Well the sunshine was nice while it lasted….

Dave Sargent shares his thoughts on Pompey’s 1-1 draw at Accrington Stanley. 

For various reasons, I’ve not been to as many games as I would have liked over the past couple of seasons. So when I do get to go, I look forward to the game for weeks beforehand.

This season, I’ve been to Burton, Bury and Tranmere before this game. During those three matches I’ve seen possibly 15 minutes of bright enterprising football from Pompey, along with a solitary goal to cheer.

I’ve seen us look abject, inept, disinterested and a whole other stream of adjectives for the other 255 minutes (plus stoppage time) of play. I would surely be forgiven to viewing this match with some trepidation – knowing what I have seen so far this season should not have filled me with the usual excitement.

However, on Friday night I was (as usual) like a kid on Christmas Eve. Wanting to have a good night’s sleep so I could enjoy my Saturday without me getting tetchy and argumentative, but ultimately waking every hour to check if it was time to get up yet.

I have thought about this pattern of behaviour quite a lot over the years, and wondered if I was able to get to more games, would the anticipation wane? I then wonder why I even consider such a thing, I know damn well it wouldn’t! We’re a different breed to the normal football fan, we all know it, even if some of us don’t like to openly admit to it!

I/We love our club so much, anybody hurts it and it’s like they hurt a member of family or close friend. I know people who support many teams, living where I do, the only bunch of supporters that come close to football ruling their lives are Everton. The only difference between the two clubs is that they have spent many years in the shadow of their local rivals – something that we don’t ever have to suffer from (insert winky smiley thing).

So, the anticipation got to fever point by Saturday late morning – the youth team I manage (Rainhill United “Pompey”), broke a run of 3 successive defeats by beating a team 7 places above us in the league. We did this after twice coming from behind. Come midday, and I was feeling like nothing could stop us from winning. This was a marked change from Friday and earlier when I was convinced we would lose 1-0!

My son and I walked down the road to meet our lift to the game, in glorious sunshine. Pompey shirts on and living the dream. A good mate drove past (another Pompey fan, but one who couldn’t make the game), he slowed down and belted out the Pompey Chimes through his window at us. Not 30 seconds later, Mr & Mrs Catlin pulled up and offered us a lift to Accrington. After politely declining their lovely offer (yes, I am mad – who wouldn’t want to spend time with Mrs C??) as we were going with three other Pompey fans and we wouldn’t all fit in – our ride pulled up. It made me feel fantastic.

Here I am, for many years thinking I was the only Pompey fan living in this neck of the woods, but now going to the game with other Pompey fans who lived a stone’s throw (quite literally) from our house. Yes, little Rainhill has 5 households that are Pompey!

Our driver is Mark, very well spoken and quite quiet (but most people are compared to me I guess). Mark is originally from Fareham, but moved up 20 odd years ago due to work. His son Chris is with us, and Mark has brought him up in the right way – Chris, though he has a well-spoken but still softly scouse accent, is true blue Pompey. My son Alex is 3 years younger than Chris and is just developing his true passion for Pompey – I can’t go to a game without him insisting on coming too.

We drive a couple of hundred yards and pick up the fifth member of the group – Stevo the Greek. Steve, a retired teacher born in North Wales to a Welsh Father and Greek Mother studied in Portsmouth (around 1970 I think) and fell in love with the club. It was Steve’s son John who had driven past us earlier bellowing out Play Up Pompey.

Chat on the way to the ground is predominantly to do with the match, as is probably every car on the way to any match in the country. To be honest, I missed most of the chat as I’m a bit deaf (though don’t like using my hearing aid) and was sat in the back (I respect my elders and ensured Stevo sat in the front) – I did my usual thing of nodding my head and piping up when I caught a bit of the conversation.

It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Grey Horse, a nice little boozer a couple of minutes’ walk to the ground along the main road. They were obviously expecting us, as we managed to park on the side street right next to the pub. I love The Crown, but it is usually chocker before a game, so many of the Northern Blues chose this pub instead. I would thoroughly recommend it should we be playing Stanley again next season – very friendly staff, cracking beer, and a half-decent chippy opposite.

