LFW Awaydays – Portsmouth, Fratton Park
Wednesday, 24th Nov 2010 00:10 by Awaydays
The Northern R’s decided to make a day of it on the south coast as QPR and Portsmouth battled each other and referee Gavin Ward for a hard earned point apiece.
On the pitch
Before they pump out the evening news in tiny little 30 second chunks for fear that American attention spans won’t stretch any further the television networks stateside like to ask people: “It’s 10 o’clock, do you know where your children are?” Now the answer for a worryingly large amount of families in this country would probably be: “Yes, they’re out robbing cars, now put first look Hollyoaks on for fuck’s sake” but somewhere last Tuesday one, probably very well to do, clan released their sheltered offspring out into the wilds of the south coast wind and rain. Did Mr and Mrs Ward know where their child was at 10pm? Certainly they did, he was trying to sneak out of Fratton Park without a manager, player or supporter from either QPR or Portsmouth getting anywhere close to him.
It’s a special talent to upset both teams equally when refereeing, but it’s something Gavin Ward accomplishes regularly and with great gusto. Here he took a game destined to finish nil nil and conjured two goals from thin air – the paying public should have been grateful for the extra entertainment, but to be honest by the end it was hard not to laugh at the farce of it all. An exasperated, ‘hurry up and kill me now’ sort of a laugh rather than a ‘oh you’re so funny, make them take that penalty again’ way you understand. Give a five year old a whistle and see what they do with it – the effect is very similar with Master Ward, and he doesn’t look a day over ten himself.
QPR were not at their best. Taarabt was relatively quiet, Hulse didn’t pose enough threat or presence up front, and we were too direct at times. But there were positives, notably the performance of Tommy Smith who seems really keen to grasp the big chance he’s been given recently and was our best player against his former club. Portsmouth likewise suffered through the lack of a real presence up front with David Nugent out injured and Dave Kitson having one of his “I can’t really be arsed with this” nights. They too relied on a wide player, John Utaka, for their best moments.
The whole stalemate was broken and then reinstated by poor officiating. First Matt Connolly missed a routine bouncing ball down the middle of the field which gave Kitson a free run into the penalty area and in a mission to recover the situation that looked doomed from the start Connolly chopped the big ginger down for an obvious penalty and red card. So far so routine and that remained the case when Paddy Kenny flung himself off to his left and saved the spot kick as he is rather prone to do. The reasons Portsmouth were then allowed to retake the kick, scoring at the second attempt through Liam Lawrence, remain a bit of a mystery to this day with the replays suggesting little encroachment and no prior move from Kenny. A few moments later Portsmouth made a mess of a free kick on halfway and were allowed it again as well, this time because it hadn’t quite been taken from the right position – I wondered whether it might just have been easier for Mr Ward himself to start taking Portsmouth’s set pieces such was his concern over the quality of them.
What followed was a bit of a nonsense. In the remaining 25 minutes QPR had three appeals for a penalty of their own. The first, when Kaspars Gorkss was wrestled to the ground attacking a corner, looked nailed on to me but probably fearing accusations of trying to even things up Ward ignored the offence. Then when a Portsmouth defender thrust an arm up to deflect a cross away from Shaun Derry Ward gave a free kick the other way just to make his point still further. Maybe I’m giving him too much credit, maybe his mind is like a big tombola drum full of decisions and they just sort of follow the whistle at random.
If that’s the case then QPR’s ticket slipped out in stoppage time when Lawrence was harshly penalised for handling a cross that he seemed to have blocked at close range with his chest. Lawrence likes getting his kit off for a variety of reasons – celebrating goals, filming roasting sessions and the like – and he needed no second invitation here to rip the shirt off his back and reveal the growing ball print across his nipple. Mr Ward doesn’t care for such flagrant showing off and immediately sent him off leaving Tommy Smith and his balls of steel to tie the game up in injury time.
Scores >>> QPR performance 6/10 >>> Opposition performance 6/10 >>> Referee performance 3/10
In the stand
In Richard Keys’ mind where football started in 1992 and only matches played in the Premiership really count Portsmouth have the best supporters in the world. They sing throughout games, create an amazing atmosphere, and follow their team through thick and thin. Of course people who realise there is football taking place in other divisions, and it’s been there for quite some time, may recall a QPR win on this ground in 1996 when it’s fair to say the going was particularly thin for Pompey and the crowd was a humungous 7,501. So by thick and thin what they actually mean is Premiership, or Championship providing they’re doing quite well, otherwise they all disappear in exactly the same way the “best fans in the world” do up in the north east whenever Newcastle, Sunderland or Middlesbrough fall on hard times.
