Monday, November 29, 2021
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Football Away Days: Portsmouth FC and Fratton Park

Pompey football away day

Well, it's been a long 2 years, but we finally did it, we got back out on the road to experience a new football match day at long last! This trip was originally booked for February 2020 (vs Rochdale), but had to be rearranged due to the fixture date being changed at late notice. As a result, we were due to see Portsmouth vs Blackpool in April 2020, but we all know what happened next as the world experienced a pause button moment, and so it came to pass that Portsmouth vs Bolton, at the end of October 2021, became our actual 'football away day'...

 

 

Thankfully, after over 18 months of anticipation and in stark contrast to our last away day at Swansea, we had a straightforward, albeit long, journey down to Fratton. A direct train from Bristol took almost 2.5 hours, which left plenty of time to catch up on and discuss the latest football news etc, and we had a good chat with a Bolton Wanderers season-ticket holder who had a well-timed holiday in Cornwall, with this being the 2nd away game him and his young son could catch on the south coast. That being said, both results would fail to meet their commitment to the cause.

 

The Rutland Arms in SouthseaOnce we got to the end of our own journey, we were left with just a 15 minute walk from the station to Fratton Park itself. However, as with any good away day, we needed to find ourselves a local pub to sample the atmosphere and immerse ourselves within the typical route of the home fans. We bumped into a local near Fratton train station, who led us to what we were looking for, although he had no need to enter himself as he supped his 'Nelson Mandela' and carried on his way (Stella Artois for the uninitiated!).

 

The pub we were directed to was 'The Rutland Arms', which is a decent sized boozer that was perfectly pleasant and, judging by the seating near the men's toilets, is run by a big fan of Tintin, as several of the book covers were framed on the wall as large posters. Following some swift pints, it was time to press on to Fratton Park, which has been the home of Portsmouth FC for 122 years.

 

What made the appeal of going to watch Pompey all the more attractive to me, is my own family connection to the club. Since falling in love with football as a kid I was made aware of my great grandad William Moffat, who played for Portsmouth in the 1920s and even has his own Wikipedia page. As a part of the team that won promotion from the old Second Division in the 1926/27 season, I was shown an inscribed gold pocketwatch, which was effectively his bonus for that campaign (how times have changed). As a result of this history, I've always had a soft spot for the club, and only wish that I could have had an opportunity to speak to William about his own career.

 

Back to the present, and we reached the ground simply enough, tucked away to the right of 'The Pompey Centre' (which is essentially a large sprawling retail park). Where the shops now are, used to be the British Rail owned Fratton Goods Yard. Quite often a football ground is redeveloped and a lot of the surroundings stay the same, but at Fratton Park, instead it's the area around it that has seen a much greater amount of change over the years.

 

Once I had my obligatory programme and we were inside, there was a poignant pre-match ceremony for Remembrance/Armistice Day, which involved the 'Last Post' being played by the Royal Marines 'Corp of Drums'. Following this mark of respect, we made our way to our seats in the lower north stand, right in the front row and slightly below pitch level. Being this close to the action, it was still an amusing surprise when one of our group managed to get their hands on the ball less than a minute into the game, but then he is a goalkeeper after all!

 Fratton Park Lower North Stand

As for the main event, Portsmouth vs Bolton was a mid-table clash within League One, 'The Trotters' having been promoted from League Two last season and Pompey being one of the pre-season favourites to reach the Championship after spending the last 4 years finishing in or very close to the play-off spots (mostly under the guidance of former manager Kenny Jackett). The man in charge now is Danny Cowley, who took over back in March and is gradually finding his feet.

 

The 1st half of the game was reasonably tight affair, but one where it felt that Portsmouth were frequently stalling a pass or two before unlocking the Bolton defence. The stand-out player was Pompey's Ronan Curtis on the left-wing, who gave Lloyd Isgrove quite the run around at times with his clever link-up play and ability to hold the ball up. Unfortunately, things weren't quite clicking with John Marquis playing up front for the home side, and as half-time approached it was the visitors who twice came within inches of opening goal.

 

In the 35th minute the ball was passed into Oladapo Afolayan, who dribbled in from the right hand side and unleashed a superb 30 yard shot towards the top-left corner, only to see the Portsmouth 'keeper Gavin Bazunu (on loan from Manchester City) match it with a great save that tipped it onto the crossbar. Then, just before the break, Declan John collected a return pass from his own throw-in and wriggled his way into the penalty area from the left sideline before firing an angled shot against the post.

 

With half-time having come at an opportune moment for the home side, Pompey started the second-half on the front foot and the crucial goal arrived in the 51st minute. Ronan Curtis was unsurprisingly involved, getting in behind the Bolton defence from the left and delivering a low, hard cross into the edge of the six yard box, where John Marquis was able to improvise a clever back-heeled finish that bobbled up and over the out-stretched arm of Joel Dixon.

 

Having broken the deadlock Marquis almost doubled the lead shortly after, when his good work saw him outmuscle a defender and break into the Bolton penalty area from the right. Marquis cut in between two more defenders and was one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but his low shot was comfortably saved by Dixon with his feet. Portsmouth continued to prod and probe for a decisive second goal, but with time running out Bolton hit the woodwork for a 3rd time and were left to rue their luck. Substitute Harry Brockbank whipped in a decent cross from the right and Eoin Doyle slammed a powerful header onto the middle of the crossbar, leaving the Fratton Park faithful to breathe a sigh of relief.

 

That was that. A competitive game edged by Pompey, and a result that saw them leapfrog Bolton in the League One table, via goal-difference. It remains to be seen if Danny Cowley will push Portsmouth onwards and upwards towards the play-off places this season, but the potential is certainly there if they can get more consistent. And our journey to Fratton Park couldn't end without a customary run-in with 'Mr Portsmouth' himself, the bookseller in the eye-catching stove pipe hat and clown shoes, John Anthony Westwood. Otherwise known as the man who rings his cow bell for practically the whole 90 minutes, in 'The Fratton End' of the ground, along with a nearby drummer.

Mr Portsmouth with Max Wilshaw 

As we made our way towards the exit of the ground, there he was, being the minor celebrity football fan (he has his own Wikipedia page too!) and happily posing for photos with other supporters, including some of our entourage. With that experience struck off the away days bucket-list, we found our way to another pub (the jovial Froddington Arms) to watch the inevitable Spurs loss to Manchester Utd in the late Premier League game, before preparing ourselves for another 2 and a 1/2 hour train journey home.

 

Another football away day completed, and with the bit back between our teeth, it's time for me to start planning the next one. Don't you dare get in the way of football again Covid...

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