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Fratton Park
Portsmouth v Preston North End
  League One
Saturday December 15th
2012, 3pm
By Paul Willott

The trip to the south coast was one of those days in football when it was difficult to know what emotions should really be foremost; on the one hand, a desire to see my team win, and win well would normally be uppermost, yet with Pompey in such a dire situation with their off-field problems, I couldn't help but feel real empathy towards their plight.  No-one wants to see good clubs go bust, if only for the "there but the grace of God" syndrome surely. It seemed only a breath of wind had passed since the Pompey chimes were frequently heard on "Match of the Day", but two relegations, administration, points deductions and court visits galore, the club was hanging over the relegation zone in the third tier of English football, with debts reportedly in the region of £61million and a further points deduction apparently waiting in the wings.

So, with weird emotions I, along with my daughter departed Kent, detoured via Croydon to collect two work colleagues, and then headed South along the A3.  Early watery sunshine dissipated as we neared our destination, and the grey clouds seemed to be almost touching the floodlights of Fratton Park in a gesture of nature that was far too symbolic for my liking.

We opted to pay £5 to ditch the car on one of the small business outlets near the ground for convenience, and made our way to the stadium.  My mood lifted somewhat as we walked towards the ground; it has a lovely flavour of the bygone age of football, when matchdays were more spontaneous, echoes of generations of men who would flock to such venues to stand under the floodlights on terraces to watch their team in whatever the weather could throw at them.

Although modernisation has touched Fratton, you can still taste the rich history. One of the things I was keen to see was how the ground had indeed changed since my previous visits. The "Milton End" for away fans has recently had a roof added to complement the seats fitted onto the former open terrace, and the opposite end for the home fans is a quite distinct and impressive modern all-seat affair, a far cry from the open terace that greeted me on my first visit in 1994

The two stands along the side of the pitch have both had seats fitted onto their once charming open paddocks, and the stand to our right as we viewed the pitch has had its roof extended considerably. Meanwhile, as you wander along the back of the "Milton End" to enter the viewing area, or return to purchase refreshments, you can see into the backs of all the houses; the colourful array of childrens climbing frames, broken bicycles, well tended gardens, others less well cared for, another reminder of how much history has passed down this lovely old ground.

We were all impressed with the most vibrant co-ordinated drumming that was the pre-match entertainment; one of the better such that I have seen for a while, and it was equally interesting to see all the 'blue santas' amongst the home support, something that my 8 year old daughter found most amusing, if somewhat bizarre. I tried to explain that Pompey fans love their club very, very much, and many like to dress up as blue santas at this time of year to show their love for the club . . . . . . she didn't seem too convinced, but was certainly captivated!

Once the match itself started, I sensed we may have a problem, as some stewards seemed keen to try and make all the Preston supporters sit in their seats, and in so doing they were blocking our view of the match, but they soon seemed to sense that they were fighting a losing battle and disappeared and left us to view the less than appetising fayre on offer. As a football match, it was poor, and the atmosphere amongst the home fans seemed more directed at overall survival with chants such as "We'll never die" floating across the air. The penalty that Portsmouth were awarded, and then contrived to smash against the crossbar in the 14th minute probably summed the contest up.

I was merely glad that, as the clouds opened with a vengeance and unleashed the most torrential rain, that the "Milton End" now had a roof. Meanwhile on the pitch, we could have stayed there till midnight and we still probably wouldn't have seen a goal - in part I wouldn't have minded, as there is a certain magic about watching those swathes of rain drift illuminated under the shafts of light from the floodlight pylons; and it was more entertaining than the football too!  On the other hand, when the referee blew the final whistle, it put us all out of a certain misery; fans of both clubs have been used to seeing much better football at higher level(s), and it was sad to see how on the pitch neither side had much to offer, but I would have to admit that the Pompey youngsters seemed to have more desire and hunger than our players applied themselves with.

Thus we wandered off into the wet gloom of the environs of Fratton Park, and were pretty quickly settled into the car to head home, and as we did, caught a few glimpses of the floodlights glaring down onto the old lady that is Fratton Park in between rows of terraced houses.

That evening, I noticed that the 0-0 draw had not been enough to prevent Pompey from dropping into the relegation zone, and with another ten point penalty hanging over their heads, I really fear as I do still for the future of the club, and its lovely ground.  I hope come May 2013 they have survived to play league one football again, but the omens are as gloomy as the weather was at the final whistle that afternoon.

 


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