August 2006 and the arrival of 36-year-old David James was met with plenty of anxiety on the south coast. Calamity James was still considered something of a liability in terms of goalkeeping mishaps, but three and half years on, and with the former Liverpool stopper destined for the Fratton Park exit door, we take a look at the England man’s healthy Pompey career.
As stated above, James’ move south was greeted with murmurs of disapproval. Dean Kiely had been magnificent in helping keep Harry Redknapp’s troops in the Premier League following their 2006 Great Escape. However, the former Charlton keeper was merely cast aside by Redknapp and replaced by James in a heartbeat. Redknapp was a keen admirer of James and was visibly delighted when he got his man. The same couldn’t have been said for the Fratton faithful however, who couldn’t help but wonder why their boss had shelled out almost £1.5m for a keeper whose career was surely nearing its end. A talented keeper without doubt, but there looked better options elsewhere at the time. Indeed, then Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce quickly replaced James with the highly-rated Andreas Isaksson for little over what he had just received from Pompey in transfer money. Isaksson was 24 at the time and was highly-regarded in the footballing world.
But while Pompey fans looked quizzical at their latest transfer dealings, it would go on to be one of the most inspired buys in recent years – while a largely forgotten Isaksson has fallen by the wayside. James’ first two years on the south coast can only be described as sensational. He was named Pompey’s Player of the Season for both campaigns and won games almost single-handedly at times. The Blues’ superb defensive record for those two seasons were again largely indebted to Jamo and memorable performances in 2008 on the road to FA Cup glory means he will be forever held in the highest regard at Fratton Park. Pompey’s sixth round win at Preston North End will be one of his finest memories at the club. With Alan Irvine’s struggling Championship side turning in the kind of performance only the FA Cup can conjure up, James was on hand to continuously deny the hosts’ efforts as Pompey came under increasing pressure. After James’ full-length save kept out Simon Whaley’s second half spot-kick, it was left for Pompey to quickly rub salt into the wounds and nick the game in injury-time and a place in the quarter-finals of the cup. It was where the Pompey FA Cup dream should have ended, but for their in-form goalkeeper. James was is similar form in the infamous quarter-final win at Old Trafford as once again he came to Pompey’s rescue on countless occasions.
Jamo was rewarded for his stunning campaign with a place in the Premier League Team of the Year in 2008 as well as representing England – becoming Pompey’s first player to represent the Three Lions in over 20 years. It all looked rosy for both player and club as both headed into Pompey’s inaugural European campaign, looking onwards and upwards from their eighth placed finish from the previous term. However, October 2008 signalled the end of the good times for both parties as Redknapp made the short trip to north London while Pompey delved deep into the financial abyss. James’ form steadily declined from then on, after firstly falling out with new boss Tony Adams before becoming disillusioned with life at Fratton Park as the club’s turmoil began to unravel and star-names were ushered out.
Now, with Pompey’s finances perilously low and James’ wages unfortunately high , (around £60 000 a week) the former Aston Villa keeper looks on his way out. Stoke bulked at the player’s wages when they almost sealed a loan deal last week and now former Pompey boss Redknapp looks to have renewed his interest in the England stalwart. But while the loss of their No.1 would’ve been hugely distressing this time two years ago, there won’t be too many distressed looks now amongst the Fratton crowd. Indeed Asmir Begovic has shown an alarming amount of promise since stepping into James’ shoes, which along with Jamo’s hefty pay-check, means nearly all at Fratton Park will be happy to say goodbye. That’s not saying he won’t be highly remembered on the south coast. He has been a top class servant and while he departs on similar terms to the ones he arrived with, what happened in between will forever warm Pompey hearts.