That said you will struggle to find a better atmosphere at a Championship home ground than you get at Fratton Park. Personally I think the gent who has covered himself in Portsmouth tattoos, changes his name to Portsmouth FC, and spends the entire game ringing a cow bell should be locked away for his own safety. After all, if I covered myself in tattoos of the Greater London Assembly logo and stood on Tower Bridge all day wearing a large hat and ringing a cow bell eventually that’s exactly what would happen to me – football does not make this sort of behaviour acceptable. Nevertheless he plays his part in a constant barrage of noise from the home end which carries right down the pitch despite the howling wind coming in off the channel.
Fratton Park is football how it used to be, before it became a pass time for Rupert, Martha and the children to enjoy while tucking into their hummus sandwiches. It’s a grimy, cramped and outdated sort of a place – a place where a linesman once got punched in the side of the head by a supporter and they just sort of moved him aside and carried on with the game, a place where Chris Kamara raced onto the pitch to thump the home team’s physio when he felt he had shoulder barged one of his Bradford players out of the way, a place where AC Milan were almost vanquished by a team managed by somebody who will go down as one of this country’s worst ever gaffers Tony Adams and a place where Kevin Gallen’s life was changed forever by that sickening injury sustained in the act of scoring a winning goal. They have been kind enough to provide a roof for the away end since those days. It’s a ground with history, and memories, and funny moments and atmosphere and it’s this that you just don’t get from the Pride Park’s and Walker’s Stadiums of this world. I like to sit in a ground and think of all the things that have happened there down the years – sadly most grounds these days have a history dating back all of five years prior to which it was just a bit of land that the council sold off to companies wanting to dump acid tar and such like.
When I arrived at the rear of the away end about 20 minutes before the kick off, past a mural of former Portsmouth players that would appear to have been painted by an artist missing his hands, his eyes, or both, I asked a steward if programmes were on sale in the ground and he said they were. They weren’t. Before I had even managed to take my seat another steward had immediately accosted me and demanded the lid from my bottle of water. The purpose of this has always confused me – you can still throw a bottle of water with the lid on. Best we keep that quiet for fear they may start taking our water as well. My seat was horrendous – right down the front with no kind of view of the goal at our end, and no depth perception down the field so it was hard to tell if play was five yards from the goal at the other end or 55.
But I loved it. I loved the fact that I won’t see another ground like this anywhere else, the idea that there were people all around me who had been in the same seats for decades, the way the atmosphere built steadily through the game rather than suddenly exploding over an incident and then silencing again. I even loved the strange old time Naval ditty that boomed out from the public address system before the start of each half and by half time the jobsworth who had taken my water bottle lid had even made the effort to come and fetch me when he saw a programme seller knocking around, which he didn’t need to do after I’d been quite rude before the game and was appreciated.
Overall it’s an absolute hell hole, but I’ll miss it when and if it’s ever removed from the English league circuit.
Scores >>> QPR support 8/10 >>> Home support 8/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 8/10 >>> Stadium 6/10 >>> Police and stewards 4/10
On the road
“We’ll make a day of it,” said Tracey boarding the 1pm train from Clapham Junction with a litre bottle of Smirnoff in her hand to disapproving looks from the poor bastards stuck on some menial work related outing to Gatwick/Croydon/Crawley. The drink purchases, that also included a bottle of Peroni as big as your standard white wine, followed hot on the heels of a swift half or three in The Falcon at Clapham which started at noon and that all seemed like a terribly good idea until the train divided midway down to Portsmouth – half continued with us and the other half went off to Bognor Regis or somewhere like that, taking the only functioning toilet with it. That didn’t become a noticeable problem until texts started to flow in about water logging, pitch inspections, heavy rain, standing water and a potential postponement coupled with field after field rushing by the window under several feet of muddy liquid as one river after another burst its banks. I’d have fumed had it been called off, Tracey would gladly have swapped her match ticket for a working toilet by the time we left Chichester.
Anyway we eventually arrived at Portsmouth Harbour which seems to only be about 50 yards and 30 seconds further along than the previous Portsmouth station, and has actually been built jutting out into the water on stilts. We had planned to get a train back from there to Fratton nearer the time of the game but we got impatient and took a taxi instead which meant after the game we didn’t really have much idea where Fratton station was and that could have been a problem.
