Linvoy Primus is something of a living legend at Portsmouth Football Club. A fan favourite, loyal teammate and a great supporter of charity work, Linvoy was quickly cemented in club history as a role model to his team, the fans and the wider community.
Throughout, his Christian faith has been central. No stranger to the faith having attended church as a child with his family, he became distanced from the faith when he skipped church to play football with his friends. It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that he and his wife returned and became church-regulars with Primus embracing Christianity later that year.
He wasn’t always the first team player that he came to be at the team however. Upon signing a contract with Portsmouth in 2000 he scored an own goal in his debut game for the club. Of course that didn’t stop him. It wasn’t until 2002 and Harry Redknapp’s managerial appointment at the club that he came into his own – despite Redknapp’s lack of belief in his ability. He earned a first team spot which turned his fortunes around, after a mass of injuries to other players at the club.
One thing that shines through about Primus is just how humble he is about everything he’s achieved, which is evidently substantial. With the majority infamous for being self-centred and egotistical, this professional footballer is very different. Evidently, it’s this attitude coupled with his loyalty to the club that has made him a solid fan favourite.
Boxing Day became a celebration in itself for Primus. He scored his first Premier League goal in 2004 against Crystal Palace, and again on the same day two years later against West Ham. Twice. That season was also one of many high points in Primus’ career, with him winning the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year for his division.
“To be voted Fan’s Player of the Year was quite an achievement,” Primus said. “Those accolades I think coincided with what was one of the great moments in Pompey’s history; being promoted to the Premier League and remaining in that league for seven seasons.”
Remain in the league they did, with Portsmouth completing their infamous ‘Great Escape’ in 2005, narrowly avoiding relegation from the Premier League and staying in the league for a further five years.
At 27, Primus found Christianity again and is sure that a new found improvement in his football career is nothing less than a correlation. Having played alongside the likes of Sol Campbell and Glen Johnson (both national team defence veterans and regulars for England at the time) it was certainly something for him to be an automatic choice in a top Premier League side, having been the fringe player that he used to be.
“During the time that Harry Redknapp was manager, he made a lot of signings and I was more of a fringe player, but I just took the opportunity,” said Primus. “I know my faith played a huge part in self-belief and recognising the gift that I had. For me to play in the team, in a successful team, was quite an achievement.”
Primus was loaned out to Charlton Athletic for half a year before returning to Portsmouth in the penultimate game of the 2008/09 season, where he received a standing ovation and was cheered each and every time he touched the ball.
Now his career with football is over having suffered from a persistent knee injury that ultimately forced him to decide to call it quits, Primus intends to spend as much time as he can with Faith and Football. Peter Storrie, CEO of Portsmouth Football Club, confirmed that Primus would retain the ambassadorial role he had already taken up at the club.
That role ultimately came to a head when in the summer of the next year, the club announced that they were renaming the ‘Milton End’ stand of their home ground, Fratton Park, to the ‘Linvoy Primus Community Stand’ because of his continued services to their club.
“Having a stand named after me was quite emotional, I wasn’t expecting anything like that,” said Primus. True to his form, Primus spoke of how it was beneficial to the charities and communities he had worked within. “For me, it was more about the community work and recognising what I had been involved with, and for the charity Faith and Football to be recognised for the work they do as well. It was emotional but at the same time it brought a humility, for me, because of what I had achieved on the pitch.”
Apart from the day job, little has changed since retiring from football. Linvoy still works at the football club on a day to day basis, but his focus has shifted to the charity he helped set up almost 12 years ago.
“Since retiring I do a lot of work with Faith and Football, but no more than I was doing when I was playing,” he was quick to stress. “I set up the charity with Darren Moore and Mick Mellows in 2002 and our purpose was to get the local church involved in the community and we saw football as an easy way of making contact with young people.
“Personally, my involvement in the community was something that I really, really enjoyed, starting a charity and working with the football club in other areas of community work,” he recalled, passionately. “Enjoyment of Portsmouth wasn’t just about the playing side, it was to do with community work as well.”
