When Portsmouth arrived at Wembley two years ago for the FA Cup semi-final they did so as justified favourites to win the competition.
There was also a sense that this was a club that was going places. When they pitch up tomorrow they may well be a club going places, places like Deepdale, Oakwell and Ashton Gate as, if either Hull City or West Ham win today, Portsmouth will be relegated from the Premier League. As for the FA Cup, Pompey are 16-1 in a four-horse race.
It has been a turbulent 24 months during which the club has experienced five regimes, including the current administrators, four managers, including today's opponent in the Wembley dugout, Harry Redknapp, and an ever-changing cast of players. One of the few mainstays – except when Portsmouth refused to play him for fear of triggering a clause guaranteeing him a new contract – has been David James.
The England goalkeeper, who voluntarily rescinded that clause to enable him to get match time ahead of the World Cup, admitted yesterday that the 2008 FA Cup triumph – after defeating West Bromwich in the semi-final Pompey beat another Championship club, Cardiff, in the final, came at a price. "It has had a terrible effect on the club over the last 18 months,'' said James. "Qualifying for Europe was financially and physically damaging for the club.
"To offer people the opportunity of big bonuses to qualify for Europe seems like a pretty safe bet, simply because you do not anticipate a club like Portsmouth winning the Cup," said James.
"Had we not won the FA Cup, bizarrely it would probably have done us a lot better, because we would not have qualified for Europe and would have been able to build on two decent years of progression.
"Having won the Cup, the financial impact was crippling and then as a squad we just were not kitted out to be able to sustain the European, as well as league and cup campaigns which followed. We ended up suffering on both fronts.''
But James added: "While it has been an horrendous 18 months, overall the four years I've had at Portsmouth have been magical. It has been an amazing journey and, hopefully, it is not finished yet."
It soon will be for James as he is expected to leave Fratton Park in the summer but he is hoping to help the club achieve an improbable triumph. He said: "Winning the FA Cup is a big achievement at any time, but with what has gone on off the field there have been enough diversions to make things difficult. Things have been very tough so beating Tottenham would be a massive achievement in its own right and I think we can do it."
Redknapp could include three former Pompey team-mates of James: Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar. All three have something else in common. "They have all scored against me this season, but there are not many strikers who haven't scored against Portsmouth," said James.
It is possible that none of the three will start, such are Redknapp's resources, for Roman Pavlyuchenko and Gareth Bale have been in good form and Eidur Gudjohnsen looked dangerous in his brief outings. Avram Grant, as he cobbles together an XI, can only dream of such riches.
"It is not good for a manager if you cannot pick a team because you do not know what players you can select until the last minute," said Grant. Should Portsmouth win, it could be even harder to pick an XI for the final. The administrator, Andrew Andronikou, yesterday said "five or six players'' would either incur extra payments to their previous clubs, contract guarantees to themselves, or bonuses, if they played again.
Andronikou said: "These bullet payments mean that they can play in the semi-final, but not play another game unless they waiver those payments. It would be tragic for the player if the team is in the FA Cup final, but it will be the players', or their agents', decisions. They are going to have to forfeit those contractual obligations or they cannot play again."
Meanwhile, the club began planning for a better future when David Lampitt, a chartered accountant who has been a low-profile head of football integrity at the Football Association, was appointed chief executive.
South Coast sick list: Pompey's shrinking squad
*Portsmouth are, to coin a phrase beloved of their former manager Harry Redknapp, down to the "bare bones" in playing staff for tomorrow's FA Cup semi-final with Tottenham, having sold or loaned seven first-team players this season, and lost up another 11 as a result of injury, suspension or ineligibility.
*Sold or loaned since the start of the season:
Sylvain Distin, Niko Kranjcar, Mike Williamson, Younes Kaboul, Asmir Begovic, Qunicy Owusu-Abeyie, David Nugent
Hermann Hreidarsson, Danny Webber.
*Struggling to be fit:
Hassan Yebda, Nadir Belhadj, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Tal Ben-Haim, Marc Wilson, Tommy Smith, Hayden Mullins
Anthony Vanden Borre
Jamie O'Hara (Spurs are his parent club)
Road to Wembley
3R Peterborough (h) W 4-0
4R Leeds (h) D 2-2; (a) W 3-1
5R Bolton (a) D 1-1; (h) W 4-0
6R Fulham (a) D 0-0; (h) W 3-1
3R Coventry (h) D 1-1; (a) W 2-1
4R Sunderland (h) W 2-1
5R Southampton (a) W 4-1
6R Birmingham (h) W 2-0