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Fratton Park, Portsmouth
Portsmouth v Hull City
Premier League
Saturday November 22nd
2008, 3pm
By Neil Harding

When McCartney penned the lyrics to the iconic “The Long and Winding Road” he must have been thinking about the road from Hull to Portsmouth. M63, M18, M1, A43, M40, A34, M3, M27 - Some road! Leaving a cold and wintry KC Stadium at 7.30 am is perhaps not everyone’s idea of the best way to start a weekend, but for me it was just the tonic to beat the winter blues. But in saying that whether paying £35 to watch a game at Portsmouth was going to be value-for-money was a question that did cross my mind!

Today, the journey was going to be made on a City fans coach, rather than attempt to drive the 540 round-trip to and from the south coast. The grey, late skies of the North had cleared to be replaced by sunshine by the time we stopped off at Leicester Forest East for a coffee and a toilet break. More about toilets later!!

Onward to the south coast and we arrived in a cold Portsmouth at about 1pm to the sight of golden laced clouds overhead and the draft of a cold breeze whipping in from the English Channel.

With the floodlights of the ground just a matter of three hundred yards up the road we past ‘The Good Companion’ pub. The pub car park was heaving as was the pub with lots of black and amber shirts inside.  540 miles, 2500 City fans, five weeks before Christmas, recession = great support.

The coach parked within easy reach of the ground. At this point I debated whether to double back and have swift one in the ‘Good Companion” but decided to have a look around the ground and chance my luck on the other side for a pre-match pint.

The ground is set in an area of small industrial units behind the north stand.  A relatively new shopping area containing the usual suspects - including a Mc-thingies - backs onto the west stand. Streets of housing behind the other two stands. Therefore it is well hemmed in and any chance of major development to the existing stands looks unlikely.

A walk around the ground took me down a narrow alleyway with hardly enough room for one person; and out into a street by the odd looking Tudor fronted house with the words “Fratton Park” across the top.

From here I decided to head off in the vague direction of the City centre and try to find a pub. I did come across something resembling a bar just opposite the bridge adjacent to the Fratton railway station. But it didn’t look very inviting so I decided to walk on by. Just along from that on the other side of the road, adjacent to the railway lines is the local ‘Rifle Club’ which didn’t look particularly welcoming either. The ‘Rifle Club’ somewhat poignant I thought on the 22nd of November (the 45th anniversary of the day JFK was assassinated)

Anyway, a trawl of the area did not reveal anything resembling a pub in the conventional sense of the word so I wondered if there would be a betting shop in which I could wager some of my hard-earned on a match prediction. Answer:  No. A 200 yard walk down a shopping street did not reveal a betting shop, though a couple of fast food establishments were open. With the time approaching 2.15, I decided to head back towards the ground and join the throng of fans making their way to the stadium.

On approaching the ground to the west stand car park there are no directions to tell you where the away fans need to go. Enquires to a couple of helpful stewards at the back of the stand pointed me in the direction of the away end. The route taking me down a ten-foot (Hull speak) along the back of the North Stand and around the corner to the East Stand.

Waist high barriers had been erected by the away turnstiles, which give me on a 30 yard detour, but that said it wasn‘t a major problem and I could see the logic of their placement. As I neared the away turnstiles I had a brief chat with one of the stewards and asked him if there was any news on a new stadium. For which I received a rather forthright response. “That’s down to the xxxxxxx council” came a taciturn response. (Nice one mate, spoken like a true Englishman) 

Considering the antiquated look of the ground, the ticket reader as you go through the turnstiles was very 21st century and somewhat incongruous given the surroundings. A flight of stairs took me to the back of the away stand. Well the facilities here are something akin to grounds I thought I had left behind years ago. This is the premiership!  But not in terms of quality of ground on this occasion. 

There was a food outlet selling burgers and the like, hot and cold drinks but no alcohol as far as I could see. The food didn’t look very appetizing so I decided to keep my money in my pocket.  The toilet facilities I can only describe as something you might (with all due respect) expect to find in the Blue Square League Northern division. The Emirates, St. James Park etc etc…it is not.

The gents was about the size of a premiership players en-suite bathroom; consisting of a low level trough that has probably seen more water than a dozen Olympic sized swimming pools. Considering that there were going to be 2500 Hull City fans here today, the majority of them male, I was pleased that I had not found a pub because if I needed to go for a James Riddle at half-time it was going to be a right scrum.

It was at this point that I began to question the sanity of paying £35 to sit in a stand with facilities which should have been condemned years ago (harsh I know, but true) It is only in the past year or so that the stand has been blessed with a roof. I would have hated to come here if the roof had not been on and it was raining. Today it was cold, but at least there was some protection from the elements.

The roof does have a downside in that the posts holding it up spoil the view of the pitch a touch. Hard luck if you happen to find yourself right behind one.  The ground had a very old and tired look to it. With the ancient South stand to the left and the equally ancient North stand to the right. The relatively new West stand is directly in front.

Anyway the game got underway. In south-east an odd looking tent has been erected in which several Pompey fans try to lift the atmosphere by a constant cacophony of noise, ringing bells, banging drums and god knows what else. Honestly lads, I can see the point, but it was a din from start to finish. A barrage of noise which didn’t let up and sadly didn’t add anything to the atmosphere which was quite all right thank you very much. To the right of the away fans is a large screen showing match highlights, but even the view of this is restricted because it is badly positioned and set back, hence a quarter of the screen could not been seen from the seat I was in.

The stewarding was poor. The over-the-top nature of the stewards didn’t go down well and was the worst I had seen in some time. The constant haranguing, then threats to evict fans who did not sit down only caused more City fans to stand up. That said, some City fans did exasperate the situation, only for the stewards to fall for the bait, which only increased a tense situation.

That game was a very entertaining, exciting match. The atmosphere was good and the banter between the fans was good. However, the good points do not even-out the bad points. How can a club ask away fans to pay £35 to sit in a ground that would not look out of place in non league? Consider this. I shall pay £23.00 to attend the Man City v. Hull City game at the state-of-the-art Eastlands Stadium. Enough said!

Come on Portsmouth City Council look at ways to give the good people of Portsmouth, Portsmouth FC and their excellent fans a stadium worthy of the 21st century. I do not wish to sound hyper critical, but I would seriously consider not going to Portsmouth the next time City go there. But football does keep leading us back onto the Long and Winding Road, doesn’t it?

 


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