Of course, it’s not just fundraising in other countries that make what Primus do such a favourite at the club and with the wider public. His work with Faith and Football extends to many inner-city communities within this country, where there is poverty and with which Primus is more than happy to lend a helping hand.
Faith and Football aims to help in communities such as Portsmouth, Plymouth, Barnsley and Farnborough. They reach out to young people in inner-city communities through football, to help out where possible. They do so through Community Leagues, the ‘Extra Time Literacy Scheme’ for underachieving infant school readers, numerous Social Enterprise & Business Challenges at a Secondary School level and various ‘Enterprise & Leadership Academies’ among others.
Where traditional football focuses on skill, Primus explained how the focus on community meant that everyone is welcome at Faith and Football, not just the top young footballers. “We never focused on who were the best players, we just focused on team building, self esteem, raising hopes and aspirations not just through football but by showing young people that whatever their capabilities are that they can do so much with their lives, and not to limit themselves,” he said.
One of his most notable achievements while working with Faith and Football was walking across the Great Wall of China, in the summer of 2005. In doing so, he helped raise over £100,000 for the charity, which was pledged to Prospect Children’s School in Nigeria and to a new school, medical centre and orphanage for the village of Goa.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Primus. “We’ve always been a charity that fundraise, but what captured the everyone’s imagination when we announced that we were doing it was that we were professional footballers who were still playing, taking time out to go across the world, and walk on a part of history that a lot of people would have seen on TV but not necessarily visited.”
Certainly it seems that Primus is no stranger to going out of his way to help the community, and what he achieved at the Wall is nothing short of phenomenal. Upon raising a great deal of money, it helped thrust the charity into the limelight, promoting the charity to astronomical levels.
Primus certainly isn’t one to forget how to have fun in the process though. “We had a football match out there,” he laughed. “It was West Brom versus Portsmouth and I think it ended in a draw, which was probably just about right. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
Summing up the trip, Primus said: “For us to be a part of that was special, and to actually hear the stories from parts of the Wall was amazing. Raising that amount of money was special too. The whole experience, including camping by the Wall made it a really amazing trip. I’m sure if I get the chance to do something like that again, I will definitely take that opportunity.”
With his professional footballing career over, Primus certainly wants to do work that will be remembered for years to come. As he sees it, that will probably be a byproduct of the charitable work he’s done and not for playing against Manchester United in the FA Cup at a stadium of 70,000 people.
Having set up the charity with footballers who also played for Portsmouth, it’s no surprise that they are often working together to help out communities. Back when Primus was still playing football, he could often be found praying. It used to be something that other players would joke about, but Primus never tried to hide his faith or beliefs. A steadily growing number of Portsmouth players would join him, such as Kanu, LuaLua and Benjani. They used to head to the laundry room up to an hour before games, and pray to God while linking arms.
Some of those footballers are now a part of Faith and Football with Primus. He acknowledges that it’s enjoyable to continue working with people before football and after, but hastens to acknowledge that his charitable work comes first.
“Working with Faith and Football and a lot of ex-Pompey players is great,” Primus said. “Whenever you’re working with anybody you do spend time with them, but for us it’s more about meeting other people so you don’t spend time thinking about each other. It’s not about how much or how little time you spend together, it’s actually what you can do to help other people.”
“We don’t work together every single day, we come together when there’s events or things like that, and even then it comes down to availability,” Primus added. “Even though we were teammates, we weren’t in each other’s pockets every minute of the day and it was easy, because our hearts were all in the same place.”
The generosity about Primus is so sincere that it’s difficult to question why he became a professional footballer at all. Certainly, he was extremely talented to play at such a high level, but it’s almost as though his retirement was a gateway to what he desired to be doing throughout his career.
“We just wanted to help our neighbours regardless of who it is or whatever they look like, we just wanted to help them,” Primus concluded. “Coming together to promote that and give young people a little bit of hope; that helped us to work together and not think about how long we’ve been together or anything like that. It always worked well.”