Being a Pompey fan has never been easy. The fun and enjoyment has often been drowned out by pain and misery but that doesn’t stop a fan caring deeply about his or her team. I recall my first game in a wheelchair days after being in QA hospital to have surgery on my ankle. I remember the soup in a flask. I remember mum pushing the wheelchair along the uneven cobbles outside of the main entrance at Fratton Park.
I also remember plenty of other memories. Coming back to score twice in injury time against Blackburn Rovers and feeling scared as the fans around me rushed forward. I wouldn’t walk into Fratton Park again until my teenage years. I never felt scared again but I can certainly see why all-seater stadia were brought in for safety. I can still recall that fear what, 25 years on?
I remember surviving on the final day against Barnsley as somehow Crystal Palace survived thanks to David Hopkins handball. I remember just four days before that having the chance to send Crystal Palace down and crapping the bed. I remember Robert Prosinecki’s performances against Grimsby and Barnsley. I remember being pro Yoshi Kawaguuchi and being one of the only ones. I remember the Championship year when we slayed all before us. I remember the Leicester game at Fratton Park that year and how it never should have gone ahead.
I remember beating the Scummers thanks to a Yakubu goal as we tried to stay up. I also remember giving them a 4-1 whooping and then in a surreal moment being in B&Q less than half an hour later.
Why am I recalling random moments from my Fratton Park past? Well because that is a major part of Michael Eisner’s vision for the future and I’m not sure I can be totally on board. He sees the history of the place as important. Speaking exclusively to The News the 75 year-old said, ‘I love the feel, ambience, the history, even the smell and texture of Fratton Park.’ All of which I can understand but just because it is quaint and holds so many memories for us all, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look to improve our home and for many that means starting from scratch.
He wants to renovate instead of either replace and rebuild or build a new ground elsewhere and sell off Fratton Park for housing stock, something that would be rather valuable down on Portsea Island. The problem with renovating Fratton Park is it needs more than just a lick of paint, it needs root and branch fixing. Whilst I believe many Pompey fans put up with a substandard experience due to our love of the club, in this modern era the whole matchday experience is vastly important to many newer fans. Add to that the whole travel infrastructure. Giving in and out of Fratton is not easy.
In an ideal world I still loved the whole Portsmouth Harbour plans from a decade ago or so. Yes I will concede that the travel issue was just as big as Fratton Park would have been but it was a chance to build an iconic stadium in a breathtaking position within the city. This plan obviously went to the wall due to the size of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers but it was forward thinking. Herzog de Meuron went to the drawing board with a blank bit of paper. Any retrofit of Fratton Park would not have this luxury.
Everything else Mr. Eisner has said has filled me with hope. Building the clubs foundations slowly, building up the academy, scouting network, no leverage debt and I don’t have an issue with no fan representation on the board. I know that is a significant worry for many but this isn’t some chancer coming in, this is a man with a lifetime of experience of being a significant person in the running of huge companies.
If he believes that he needs the board make-up to consist of people with years of experience of business then I can live with that. It might not be ideal but it isn’t a deal breaker. I also certainly think he should pay those who invested their own hard cash in buying shares more than exactly the money they put in. Yet it is the plans for the stadium that leave me most uneasy. This is a chance to build somewhere for the 21st Century and beyond. Instead it seems like a cheap job to try and drag Fratton Park into the 21st Century but without looking forward to how the club can grow and expand both matchday and non-matchday revenue streams, something which any club with genuine ambitions surely has to do in the modern era.
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