Once Mr Ward had finished being a knob and finally brought the game to a close shortly before daybreak we had to quickly find Fratton and get on the first train out to Eastleigh where we had a three minute change onto a London train that would then, in turn, get us back to the smoke in time for the last connections out to Staines (in our case), Brentford (in Mick’s case) and Watford (in Ian’s case). It seems ludicrous to me that there isn’t a direct train from Fratton between 9.40pm and 10.30pm that will make it to London in time for those connections, forcing hundreds of football fans (and we cannot be the first) across to Eastleigh on a stopping service in the middle of the night. But then ludicrous was about to be taken to a whole new level.
A three minute change was always going to be tight, and gone are the days when train companies did sensible things like hold connections, so with the train absolutely rammed and therefore taking its time at every station that three minutes in hand quickly turned into a six minute deficit and everybody was gearing up for a night in Eastleigh, wherever the hell that is. Then, reassurance. The guard announced that he was aware of the situation and had asked for the connection to be held so if we could all just quickly proceed over the bridge at Eastleigh everything would be just fine. Glad of a job well done he then packed up his little leather suitcase that all train guards seem to have, shut the train off for the night and headed home. Somewhere in the train guard training manual, possibly in chapter 1.1 there is a small mention of opening the doors to let the passengers off the train first, before you pack up your little leather suitcase that all train guards seem to have, shut the train off for the night and head home. Presumably he played truant that day.
So while we all stood there in the locked train, peering out at our connection that was agonisingly just sitting there ready for us and trying to take heed of Gary’s constantly repeating mantra about staying “nice and calm” a debate ensued about what exactly does constitute “improper use” of the emergency door release handle. Did we need the door released? Yes. Was this an emergency? Well would you want to spend the night in Eastleigh? It sounded like the kind of reasoned and well thought out argument that I’ve heard in magistrates court before during my line of work, the kind that usually ends with a £300 fine for somebody somewhere along the line.
Ultimately, after some rather panicked announcements from the driver, the doors were released, and we all did make our connection, and we were back in Staines at just after 1am. Then there was just the small matter of the three hour hike back to Sheffield the day after.
Scores >>> Journey 7/10 >>> Cost 6/10
In the pub
Now let’s be honest, ports and harbours are not generally nice places. A harbour is a place where boats park and immediately unload fish, cargo, or things they won by firing cannons at other ships. While they’re doing that the sailors disembark and immediately look for the things they were starting to run out of while sailing around – namely beer, drugs and prostitutes.
I appreciate there are a few generalisations in that summation but the basic principals are correct and therefore if you’re a couple of young (ish) professionals looking for somewhere to get nicely drunk before an evening football match then a harbour isn’t exactly the first place you may go looking – unless you have a taste for rum, or crack, or syphilis.
That said Portsmouth Harbour is one of those shitholes dotted around the country (Stratford, Corby, Hull) that somebody somewhere has decided to throw a bit of money at. It’s still very grubby around the edges - bus stops built for muggings, pubs that still keep an old war rifle above the bar in case the French try it on again and such like - but the Gunwharf Quays development is an impressive complex of shops, bars and restaurants with the giant Spinnaker Tower at its heart. Mick, Ian and Joe scaled that during the afternoon, Andy, Tracey and myself stood on the dock, felt the force nine gale in our faces and decided to decamp to the pub.
The place we ended up in was called the Old Custom’s House – and while it was clearly one of those new fangled pubs done up to look like an old time venue to lure you in and charge you £3.60 for a bottle of lager it was still very acceptable. I had a meat pie that could have done with some chips and veg on the side but was nice otherwise, Colin went for the fish and chips which looked and tasted amazing and come recommended. I think the plan at some point may have been to move around a bit, and see some other bars, but it all looked a little bit too Las Iguanas/Nandos/ASK outside for my taste and the temperature was knocking on the door of minus eight by this stage. Just as a couple of penguins wandered into the bar and muttered something to each other about it being “bitter” the staff in the Custom’s House threw another log on the fire. Or did they just turn the gas up. It was hard to tell.
Anyway warmth, food, beer. Checklist complete, so we stayed for the duration. Later there was whiskey.
Scores >>> Pub 7/10 >>> Atmosphere 6/10 >>> Food 7/10 >>> Cost 4/10
Final Score 86/130
Photo: Action Images
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