Portsmouth is synonymous with Victory. Unfortunately, the football club has been all at sea in recent years.
Despite almost disappearing into oblivion, Portsmouth somehow clung onto existence. In a happy twist of fate, their spectacular fall from grace has given their fans a spectacular opportunity to take in the 92 grounds of the football league simply by following their own club. None of this groundhopping needed. I wandered the train looking for fans to point this out to, but they were mostly drinking Fosters so I decided better of it.
What with Fratton Park being in a residential area, coffee options were limited. A huge Tesco sits behind the stadium so anything food and drink related is to be sought out there.
The rubber sandwiches were flying off the shelves, which is strange because the salad bar was fully stocked. I got in a good amount of olives and even a boiled egg. The protein did me good because I was up all night topless shadow boxing in the living room with dad.
With no alternative, I picked up a flat white at the in-store Costa. It was molten hot, a fundamental failing in skill for any barista. Shameful. I burnt my tongue on the first sip. Luckily, I hadn’t only come to the game to scream abuse at people in different colours, so I let it go.
Fratton Park is a delightful throwback to a time when football teams were the centre of their communities. Houses hug the peripheries of two stands, three of which are snapshots of a bygone era, even if showing their age now.
Being in the Milton End (away) and what with Crawley being absolutely woeful in every conceivable way, it was a joy to sit back and take in the character of a relic of football past. In the age of shoebox replicas, Fratton Park truly is a gem.
Now that Portsmouth are in League 2, they’ve returned to something called real football; the strange notion that somehow football grows in authenticity as its quality worsens.
With so much real football on display, the only thing lacking for optimum authenticity was rain.
Real football fans like rain, don’t they? They bloody love rain, just like they adore long masculine balls, heaving two footed tackles, and glorious, barrel chested big men up top. Real football played by real men. Oh how the stands of lower league stadiums are filled with fans, bulbous eyed, frothing at the mouth, screaming to the heavens; Lord, please send me a real man! Someone rough and tough and strong and mean.
The middle aged Timmy Mallet fan sat in the North Stand within ear shot and chatting distance of the Crawley fans was not, however. In his retro shirt, chino shorts, boating shoes and transition glasses, he peppered the away fans with the sneering put downs of a bullied kid who no one felt sorry for. In a voice akin to a punctured accordion, he whined:
Oh, well done, Crawley, well done, to any mistake, minuscule or goal-gifting.
That was good wasn’t it? That went well, in light of much the same.
Not sure he wanted to do that, did he, Crawley?; you get the drift.
This was a dangerous new twist of possible fan-on-fan violence. A new prototype of hooligan who poses no physical threat but is simply so annoying that you still want to kick his head in.
Not me personally, of course. I buy organic.
Regardless, the famous Pompey bell was ringing out for all to hear, it was just news to me that they had one in every stand.
Then it started raining heavily. Hallelujah.
It was very authentic, rustic even. Rustic, real football in a delightful throwback of a stadium. I could almost feel myself rushing home for pie and chips, a pint of bitter, a Bernard Manning comedy show, and few minutes before bed to beat my wife and kids.
It finished 3-0 to Pompey, so now the street was the place to go. It was hammering down on the walk back to the station, but the real football fans, with hunched shoulders and sodden clothes, were satisfied.
They trudged on, a glint in their eye that said I’m gonna let myself get absolutely soaking wet.