Since beating Liverpool 2-0 for their only Premier League victory all season over a side not struggling against relegation, Portsmouth have played all the acknowledged big four clubs again and conceded either four or five goals each time. As Tottenham are generally considered to be not far short of that level, today's semi-final has a one-sided look to it.
A degree of optimism is required to conceive of any other outcome, yet Avram Grant, Portsmouth's manager for much of their bewildering season, is such a man. The quality comes, he says, from his father, a Holocaust survivor forced to bury most of his family in a frozen Russian forest, who died himself only three months ago at the age of 82.
"He was the most optimistic guy I ever met," Grant said, before revealing that tomorrow he will fly to Auschwitz to take part in Holocaust Remembrance Day. "I learnt from my father that first you need to be strong with yourself. He always said it's better to be foolishly optimistic than right and pessimistic."
If any philosophy was appropriate for this season of Portsmouth's, that has been as good as any. Thoughts of despair, horror and nightmares are best kept in perspective, but in terms of football, as opposed to the real world, the past few months have been almost as bad as could be. There has been understandable schadenfreude from outsiders contemplating the result of living wildly beyond what proved to be the club's strictly limited means, yet Grant can hardly be blamed for the quartet of ineffectual owners or the collapse into administration that cost nine points and certain relegation.
It was difficult not to cringe when halfway through Friday's semi-final media conference, a journalist – rather than a club official – broke the news to the manager that one unnamed player being considered for a place in today's game may be unavailable because the extra appearance would trigger a new contract that cannot be afforded. "In Portsmouth you learn only to plan for tomorrow," Grant sighed. Yet so taken is he with the city, the fans and the players' spirit, that he would like to stay for next season, though only under a stable regime: "I don't want another season like this."
The redeeming feature has been the FA Cup, ironically a source of much financial trouble even at the high point of Wembley victory two years ago; Portsmouth must be the only club to have lost what the former chief executive Peter Storrie estimates was up to £4m for winning the Cup, so extravagant were the bonuses that had to be paid (including his own).
If they have not been scaled down, Pompey could make history again as the only team ever to reach the final who cannot afford to play in it.Reuse content