CHRIS Burns will have divided loyalties as he watches former clubs Portsmouth and Cheltenham Town do battle on Saturday.
The Robins will be making their first trip to Fratton Park to face a club whose financial problems have seen them plummet from the Premier League to the basement division since 2010, throwing up a fixture Burns never thought he would see.
Several of his former team mates are now on Pompey’s backroom staff, including first team coach Alan McLoughlin and academy manager Andy Awford.
But Brockworth-based Burns also has strong ties to Cheltenham and is currently running the Under-15s having earned his big move to the south coast with some impressive performances for the Robins.
He once scored five times in a match at Whaddon Road against Alvechurch, having been plucked from the obscurity of Sharpness by then Cheltenham manager John Murphy.
Burns admits he thought it was a “wind-up” when Portsmouth offered him a contract, but after giving up his trade as a builder he went on to become a popular figure there, appearing in an epic FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool which they lost on penalties.
Portsmouth also finished third in what is now the Championship, level on points with runners-up West Ham, but they lost to Leicester City in the play-offs.
“In terms of the quality of football, the four years I had at Portsmouth were the best of my career,” Burns said.
“I always look back fondly on my days at Cheltenham, but it was fantastic to be able to give up work and train full-time instead of having to train in the evenings after spending all day on a building site. I remember I was suspended for two weeks and I was offered a trial by Frank Burrows, who was Portsmouth manager at the time and he was a friend of Allan Gough’s.
“It was supposed to be for a week but after three days they offered me a contract, which I thought was a wind-up at first! I signed it within seconds because I was desperate to be a professional footballer.
“Jim Smith took over and gave a lot of young lads a chance and many of them went on to bigger and better things.
“We had Darren Anderton, Kit Symons, Alan McLoughlin and Alan Knight in goal – we gelled so well and it was a shame we couldn’t quite get past Liverpool.”
Burns recalls McLoughlin missing a glorious chance to win the replay four minutes from the end, when he hit the bar.
“I was marking Mark Wright that day, who was a regular for England and to play against players of that pedigree and someone like John Barnes, who was one of the best in the country at the time, was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Burns spent time at Swansea - where he again played under Burrows - then Bournemouth under Tony Pulis and Northampton Town before dropping back into non-League football with Gloucester City and Forest Green Rovers.
He then managed the Tigers and Cinderford Town, then moving to Spain to coach UD Horadada before returning to Gloucestershire.
Burns is now responsible for bringing players through the Robins academy system, but would one day like another opportunity to manage a senior side.
But this weekend he will be relaxing, sat in the main stand at Fratton Park enjoying what he expects to be an entertaining and tight fixture.
“I am going down on Friday and making a weekend of it, meeting up with some of my old Pompey team mates and also some of the fans like John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood, who everyone will know as the man with the bell, bugle and tattoos,” Burns said.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see this game. Portsmouth are a Championship club in stature really and Cheltenham have done so well, but I wouldn’t have dreamt they’d meet in a league game.
“My ideal result will be 1-1 because I’m stuck in the middle a bit.
“If that happens I can’t get any stick from anyone and I’ll be happy.”