Portsmouth FC: An outsider’s view

Published: 16/02/2024

By Olly Howard

I am a firm believer of the ‘support your local!’ trope.

It’s what the English game prides itself on more than any other country.

It’s why the football league pyramid, from the zenith of the Premier league to the nadir of the Wessex League Division One, is the most sustainable football system in the continent – few would dispute that.

In a piece which oozes a certain degree of hypocrisy from the forefront, it only seems fair to raise my hands and confess that I do not ‘support my local’. Guilty.

I am a Tottenham Hotspur fan, born in St Mary’s Hospital and switching allegiances for a couple of hours to document my thoughts, feelings and opinions of Portsmouth Football Club. An opportunity to pay homage to an establishment which I have the utmost respect for, not only because it is my birthplace.

You can blame my father, raised in north-east London, for directing me on this path, although whilst it’s considered sacrilege to support more than one team, I have also considered Pompey as my ‘second’ side; chuffed when discovering that the Hampshire outfit drew Spurs in the third round of the FA Cup last year.

I sat beside my brother-in-law (Pompey through and through), my sister (a proud Lilywhite) and their three children in the home end at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. My niece and two nephews were visibly conflicted over which side to support, cautious of offending either one of their parents!

It was a wonderful day out for family, with my brother-in-law pleasantly surprised that a managerless and rudderless Portsmouth were not embarrassed by a team who sat 51 places above them. If anything, there were certainly signs of encouragement.

I should probably admit that I actually missed the only goal of the game, Harry Kane’s curler from the edge of the 18-yard-box, as it took far too long to get my half-time burger and chips – 20 minutes!

I wrote about the encounter for an online newspaper and was tasked to give my ‘player ratings’ on the match. I praised the unwavering sense of composure shown by Joe Morrell, the tenacious and technical traits of Ryan Tunnicliffe and commended Zak Swanson, who pocketed Heung-Min Son for all of the 90 minutes.

Naturally, I posted a link to my report onto my Twitter and oddly received more likes and retweets than I expected – it appeared to have surfaced across to the screens of the blue half of Hampshire, eager to find out who or what I had issued a 10/10 rating to, the only one I have I ever given.

This maximum was shown to the travelling Portsmouth faithful, whose 9,000-odd fans completely out-sung the Spurs supporters in attendance, despite there being five times as many home fans!

Even through the handful of ups and bucket load of downs, there was still fire in the bellies of those Pompey fans as their plosive chants reverberated around the stadium – it was comfortably the best away following I’ve seen in the flesh, including Wembley and White Hart Lane.

I received a string of kind and interesting replies to my article, although one Pompey fan’s response was rather amusing when he discovered that I was a Tottenham fan born in Portsmouth.

‘Glory hunter.’

I was truly taken aback, aghast in fact, because that was the first time in my 20 years on this Earth that someone had called me a glory hunter for supporting Tottenham Hotspur, you know, the team that notoriously doesn’t win anything!

Besides, if that was to be the case, I’d probably have chosen Portsmouth! Perhaps he chose to erase the 2008 FA Cup triumph from his mind, or, better yet, the 2010 semi-final when Pompey dumped out Spurs in extra-time! The irony of a Kevin-Prince Boateng penalty consigning Tottenham to a trophyless season.

My seven-year-old self was not overly bothered at the time, if only he knew!

Wedged in between these two momentous days was my first (and only, to date) visit to Fratton Park. Try to cast your mind back to a warm October afternoon, almost 15 years ago in 2009.

If memory serves correctly, I was sat right behind the goal, either in the Milton End or the Fratton End, and seem to recall all three goals being scored on the opposite side.

Kevin-Prince Boateng’s goal pegged Spurs back, who took a 2-0 half-time lead through Ledley King and Jermain Defoe, but bottom-placed Pompey couldn’t quite complete the comeback.

With the crowd already buoyed by the Ghanaian’s goal, an even louder cheer came swiftly after – Jermain Defoe was shown a straight red card for a stamp on Aaron Mokoena, as the thousands around Fratton Park violently waved him down the tunnel.

Not the happiest of returns for the forward who left in the preceding summer!

The ex-player drama continued until the very end, when Michael Brown, who made over 100 appearances for Spurs and Pompey collectively, was given the marching orders deep into stoppage time.

The crowd was vociferous, but that’s just the Pompey way!

Tottenham have formed a peculiar brotherly relationship with Portsmouth over the past two decades or so, exchanging players as if they were Match Attax trading cards. Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar seem to be the pick of the bunch, with Younes Kaboul, Jamie O’Hara, Pedro Mendes and many others also adorning the lilywhite of Spurs and royal blue of Pompey.

We probably have to thank (or blame!) Harry Redknapp for most of these acquisitions. ‘Triffic’ if you’re in my shoes, perhaps not if they’re on the other foot!

I have toyed with the prospect of buying a 2007-08 Niko Kranjcar shirt for my collection, although I feel it would be wasted, collecting dust in my wardrobe, seeing as I go to university in Southampton and intend on graduating with all of my teeth!

Portsmouth have dwindled in England’s third tier for far too long and, dare I say, I sense a tad more optimism amongst the fanbase that this year.

I’m sure it’s been a frequent discussion amongst fans over just how reputable League One is this season – 16 years ago, five of the current crop served their trade in the Premier League.

Portsmouth were comfortably the most successful of the quintet, adding domestic silverware to an impressive 8th place finish. Bolton survived the drop by one point at Reading’s expense, with Wigan precariously perched four points above the Royals. Derby, on the other hand, suffered the ignominy of scoring the worst Premier League points total to date; 11. It’s rather amusing how it all pans out.

Seven seasons in England’s third division really is a travesty for a club of Portsmouth’s stature. Not just because of its rich history but also for its fans, whose passion and dedication outshine most, if not all, others in the country.

We’re approaching the final push for this campaign, the last dash to ensure promotion back to the Championship and I for one will be hoping that they get over the line.

So play up Pompey, Pompey play up!