Portsmouth 0 Crewe Alexandra 1

Portsmouth is one of the smaller cities in England (Population 200,000ish) but it is also one of the best, probably the best. What other city has a port, a naval dockyard, an historic seaside resort, two piers, a ferry service, a concrete viewing tower, a hovercraft service, four tides a day and most importantly a supporters owned football club. If you don’t think those are all things worth having then you can only be a hopeless misery or from Southampton.0The upshot of this glowing first paragraph in praise of Portsmouth is to show that for footie fans a fixture at Fratton Park is wonderful thing and far better than any of the traditional long weekend attractions of away games at seaside towns such as Blackpool, Brighton or Torquay. Incidentally, why anyone would want to stay in Blackpool I cannot imagine, what a dump! A sleazy, greasy, grubby, outside toilet of a town.
Back to Portsmouth. My prelude to the match took in a Friday evening in the Meat n Barrel pub in Southsea, a trendy establishment, which felt like a Student Union bar and had a hipster-friendly décor of bare brick walls and girders, metal light shades and school canteen style tables and chairs. It made for harsh acoustics and was reminiscent of a 1980’s New York loft apartment or squat, but the beer was good, although at £3.95 a pint it needed to be. Saturday morning brought breakfast in the shadow of the Spinnaker Tower and then a trip at 4metres per second up said tower to take in the views over Portsmouth, the Solent and the Isle of Wight,which are bloody marvellous. The sun shone, clouds swirled and scudded, rain fell over the English Channel and the water sparkled. It’s only the existence of Manchester United, Chelsea and Robbie Savage that stops me believing in God when confronted with such beauty.
With my soul and spirits still soaring I arrived at Fratton Park, a wonderful football ground which isn’t that much altered from when I first attended a game there in 1979. The ground’s character comes from the two lateral stands which both date from the 1920’s, the North stand is cranked towards the pitch a third of the way along and inside is a warren of steel girders and wooden floorboards perched on an earth bank. There is still an advert for Brickwood’s beers at the back of the stand, ales that haven’t been brewed for the best part of forty years, but a part of Pompey’s heritage.
My seat was in the South Stand, a similar structure in some ways to that opposite, but designed by the illustrious Archibald Leitch, ‘architect’ of football stands all across Britain in the early years of the twentieth century. One of the joys of watching Pompey is Fratton Park itself; it is a museum piece, but that only adds to the atmosphere once the stands are occupied as the noise of the crowd echoes beneath the low roof and bounces off the wooden floorboards and staircases. Not that Pompey needs helpful acoustics, because Portsmouth supporters are arguably the most passionate and loyal of any in England. What other club would get larger gates in the Fourth Division than in the Second Division; only a few thousand down on when they were in the First Division?
It was visiting Crewe Alexandra in their boring all-black away kit who started the game brightest as they strove to quell the atmosphere that had built with the approach of kick-off. But Pompey very quickly began to behave as the home team should and soon the ball stayed mostly at the Fratton end of the ground where the Crewe goalkeeper stood. But despite there being 16,810 people in the ground, the majority wearing blue, they weren’t getting behind the team like they normally do. Expectation was high, a win for Pompey and defeat for Carlisle United would see Pompey climb into 3rd place in the league table, an automatic promotion position. But that rain I’d seen over the English Channel in the morning was now over Fratton Park and seemed to dampen spirits and the supporters weren’t their usual noisy, committed selves. There was a chill breeze too which blew away the warmth of the morning’s sun. Not good. On the pitch Pompey were like a superior life form from another planet, probing and prodding the Crewe defence as if they were hicks abducted by UFO from mid-west America, but they got nowhere; the Crewe defence was unfathomable, like why those Americans chose Donald Trump as their leader.
Despite being ‘on top,’ Pompey were not really performing. Gary Roberts, the slow-paced former Ipswich Town winger was running the midfield, but up front Kyle Bennett, whose parents may be watched South Park, skipped around a lot but was ineffective showing no inclination to kick the ball at the goal. Crewe’s defenders were big blokes and Kyle has the frame of a pasty-faced teenager and a haircut which looks like he has a small fish on top of his head; he was no match for them. Meanwhile, Pompey’s former Ipswich defender Matt Clarke could only lump the ball forward aimlessly; I can’t imagine where he learned to do that. Shocking.
In the stand I was growing frustrated like my fellow spectators, but mainly because of a teenage girl and boy who kept wanting me to stand up so they could pass by and go down onto the concourse to buy coke or burgers or some such crap. The lack of space is the drawback of a 1920’s football stand; it wasn’t built for well-fed, strapping 6ft 2 inch smart arses such as me; it was built for weedy, flat capped, malnourished tuberculosis sufferers, traumatised by their experiences in the First World War . I felt conflicted. When those youths asked me to let them by I wanted to say “ No, it’s not half-time yet” but I wasn’t going to do that. I felt guilty for having such curmudgeonly thoughts, but also for not actually telling them to go back , sit down and watch the match; added to which I was an Ipswich Town season ticket holder watching Portsmouth and secretly wondering how the Towen were doing at home to Brentford. I was a seething mass of internal conflict, but fortunately it was half-time before I knew it, although there were plenty of clues with loads of other people now going downstairs to the concourse to beat the queue for the khasi, beers, teas and burgers, which are what people really go to football for after all.
Despite the relative disappointment of the first half there was still a tangible air of optimism for the second half. Pompey had had more possession and more clearly wanted to win, rather than not lose like their opponents, so surely that would count for something. Well, it didn’t. Crewe Alexandra, if anything, played a bit better and although they won a few corners and somebody fell over in the penalty area Pompey were probably less threatening towards the Crewe goal than they were in the first half. Such was their ineffectiveness, that my thoughts turned to how much Pompey centre- half Christian Burgess, with his pony tail, looked like an 18th century sailor; all he really needed was a ribbon and perhaps a tricorn hat. He could have “Mr Christian” printed on the back of his shirt like those Brazilians do who don’t play under their real names. I also mused on whether Crewe’s curly blonde-haired striker Alex Kiwomya was a relative of former Ipswich Town waif Chris Kiwomya; Wikipaedia tells us he is his nephew.
Crewe were now so much improved on their first half showing that they had the cheek to score a goal; a bout of pinball ending with a header in to a far corner of the Pompey goal which they seemed to have forgotten about. Although there was in theory plenty of time for an equaliser, the goal caused of mass exodus of Pomponians who deserted ship as if they’d got wind of an imminent torpedo attack. As large numbers made for the lifeboats Pompey continued to flounder and despite desperate substitutions their play deteriorated to the point that they could barely string two passes together. The now predictable outcome was that Crewe Alexandra emerged victorious, but I was still a trifle disturbed to hear a chorus of “What the fucking hell was that? “ from a phalanx of disgruntled Pompey fans as they headed for the exits after the final whistle.
The Pompey team had disappointed this afternoon, but unusually so had the Pompey supporters who had failed to get behind their team when they most needed it. I left Fratton Park somewhat disillusioned. Pompey is normally the antidote to miserable, moany Ipswich for me, but something had gone wrong today; I think it was perhaps that there was expectation. As a football supporter you can only ever have hope, expectation is a step too far and you will be punished for having it. Oh, but if you support Manchester United or Chelsea that is a good thing.

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