James Crothall shares his perspective on the Fratton Park debate.
It was almost twenty years ago when I first went to Fratton Park. It was the first time I saw Pompey play, the first time I saw Pompey lose and the first time I saw a female streaker – a memorable Friday evening of highs and lows for an eleven year old boy.
But I could dwell on fond (and not so fond) memories of Portsmouth’s home of football throughout this entire post. It would be easy, because it’s the place where we come together as a group with a collective interest in supporting something we love. The question is, do we, as a group, want to change that place to somewhere different?
And I think there’s two important points here. Firstly, it should be for us as a group, the fans, the PST and the Board of Directors to decide. We’re the ones that spend our time, effort and money coming to our rough and tumble, old ground and from the record-breaking League Two attendances in recent times, I would argue we’re seemingly pretty happy with our place of choice for the time being.
Which is the second important point – do we really want to change that place to somewhere different? Let’s face it, if we have ambitions to become a solid, consistent, Championship (dare I say, Premier League) club once again, we will need a stadium that facilitates that existence. A modern day stadium, not a ground, that would not only need to provide fans with a match-day experience equivalent to the standard at which we’re aspiring to play, but also capable of delivering revenue to sustain that standard.
A stadium where first class corporate hospitality, of which I’m told it is right now, shouldn’t feel out of place. A stadium also capable of playing host to events besides football that generate revenue. And yes, Madness playing over the summer was superb and proved there’s the appetite for those sorts of events, but with a more modern venue to play to, perhaps that gig would have sold out long in advance. Hard to say. And therein lies another problem – build it and will they come?
On Tuesday evening, almost 15,000 made more memories – a quality finish from homegrown youngster Conor Chaplin in front of the Fratton End and a heartbreaking equaliser deep into injury time. And that sort of crowd for League Two football of a Tuesday evening should be admired, especially considering of that 133 made the trip from Stevenage. But, if we do want a bigger stadium, would we fill it? Let’s not forget, there were times in the latter years of the Premier League when there were still seats available for the less glamorous fixtures.
And then there’s the economics of it all. I’m not an economist so I’ll keep this part brief, but look at the gains Arsenal made from turning Highbury into flats, using the pitch as a communal garden area and preserving some of that history that went with it. Admittedly, Portsmouth’s property prices aren’t on a level playing field with north London, but I’m sure there would be plenty of interest for pitch-side living spaces, if we were to move a new site. Which is another opportunity cost of staying put. And what could, potentially millions of pounds, do for the club in the future? Arguably, a hell of a lot.
My personal opinion, having enjoyed nearly two decades of football at Fratton Park, is – let’s keep going. The redevelopment in that time hasn’t gone unnoticed. The roof on the Milton End, the Bose PA system, the flat screen TVs showing live scores and even more recently the new branding, lushly relaid pitch and brand new floodlights, to name a few. Alright, there’s the occasional frustration still, including being told we’ve run out of tea bags (do tea bags have sell-by dates?), but I’d say it’s certainly going in the right direction.
If (and I appreciate that’s a big word) we can redevelop the capacity of the ground to meet demand (and I appreciate that’s a relatively unknown aspect as mentioned) then I say let’s keep improving Fratton Park. After all, we’ve got a legacy to maintain.
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