Portsmouth FC – an apology…
In 2004 I wrote something for another website which maligned Portsmouth Football Club and their supporters. At the time there were a few of us writing for the site. Most of us had jobs where we were in front of a computer all day and which allowed for lots of time fucking about on the internet. We used to write any old shite to get a reaction from people who, like us, had too much time on their hands and then watch the site’s message board light up with cyber death threats etc. It was childish but when we hit a nerve it would make boring afternoons fly by. For me it was a distraction from a dull job and the dull people I worked with.
Over time I had developed a dislike of Portsmouth FC. United had played at Fratton Park late in the 03-04 season and lost one-nil. It was a shit day out. The only thing of note was one of the lads off our coach stripping off, jumping off the bus at the services and kicking a stolen space hopper onto a garage forecourt, which hit a woman putting petrol in her car. She wasn’t hurt, it wasn’t malicious and it wasn’t the norm for someone to get naked on our buses but it was funny at the time. The police later caught up with the coach and were keen to speak to the lad in question, which meant copper had to get on and ask fifty blokes if any of them had assaulted a member of the public with a space hopper whilst wearing fuck all. There was a beautiful moment when the coach went silent before erupting into the most beautiful laughter. The constable knew he was beaten and just got off. That aside, all I remembered about that day in Portsmouth was that it was shit.
Before they put the roof on and made it proper modern, Portsmouth had given United fans the uncovered end behind the goal. The seats had been fixed to the old terrace, which had steps too narrow to fit them. Our end was over-crowded and everyone stood for the whole game so every time United attacked you fell over the seat in front. From the opposite side of the ground you could hear drums banging and bells ringing and for the whole second half their fans ‘der der der, der der der der’d’ as their team of unknowns battered United, who were fast surrendering the title to Arsenal. I think it pissed down for the whole game too.
I hated being there. We were a six hour coach journey from home, United were having the piss taken out of them by a team that were expected to go straight back down and the ground was so shit I craved the next time we’d be in stage-managed, sanitised Old Trafford. At the time I couldn’t see why United fans had started to ‘hate’ Arsenal but despite that I disliked Portsmouth immensely, something I shared with absolutely no one outside of Southampton. It wasn’t just because of that one game though. I had held a grudge against them since they came to Old Trafford in the early nineties and got a 2-2 draw in the League Cup.
It was a night game which attracted a higher than normal League Cup crowd owing to the announcement that afternoon that it was pay on the gate, something which had more or less died out as United were guaranteeing sell-outs for any game. We were there early but so were thousands like us and as kick off approached me and my two mates anxiously moved from queue to queue to trying to find the one which moved quicker than the others. When the teams came out there were still hundreds left outside. We were about ten from the front when the police horses started to make their way down the slope towards the turnstiles to start turning people away. I knew we’d be ok though because we were right at the front and we’d been there an hour early.
I could see stewards on the other side encouraging the turnstile operators to call it a day and beyond them through the tunnels in the Paddock I could see people in the Stretford End on their feet waiting for the game to start. The last few United fans managed to push to the front and persuade staff to let them in. I was two from the front when a horse stepped in front of us and cut us off and the solid metal doors were slammed shut by stewards keen to go and watch the game. I looked around for my mates to see what we’d do next but I couldn’t see them anywhere. I went to go round the Stretford End to see if I could catch them on their way to another turnstile. There must have been another turnstile open, I thought, but there were already lads coming back up the United Road tunnel confirming that it was a lock out.
After about quarter of an hour trying to find my mates, who it turned out were in the Scoreboard Paddock watching the game, I settled for trying to watch the match through the windows at the old South Stand reception via a small gap in the Venetian blinds. Watching his two goals, I remember thinking that Paul Walsh was a twat, something he affirmed by signing for city a couple of months later having agreed to go Forward With Franny, the girly haired fucker.
