Adventures in Football #41: Fratton Park (Portsmouth FC)
MARCH 1, 2022
PORTSMOUTH FC vs OXFORD UTD (League 1)
I’ve always wanted to go to Fratton Park. The atmosphere, especially when they were in the top flight, looked banging. Fratton Park is also an old ground, which is very much my bag. Portsmouth have played there since 1899. It’s been a rollercoaster history at Fratton Park for the Pompey. They started out in the regional leagues until making the football league in 1920 and by 1927 they were in the top division of English football. They won the FA Cup in 1939 after twice being runners up.
If you thought World War II would put a stop to Portsmouth’s antics, you’d be wrong. They came back strong after the war and won the league in 1949 and 1950. Only five teams have won every division in English football; Wolves, Burnley, Preston, Sheffield United and, you guessed it, Portsmouth FC. As recently as 2008 they were winning silverware, hoisting the FA Cup but it’s not been great for them since. They finished bottom of the Premier League in 2010 (as well as losing the cup final) and by the start of 2013/14 season they found themselves in League 2.
Just six years after winning the FA Cup Portsmouth had been consigned to the fourth tier of English football. In 2017 they won League 2 and have spent their four seasons in League 1 battling for promotion. There’s a feeling that Pompey are on their way back. Their current season is the worst yet in League 1 though. They currently sit in P11, some 7 places and 14 points behind today’s visitors; Oxford Utd.
For those interested in my 92 Club progress, I’m currently on 22/92. This takes it to 23/92 and therefore officially at 25%. A quarter of the way there!
As you can see from my FootballGroundMap.com map most of my grounds are around me in the Midlands along with a scattering down south around London. I’ve still got a lot of Northern grounds to go. That whole South Yorkshire belt is red. In Pompey I’m taking out my first south coast ground. Portsmouth is around two and a half hours away by car. If I took the train it would be more like 5 hours. And the government wonder why people insist on driving everywhere? Could it be public transport is fucking shit outside London?
The weather gets progressively worse the further south we go and by the time we’re in Portsmouth it is aggressively wet. Maria, my lovely wife, has been wanting to turn one of these football trips into a duel sight-seeing operation and when we finally get around to doing one it’s miserable weather. I’ll spare you our holiday snaps and instead include a picture I took of what I can only describe as a Paul Verhoeven mural.
The initial plan is to jump on the train at Portsmouth & Southsea (we were staying at the Travelodge) and get off at Fratton followed by a short stroll to the ground. It only takes 10 minutes off the walk though, and Maria fancied stretching her legs…in the rain…so we took a gentle stroll. Before we hit the road we went for a few pre-match beers. One in the Spoons was a mistake but we made up for it in the Fleet, which I would heartily recommend. It’s by the Guildhall and wasn’t that busy and there weren’t any knobheads in there. Maria posed for a picture by Charles Dickens’ statue and then asked me who he was. She’s not English but even so. Oliver Twist? Scrooge? No?
Back on foot we made it to the ground, slightly soggy. My new phone has a sick camera, and I can now take pictures of things outside at night and you can see what they are. This is from the club car park basically in the dark.
In we go and only after walking the entire way around the ground because we had the misfortune of turning left instead of right. I knew when the first gate I came to was “gate 1” we were in trouble. I managed to walk straight through a puddle right outside too so we’re quite wet, but my feet are completely soaked.
Having figured out where we go in, we now had to find our seats. This proved to be trickier than anticipated. We ended up strolling all the way to the end here none the wiser and luckily we happened to be sat up here in A section.
We’re at in the South Stand Upper. This is also known as the Grand Stand (or it was anyway). It got redesigned and rebuilt in 1925 with the famous Archibald Leitch as the planner. There was a 2007 refurbishment of this stand, which apparently obstructs some of Leitch’s architectural work. I can clearly see they’ve squeezed extra seating in as there’s no bloody leg room.
(if you look really closely at this you can see where the Portsmouth FC badge has fallen off the top of my pie and landed on the floor, I had no idea was in the shot)
Away to our right is the away end, home of the Oxford fans this evening.
