Sunday, March 7, 2010

Portsmouth's FA Cup Shawshank Redemption

"Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free." Is the famous tag line to The Shawshank Redemption, one of the greatest films ever made. It also offers the greatest insight into the current perils of Portsmouth football club...

For those of you who have yet to see the film, based on the novella by Stephen King, it is a phenomenal story of friendship and above all hope.

The story begins with Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) going to prison for the murder of his wife and her lover, where he meets Red (Morgan Freeman), the prison's go to guy, he can get you whatever you need to make life easier on the inside.

Over the next 136 minutes the film explores some of the darkest aspects of the human soul all the while showing the most unbeatable of all human notions, because once you choose hope anything is possible.

This is the very predicament that Portsmouth now find themselves in. Having been run into the ground through gross mis-management at the highest level and condemned to administartion and almost certain relegation, hope is the one thing that is keeping the club and team going at the moment.

Dealing with the burden of administration and all it's implications is most difficult at the beginning, and Portsmouth's players deserve huge credit for maintaining their dignity through the ordeal.

Red's first quote from the Shawshnk sums up administration perfectly,

"The first night's the toughest, no doubt about it. They march you in naked as the day you were born, skin burning and half blind from that delousing shit they throw on you, and when they put you in that cell, when those bars slam home, that's when you know it's for real. Old life blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it. Most new fish come close to madness the first night. Somebody always breaks down crying. Happens every time. The only question is, who's it gonna be? It's as good a thing to bet on as any, I guess. I had my money on Andy Dufresne. I remember my first night. Seems like a long time ago."

Most people who have thought that Portsmouth's players would have folded completely too, but they have dug deep into hither unknown reserves and now they find themselves on the cusp of an unlikely Cup Final.

Having beaten fellow Premiership rivals Birmingham 2-0 to progress into the semi finals of the FA Cup, their manager Avram Grant reflected "It’s more than big – more than football,"

Grant has consistently stated that his club should not be deducted points in light of their financial troubles, which take their administrators back to the High Court to face the debt allegations levelled by HM Revenue & Customs in nine days’ time, when they again confront the possibility of a winding-up order.

The Portsmouth manager maintains that the current regime had to pick up the pieces from the previous owners of the club, and that penalising them for previous sins is unfair.

Of course, as is in Shawshank, everyone serving their sentence there is innocent as well.

"I’m very proud. You can break many things but you can’t break our spirit,” he said."

He added "Some things in your life you never forget, and this is one of those moments. I always say to respect rules, but rules need to be logical."

"This club deserves more than anyone to be at Wembley because the players and fans are victims of things done by others. I will say it again and again until someone listens."

The FA Cup now represents the greatest hope in Portsmouth's horrendous season, it represents a moment when their players can remove the burden hanging over them and play with the joy and abandonment the game is meant to be played in.

During The Shawshank Redemption, there comes one of the greatest moments in movie history.

Music is played across the tannoy system, opera. It is the first piece of music that any of the inmates have heard in years, for some decades. The FA Cup is like that piece of music for Portsmouth, it offers them a respite from the daily grind, a moment when the players can feel like footballers again.

We return to Red who sums the moment up perfectly:

"I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are better left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."

Everyone associated with Portsmouth knows that there is a huge cloud hanging over the club. It will take a miracle for them to avoid relegation this year, and next season they will have to cut their cloth accordingly, and again will face a massive uphill battle to keep the club stable in the face of mounting debts.

For fans, of the club the only real thing that is keeping them going at the moment is hope.

Andy Dufresne said "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

With that in mind Portsmouth football club should come through it's present battle's with a few scars as reminders, for the moment fear is holding them prisoner, but hope will eventually set them free.