The 12th Man is alive and well.

Published: 13/12/2023
By Joe Wood  Fratton Park on Monday night was about as close to perfect, from an atmospheric point of view, as one could hope for in a League 1 clash. The unique blend of the two best teams in the league, separated by the 3 points on offer, with the added something special that a Monday night fixture provides. It meant that there was always going to be a raucous, and bumper, crowd packed into the ancient ground. This didn’t have the feel of a 3rd division game. This felt like a proper Monday Night Football, with Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville fronting the coverage, type of fixture. The mood around the ground wasn’t normal. Big games should have a sense of trepidation, mixed in with optimism and a healthy amount of nerves. There weren’t any. Or at least if they were there, they weren’t allowed to manifest themselves. Every fan seemed to have a steely look, as if they were ready to get involved themselves if the need should arise. And get involved they did. From the moment Mike Oldfield’s iconic tune played out, the fans dialled the noise up to a fever pitch level. Just as the players formed their handshake lines, I noted to founder Barry Clements, “If you can’t get yourself up for this tonight, as a player, go and find a new job, because football isn’t for you.” In that first 10 minutes we observed a Pompey side that were bang up for the fight, and to my eyes at least, a Wanderers side that weren’t too sure if they were keen on being there at all. A few shaky moments at the back from goalkeeper and defenders alike, did nothing but increase the fervour with which the Blues supporters sang and shouted. Throughout the 90+ minutes of the game, the atmosphere very rarely dipped, a consistent hum surrounded the century old ground that could easily have been mistaken for the electrical transformers next door, had there not been 19,000 eyes on the biggest game of the season so far. All this, though, felt vastly different to experiences of recent years and of recent years crowds. We, as Portsmouth fans, pride ourselves on being some of the best fans in the country, but if we’re being honest, we lost our way a little bit in recent times. Our patience, up until this year, was very easy to run to the limit. A succession of false dawn’s and infuriating performances meant that it didn’t take an awful lot to generate the groans and moans of the 17-19k present in the ground and the many more following on social media. None of that was present on Monday. A misplaced pass from a Blues player wasn’t derided and the player wasn’t greeted with a barrage of abuse from the 3 (now 3½) stands packed to the brim of Pompey faithful. It was met by a wall of noise uplifting the player that made the mistake. A Bolton player made the mistake in the second half of engaging with a couple of rows of fans before a throw in. Whereas normally he may get one or two lads standing and giving a bit back, he was met with an entire section, age ranging from around 8 to probably 70, standing to put the player firmly back in his place. Xg and xga, possession and SoT, are all measurable metrics that people like myself love and can use to diagnose and assess a game of football and to a lesser degree the performance of a specific player. What you can’t measure, is a player’s will. I can’t tell you who wants to win a 50/50 ball more. I can’t tell you how hard a player is battling, and to what level they’re willing to put their body on the line. They’re intangible qualities and the thing about intangible qualities is that they can be affected by outside influences THIS is what Pompey fans at their best are all about. Its this wall of noise that can make players stand a foot taller, and run half a yard quicker, fight a lump of a centre half deep into the 85th minute. This is why Pompey don’t have a no.12, because when the fans are 100% in, they truly are the 12th man. Fratton Park, under the lights, with the crowd going? There’s nothing like it, and there’s no team that can match it and it could make all the difference come May.