As you can see the view is irritatingly obstructed by poles. Normally I don’t mind this so much but this big bugger is right in line with my view of the goal mouth. There’s no leaning around it either! If a goal goes into the right side of the net I won’t see it. Before the game kicks off, I went to get some food. I’ve barely eaten at the football all season long and someone asked me about best scran the other day and of 36 games I think I’ve eaten food at about 4 grounds.
In an attempt to belatedly add in food reviews to these things I went and got a chicken pie and a sausage roll from the kiosk. The sausage roll was fucking banging. I’d highly recommend that. Look at how fluffy that little bastard is. Top scran. I believe it was £3.90. I also ate a pie, which cost (again I think) £4.50. The pie had a rock hard base and the filling was liquid magma. It’s served in a bag so the grease makes the paper bag fall apart quickly. It was a bad experience. Get the sausage roll instead.
On mascot watch we have Nelson. He’s a dog with a hat on. Didn’t see much in the way of antics from him. Pretty middling effort. In looking for pictures of him I found a campaign of Pompey fans to bring back former mascot Frogmore. If Nelson doesn’t pick up his attitude he could be on the chopping block. You can also see the steward for our section on here and he was great. I find stewards are either really helpful and just love the club or useless jobworths. The worst stewards I’ve seen all season are at Birmingham City. No one else’s even come close. They are dire. I’d go as far as to call them wankers.
Across from us is the North Stand, which is currently being redeveloped. As a result three lads have to stand over there in case a ball needs retrieving. Glad to see them able to watch the game for free. Socially distanced too. Nice work. Onto the game and Oxford rapidly took the lead. Marcus Browne fired them in front after just 3 minutes. 2m 51s to be precise. I looked at the scoreboard. Oxford proceeded to start time wasting after 5 minutes played. I’m sure that will work out fine for them.
During the first half Portsmouth were mostly shite. Passes were misplaced regularly and while they had more of the ball against an unambitious Oxford side, the possession was wasteful. I lost count of how many times a pass went behind the target. It was during another of these moves, which looked to have collapsed, Joe Morrell hit a hopeful cross in from the right wing and Sean Raggett, up from a preceding free kick, which had gone horribly wrong, headed Pompey level. Minutes later George Hirst, son of Sheffield Wednesday legend David, fired Pompey 2-1 in front. What a turnaround in the last five minutes of the first half. I thought he was offside but the goal stood and Portsmouth had turned it around. Passive Oxford only had themselves to blame.
The first half had been scrappy for long periods and the second half looked like being much of the same until Blackburn loanee Hayden Carter unleashed an absolute Thunderbastard on 58’.
Get in there. My partially obstructed vision couldn’t miss that one. What a pearler. It goes into my top 3 goals of the season and could easily claim top spot. Oxford looked beaten at this point but the home support were less convinced it was over. A guy a few rows back was muttering about how that ‘should be enough for a point’. Pompey’s defensive weaknesses appeared in spades after taking a two goal lead and they finally shipped a goal on 81’ when Sam Baldock cut it across the box for Luke McNally to slot home. Pompey just about held on for the points and prevented back to back defensive disasters at home (they were 3-0 down at home to Fleetwood after 41’ at the weekend and drew 3-3).
Portsmouth was a ground I really wanted to get to this season but didn’t think I would. I wanted to experience their atmosphere first hand to see if it was as good as it seemed when I’ve seen them on TV. I can confirm it’s really loud inside Fratton Park although Oxford’s travelling fans did make themselves heard in between the constant “blue army” rumbling. When the entire ground is chanting “play up Pompey, always play up” it’s an experience. Easily in my top three grounds for atmosphere this season. What struck me was there was grumbling, which you get at all grounds, but it wasn’t overwhelming. The support was overwhelming. Which is how Portsmouth keep coming back and never stopping because the supporters never stop. It must be one hell of a ground to play football in every week.
As I walked away from Fratton Park, trainers still a bit soggy, I reflected on the experience. I’d had a lovely time. If the game had been a 0-1 Oxford win and Pompey had never fought back, I imagine it would have been less of an experience but to be in there experiencing that kind of performance and result was great. It’s a fantastic old school ground and should be everyone’s bucket list. The combination of ground, atmosphere and the actual football made this one of the best trips I’ve done for football. Play up Pompey!