Tales From The Away End / Home End

Portsmouth vs. Chelsea : 24 September 2008.

As I think I may have said a few times, Portsmouth is one of my favourite away games, not the least because it’s the closest Premier League ground to my home.

I had booked a half-day holiday, so left work just after 1pm…back home for some scoff, a quick change and away at 3pm.

Another solo trip for me, but I had arranged to meet up with a former school friend, Rick, a Portsmouth a season-ticket holder for some 16 years. He had left Frome to go to college in London, but had grabbed the opportunity to move down to the south coast in 1992. He now lives only about half a mile from Fratton Park.

Portsmouth is only 75 miles away and it’s a fine route down, heading down the A36, through the beautiful cathedral city of Salisbury ( the cathedral’s spire is the highest in England and is quite stunning )…I noted that Salisbury is now twinned with the two US towns of Salisbury in Maryland and North Carolina. Does anyone live close to these towns? Onto the M27, straight past Southampton and onto Portsmouth. Maybe I’ll tell the story of the two cities’ rivalry later in the season…suffice to say the two sets of fans don’t get on.

I approached Portsmouth at around 4.45pm. Portsmouth is a strange place. The city itself is on the island of Portsea and shares this island with the more up-market resort of Southsea. The streets in and around Fratton Park consist of tight terraced houses. I suggest looking at the area on Google Earth to give some sort of idea of the claustrophobic nature of the city. On busy match days, getting out is a nightmare. My two mates Alan and Gary were on their way down the M3 on one of the Chelsea coaches. Desperate for a drink, I popped into The Good Companion, where I had a quick chat with Mad Mark and Jon. I excused myself as I had to deal with a few phone-calls from work. I spent a few minutes taking a look around Fratton Park. It’s such a classic old-style football ground, with floodlight pylons, old stands along the sides and certainly adds to the character of the city’s football team. You get a real sense of one town / one team at Portsmouth. The approach to the main stand is a classic sight – the entrance all mock Tudor beams. In days past, The Pompey pub was adjacent to the entrance, but this closed a while ago. On a visit to Fratton for a friendly in 2002, I noted it had been turned into a club shop…it’s now the PFC media centre…if that isn’t metaphor for the changing focus of football clubs I don’t know what is!

The weather was turning nasty, the drizzle was getting heavier. I needed to find a pub. Walking past the alleyway by the away end, I spotted a Portsmouth FC mural, denoting about twenty former players…I spotted one of their former striker William “Farmer Boy” Haines from the ‘twenties. My father knew this player as Wyndy Haines – after his playing days, he ran a pub in my local town of Frome.

I popped into The Rose In June ( no idea why the pub has such an odd name ) and had a text chat on the phone with Bob in Fremont and Teri in LA. They were glad to hear I was at the game. I had to laugh…I heard one of the barmaids shout out “Celery?” and I wondered what treats lie ahead. Oh no, my mistake – she actually said “Cellar key?” I read the programme – I don’t often buy one…columnist Steve Bone made a few good points about formations.

“I don’t understand formations. That’s football team formations, not cloud formations. Although I don’t really get them either. Actually it’s not so much that I don’t understand them; more that I don’t notice them. This is probably not a great thing to be admitting for someone who spends parts of his working life reporting on football matches, but there we are. It’s no good pretending. If you were to say to me after a game: How do you think the 3-5-2 worked?” I’d probably answer: “What 3-5-2? Who was playing 3-5-2? Where am I?”

I had to chuckle. He then went through the traditional 1-11 that I grew up with ( and understood! ) but lamented “I can’t quite pinpoint when this formula started to fall apart, but I should imagine it was around the same time that society itself began to crumble.”

Good stuff.

At 6.30pm, I called in to see Rick, who had just returned from work. Back to the pub for another drink. He’s off to Portugal with Pompey next week and is relishing the trip, their first ever in Europe. We talked throughout the evening about what supporting a lesser club in the eighties, during those hard school years, was like…it was pretty tough at times…but every dog has its day and I am genuinely pleased that his loyalty has now been rewarded with Cup Finals and trips to Europe. Payback time for all the hardships! His daughter Catherine, 10, has only seen Pompey in three away games and they have all been at Wembley! Unbelievable.

I waited while Rick demolished a Mick Monster Burger and then had a quick word with Cathy and Dog. I don’t think Cath was too impressed I was watching from a “home area.” Sorry – it won’t happen again!

We then took our seats in the North Stand ( the one along the side, facing the TV cameras, the one where Chicago Ian watched from in February ) and I promised to watch my Ps and Qs.

Chelsea had the entire Milton End, 2,500 strong and I spotted that we ( they? This is very confusing…) stood the entire game. I had a good seat, near the Fratton End. As Mike Oldfield’s “Portsmouth” was played on the PA, the teams entered the stadium. Both teams were going for it…I saw Ivanovic was debuting at right back, Belletti was in the Maka, er, Essien, er, Mikel role. Bridger at left back.

Pompey had a few early thrusts, but we soon took control…a silly challenge on Ballack and Frank the Penalty slotted home. I was texting madly to my mate Alan in the Chelsea end, Beth and Andy in the US – and only just caught Malouda’s goal. Coasting.

We played some nice stuff, but like the league opener, Portsmouth were very poor…they usually give us a tough game at Fratton, too.

At one moment in the first period, Ballack was getting some abuse from the home followers around me and so ( please avert your eyes and ears if you are easily offended ) I seized the opportunity to get stuck in too…”Ballack, you’re cattle-trucking useless!” Of course, I didn’t mean it, but it felt right and proper that I at last got it off my chest, after his poor show in 2006-2007.

Please forgive me. It made Beth laugh, anyway.

Kalou impressed me in the second-half…his nice neat run and cross set up Frank’s second goal and our third…James flapped and fluffed, the ball hit Frank on the chest and it timidly crossed the line. I forgot where I was and silently stood…it was bizarre to wait for a full two seconds for the Chelsea fans to roar…they obviously had no idea it had crossed the line.

Another defensive error – Distin this time – and Kalou rifled the fourth.

“Training session – at Fratton Park.”

Scott Sinclair came on in the last twenty minutes, took up his position right in front of me on the wing, then proceeded to fall over, loose control, run into people…I think we might not see the best of Scotty…I have a feeling he might never make it at Chelsea.

Bumped into my good mate Andy from Nuneaton on the walk back to the car…I joked with Rick not to kick the cat when he reached his house…he was certainly lamenting some awful defending.

The roads were clear on the drive home. Via a coffee stop en route, back home at 11.30pm…just in time to catch the Carling Cup highlights on ITV.

Perfect.

Received a text from Rick this morning –

“great to catch up last night, close game, thought we defended well…cat still alive.”

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