We met a load of friends, as well as putting some faces to names and profile pictures, and I was getting the urge to have a sing song in the pub (3 pints in 20 odd minutes usually does this to me on matchday) but I fought the urge in favour of sausage, chips and curry sauce from over the road.

We made our way up to the ground feasting on the fine northern food and enjoying the beautiful weather. I don’t actually recall seeing any home fans on the walk to the ground, and thinking back, there were hardly any in the boozer either.

Anyways, on to the football. Over recent seasons I’ve seen a few wags using terms like “a great day out with mates, only spoiled by 90 minutes of football” – well I can’t use that phrase myself. It has to be said, the first half of the match was very entertaining. Both teams looked to be attack minded and out for the win. Accrington possibly had the better of the chances, but I always felt we could step up a gear and beat them when we were ready.

The crowd (I don’t think anyone believes there were only 600 Pompey there) was in good voice and of course we had the sun on our heads and everything was right with the world. Stanley had the lead for a while after scoring a decent goal, but it wasn’t long before Ryan Taylor’s ear levelled the scores.

The back 3 it has to be said, didn’t really cover themselves in glory – Robbo looked uncharacteristically shaky, young Jack made mistakes, but managed to redeem himself each time. Joe Devera looked the most accomplished of the three, whilst not standing out. Despite these frailties Jones in goal didn’t really have a great deal to do and didn’t have much chance with the goal. Still, I was definitely of the mindset that we would win this game.

The half time chat was all very positive, the stewards were all very friendly and everything was ready for us to take control in the second half. Little did we know that an abundance of apathy was about to sweep over the ground!

My little band of friends and I gave a good attempt at getting a long burst of BLUE ARMY going at the start of the half, things were looking ok on the field, we were having fun watching it – you could sense we were going to win.

All that changed when the referee decided to help Accrington by sending one of their men off. From my vantage point I couldn’t tell if it was a sending off or not, didn’t much care at the time and we had a good old laugh waving Barry back to the portacabin for an early wash in the sink.

What happened to the Pompey Management team and most of the players on the pitch after that is probably now being mooted around the offices of Sky Atlantic as the next mystery drama to hit our screens. We had 37 minutes to play; we were getting the upper hand before the sending off, surely we would take complete control and go on to win the match from here? The obvious thing was to switch to a back four, throw Wes on to cause a bit of confusion, and attack the living bejesus out of them. No, we were obviously wrong; Awfs (and the players, I’m not just knocking him) decided to take it easy and keep it as is.

This meant we were still playing a back 3, plus two wing backs against a solitary striker. It was as if Accrington expected us to throw the kitchen sink at them as they sat back waiting for the onslaught. Instead of the kitchen sink, we chose to just shove a wet dishcloth towards them in the hope they would curl up into the foetal position and take the hammering they so obviously were ready for.

There will be people reading this thinking I’m anti-Awfs or one of those who spends the whole game whining. I’m neither of those, trust me. Yes, we brought on Wes and Westcarr, but we didn’t really change anything. We took off Hollands and Taylor, for me two of the three best performers on the day. It literally turned into a pre-season game. Even a training game. Yes, we were doing most of the attacking, but we didn’t really show any true desire to win the game. Not from the dugout or on the pitch. It was all a bit meh (as the kids would likely say). It got to be a bit boring really, people were turning around and having conversations rather than watching the match. It became very quiet, like everyone had accepted it would finish 1 all.

The game finished, we stood about for a bit, went outside the ground and caught up with a few friends who we hadn’t seen in the pub or the ground, and went on our way. Such was the feeling of apathy we couldn’t even be bothered to have one for the road, even though we parked 20 feet from the pub door.

When I was asked to write this piece, I thought that I would have some clear memories of things to note about the game. But as the actual game as a competitive match stopped on 53 minutes, followed by 40 minutes of non-action, I seem to have written more about the rest of the day than the match itself. All I ask is that from now on, could referees please stop sending our opponents off, it puts us out of our comfort zone!

Photo credit: James Richardson

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