s fans will point the finger of blame elsewhere, in particular in the direction of the boardroom, both now and in years to come when they reflect on the messy end to the Blues’ seven years in the Premier League.

If there was a week that summed up Grant’s reign, it was the one in Februay in which Pompey went to the High Court not knowing if they would survive the day.

The night before that date in the courtroom, Pompey took on Sunderland at Fratton Park and it seemed as if the ref, Kevin Friend, had been sent by the authorities to strip away whatever spirit Pompey still had after a run of three away defeats in eight days.

At half-time, so incensed was Grant at some of the decisions Friends had made against his battling players, he marched on to the pitch to tell the official what he thought of him. At that moment, Pompey’s fans and players knew that, as much as this may be a losing battle, it was not one they were fighting without a leader.

Four days later, Grant masterminded the fifth-round 4-1 Cup win up the road, and the adulation showered on him at the final whistle as he walked over to the Pompey end will surely stay with him, and the fans present, forever. By now, Grant was a Pompey legend, and if Harry Redknapp had been watching, he ought to have asked himself how Grant had attained such status with a fraction of the time and wins he himself had had to fail to achieve the same.

Grant’s words about how Pompey meant more than your Chelseas and your Man Citys, his memorable ‘You can break many things’ comment, his Churchillian speech after the final league home game, and many more of his actions and words before and after relegation, and before and after Wembley, mark him out as a great man and one who will always have a place in the hearts of the Pompey fans.

Will his departure so swiftly after the Cup final lower him in the eyes of some? Probably, but only some. This was no Redknapp-style walkout followed by pathetic excuses for why it had happened. This was a manager who’d given all he could and had little indication conditions were going to get much better very soon.

Grant is not getting any younger and deserves another chance to show he can cut it as a Premier League boss. Some may question whether the uncertain corridors of Upton Park are the best place for him to seek something more settled than Fratton, but it looks the best offer on the table at the moment and most will wish him well.

His parting letter to the fans, published on Pompey’s website, was touching and, in places, intriguing.

‘It has been a great experience to be part of one of the most wonderful occurrences that has happened in the history of British football and also shows that even in the most desperate times, loyalty, devotion, professionalism and passion can be demonstrated,’ he said.

And this: ‘I have informed Andrew the administrator that if and when the need arises, I will be at his disposal to assist in any way I possibly can.’ Quite what that means is unclear.

And perhaps most tellingly of all: ‘Portsmouth has given me a feeling of home away from home. I might be leaving Portsmouth physically, but you cannot take Portsmouth away from me and my heart.’

Fine words, and very much from the heart. And plenty of Pompey fans will say they feel the same way about him as he does them.

The search for a new manager will begin soon, but let’s not worry about that just yet. First, let’s reflect on a crazy few months and how much tougher to bear they’d have been without Uncle Avram to fight our corner.

Oh, and one memory to finish. I almost forgot – what was the score on April 11? Avram 2 Harry 0 wasn’t it?

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