Primus finds end of rainbow

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The Independent Football

It took a move to the sometimes chaotic People's Republic of Portsmouth (unofficial) for Linvoy Primus to find stability. Now, approaching his 30th birthday, the defender signed a contract this spring that will keep him on Portsea Island for at least another two years, stretching his tenure there to five seasons. It is something to celebrate for a footballer who confesses to having suffered from "distractions" in a career which once meandered unsatisfactorily. Distractions such as, well, money.

"For a little while I think I lost my focus and the money was a big thing for me," says Primus as he sits in the canteen above Portsmouth's training ground which is, shockingly, in Southampton. Chasing the money took Primus, an engaging figure, from Charlton Athletic to Barnet and Reading before he finally landed in Portsmouth in 2000 on a free transfer.

"Say there is an opportunity to go somewhere because they will pay you more but it is a drop in a division - is that really the goal you want?" Primus asks. "I know that it is a short career, but..." It took a conversation with a friend to help him realise this. "He asked, 'When you got into football, what did you want to do? Make loads of money or play at your best?' If you look for the money you can bounce from here to there, and not really achieve anything. If you set yourself a goal of playing at the highest level then an opportunity may come along." And the money will then follow. Now that opportunity has arrived with promotion to the Premiership.

Still, despite deservedly being Portsmouth's player of the year, he is not expecting to start against Aston Villa today. Harry Redknapp, the manager, has been wheeling and dealing to bolster a lean squad he fears is simply not good enough and Primus, who is a popular figure in the dressing-room as well, knows the competition is keener than ever. The solace is that it was the same last season but once he broke into the team, two weeks in, he never looked back. It was his best year in the game.

"The manager has signed a couple of players and it does not look like I will start but it is a case of keeping myself focused on getting in,'' says Primus, who has only just recovered from a hernia operation. "I don't think I would have come this far without that determination. I am not as blessed with ability as some of the other guys."

The determination, he says, partly comes from his Christian faith, which has also helped this father-of-three realise there is more to life than football. "I do put a lot of it down to my faith because I have become a born-again Christian," Primus says. "With my faith now, when I worry about things I can read the Bible and find answers for me there. Football is only a small part of my life and I have the rest of my life to live.

"A couple of years ago, we had been moving about and we were finding it hard to settle. Even though the football was good, I was walking on to the pitch carrying other problems. We got introduced to a church and we have not looked back since then."

While he has found greater stability in his private life, it has been a little more hectic down at Fratton Park. Redknapp is Primus' fourth manager in three years - including three in one season. The experience has helped him cope with the sea of new faces this season.

"Some of the results have not gone as well as we would have wanted but when you look at it, it is another team again from last season. So it is going to take a little time to gel and we need to get used to the changes.

"But that is what happens in football. If you go to a club with a certain manager or player you can find that they do not stay around that long. I have come to accept it because it has happened so often in the past. It is a bit disruptive really. One manager wants to do a certain thing one way, another wants it another and a third tries something different again. It takes time to get used to but you have to."

One player he was sorry to see leave Portsmouth was Paul Merson, now at Walsall, and someone who was vulnerable to even greater distractions. "He was quite a character in the dressing-room, a voice to listen to and someone with a lot of knowledge," Primus says. Not that he had been aware that Merson's problems with gambling had resurfaced. "You don't really know what is going on until something comes out. It is quite personal. OK, he is going through it and I think he just wanted everyone to be normal. The attention was on him.'

There is a hunger for Portsmouth's first season in the top-flight since 1987 - and then it was only a brief season-long visit. "The players have come back fitter," Primus says. Training is "quicker, a step up".

"It is a lifelong ambition, of course," says Primus of the season ahead. "And I won't become complacent. If you do, you are simply setting yourself up for a fall."

Nevertheless the expectation in the city is difficult to rein in. "I have bumped into one or two fans and they are really expecting us to go for it," Primus says. "Everyone realises that playing in the Premiership so soon is a bonus. Staying there will be a great success." And one that he appears capable of achieving.