In a way that only a teenager can be over something so trivial, I was devastated and I laid all the blame on Portsmouth. It is the only game that I’ve travelled to but not got into, which is hardly something that attracts women or gets you a second interview for a dream job, but every time I saw Portsmouth on the telly or heard them mentioned I recall the perceived indignity of it all. It was a juvenile grudge which I took with me to that awful away game some ten years later. In the run up to the game when we were back down there in October the following season I thought it would be good therapy to put my feelings down on paper to perhaps get a response from Portsmouth fans which would liven up an otherwise boring afternoon. Small-minded, boring football fan behaviour.
My feelings for Portsmouth FC were that they, like every club below Stockport on a map, were a shitty little Southern club, watched by curly wig wearing, drum banging knobheads that I hoped would get relegated so we’d never have to go there again. I wrote about the injustice of “proper football clubs” like Sheffield’s or Forest having to play in a league undeserving of their history and loyal support. From behind the protective shield of my pseudonym I called for the top tier of English football to be off-limits to small town clubs like Portsmouth and for “proper clubs” to be reinstated. I pressed ‘submit’ and watched the website’s message board fill up with angry Portsmouth fans. I read through a few of the replies and was amused at how wound up people were getting. A couple of hours later I went back on to find that the entire site had exploded with irate Pompey fans, whose comments went as far as suggesting I was going to ‘get it’ if I went to Fratton Park again. I hoped I wouldn’t need to.
Later that afternoon I had a call from the editor who himself had received a call from a Portsmouth radio station asking if someone from the site would go on and defend my comments about Portsmouth’s lack of right to be in the top division of English football. It was getting a bit out of hand. “Do you want to do it?” he asked. I thought about and then came back with the only answer I could: “no, do I fuck want to do it!” Far from being seen for what it was – a wind up – the piece had been taken literally and had now caught the attention of local media in Portsmouth, which played right into their hands, allowing them to label United fans ‘arrogant’ and ‘spoilt’. Fair play to him, I think the editor actually went on the radio and fielded some questions from some near-outraged local DJ. I declined the offer, not because I was worried about what might greet me, but because there’s no way that I could defend something in which I had no belief whatsoever. Yes, I had bad memories of two of the previous four encounters with Portsmouth (United won the League Cup replay in ’94 and beat Portsmouth in the FA Cup the year they were promoted) and it was way down the list of places I wanted to go back to but I really wasn’t that arsed. Predictably United lost at Fratton Park again, giving the cyber-warriors the chance to gloat on Monday morning and that was the end of the matter.
Fast forward to March 2010 and I’m sat at Gigg Lane listening to a panel of blokes talk about reclaiming our game and amongst them is Barry Dewy, a representative from Portsmouth’s Independent Supporters Association. Six years on from when his team were beating United and building a team well capable of remaining in the top division, Dewy addresses a room of United fans that have swapped watching Wayne Rooney in the Sky-backed Premier League for the glue-sponsored Northern Premier League, his own club on the verge of going out of business having been plundered just like ours. It’s fair to say that quite a lot has happened since 2004.
The true extent of Portsmouth’s problems had passed me by until BBC 5 Live’s fans’ forum in February. I was aware that they had some financial issues but saw them as being no different to tens of clubs that had been in the news in the last few months. Someone would come in and buy them, I thought, and that would be the end of it until another club were on the news bleating about hardship, thanks to signing semi-talented, ear-ring adorned players on daft wages. Like a lot of people, I was only aware of the extent to which they had had their pants pulled down when the phrase ‘winding up order’ was introduced. It soon became obvious that “shitty little Southern club” was in big trouble. My own thoughts were no longer about that balloon in the big hat but about how the fuck this has happened to a club that won the FA Cup a couple of years ago.
The detail can be found elsewhere. Suffice to say, the situation is markedly different to our Glazer-induced one, as I found out listening that night and by hearing Dewy’s thoughts in Bury, but the collateral damage caused by near-anonymous racketeers is exactly the same at Portsmouth as it was at Manchester United in 2005. From the top table at Gigg Lane I can hear the voice of a despondent, broken-but- not-beaten bloke questioning why outsiders had been allowed to take and squeeze the life out of his football club. I could have been in the Apollo or the Methodist Hall five years ago, the sad fact being that nothing has changed but the name of the club whose fans have been wronged. It was emotional listening to him talk about accepting and in some cases wanting the club to be wound up so they could have a chance to start all over again. I thought back to my comments in 2004 and with the experience that only time and being bum-raped by foreign aggressors can give you, I was a bit embarrassed, not just by that anti-Portsmouth rant, but by the collective time and energy that could have been better spent fighting the twats that have had us all over.
How daft have we been? We have put our heart and soul into ‘hating’ people on the other side of manufactured divides whilst characters of dubious and / or silver-spooned backgrounds, free from any financial risk whatsoever and with absolute impunity, have been siphoning our money to offshore accounts and management companies as payment for pulling our pants down. I have witnessed firsthand this week that many people, fans of United and Liverpool, would rather see their clubs go out of business than have to side with the enemy for the greater good of our game and our clubs. They should be ashamed because we are being laughed at. But there is hope.
Having had our club taken from us but succeeded in founding FC United, we can stand shoulder to shoulder with people from Portsmouth and those of the next club that has its life support switched off and show them that there is another way. We won’t do it in a smart arse way, just as we didn’t on Saturday, we’ll do it in a way which gives people that road-to-Damascus-fucking-hell-we-can-do-this realisation that they’re the ones with the power. It’s hard to see such hope now if you’re a Portsmouth fan but they need to realise that they have a far bigger part to play in recapturing football than FC United, AFC Wimbledon and all of the Supporters’ Trusts put together. We need to take back that contrived Moscow and Rome mosaic and hand it Portsmouth where it can be put to a better use than willing 11 millionaires to win a football game – Believe.
Portsmouth has a much stronger opportunity to make a more immediate impact than Wimbledon, who are a much smaller club that essentially continued to exist as they were only several divisions lower and with a new constitution. They are the first Premier League club facing the possibility of having to start again with all of their supporters behind them. Our own problems with attracting wider support, however much a success story we are, are well known but Portsmouth, using us and Wimbledon as their inspiration, can take our supporter ownership model and show fans of every other English club that they too can take back what’s theirs. They can raise the issue far higher than us and Wimbledon have managed.
Perhaps they don’t yet know it, but starting from nothing with a fan-base like theirs is a dream-come-true for Portsmouth. Consider the impact it would it have if a fan-owned Portsmouth, attracting the same twenty odd thousand people they get at Fratton Park now, were seen making their way back up the league. They wouldn’t be given a token 20 seconds here and there like FC United, they’d be headline news. There’d be no ‘big Portsmouth’ competing in the Premier League whilst their ISA-led spin-off went about their business quietly, trying to dodge the odd low blow from a snide manager they used to revere. There’d be no franchise in a new town somewhere taking their place in the league either. There’d be a very noisy, very noticeable, supporter-ran club shouting from the rooftops about how other clubs should be following their lead and getting rid of their parasite owners by any means possible, even if that means dropping ten divisions and rising again with a democratically elected leadership showing the way.
They can use the huge sums they will generate as a well-supported, well-run, fan-owned club, money which would otherwise be stolen by business tycoons and blokes that wear too much jewellery because they’ve got too much money and no class, to prove to the rest of the country that it can be done in a sustainable way that protects the interests of the true owners, not just the ones that have the deeds. It would be a matter of time before every club in the country followed suit, so far from being a devastating moment in football history, as I’ve heard it described in recent weeks, this should actually be the most celebrated moment in football history. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for and if done properly this can trigger the revolution that so many want to see and that so many would support.
If they have anything about them – and a lot of them have – supporters of Liverpool, United, Newcastle, Chester, York City, AFC Wimbledon and every other club that has been violated or is being violated by unwanted owners will mobilise and do everything they can to help Portsmouth kick down the palace doors so that football’s thieving aristocracy can at last be lined up and shot. Metaphorically of course.