Patrick Lay on why the re-development of Fratton Park is Pompey’s best option.
So with the reputation of our proud old club being restored thanks to the wonderful work being done by PST and the team (with a few games to go) still looking well placed to reach a Play Off spot in League 2, there is of course a very long running question – how can the club finally move with the times as far as the stadium is concerned?
As long ago as the 90s, a friend of mine (new to the Portsmouth area at the time) couldn’t understand how the council didn’t make it their business to ring fence a piece of land for the club to relocate to and said if this was ‘up north’ this would be a given. I’m no expert on the politics between football clubs and local councils, but that aside, my answer was simple – the fundamental problem is Portsmouth is very land starved.
When the Gregory regime unveiled their dream of Parkway Stadium I was staunchly in favour of it because if we think our stadium is dilapidated now, let’s not forget in 1993, there was a downsized and uncovered Fratton End of which open terracing was mirrored throughout the ground. However, as a 15 year old at the time I had no idea of the other demographics, i.e. all the pubs within a 30 min walk of Fratton Park and local shops who’s match day trade would be seriously affected (and still would be) if the club relocated, the greenbelt land that would be consumed at Farlington – oh and of course the Brent Geese.
If we are basing matters on tradition, history and atmosphere then what Pompey fan would want us to leave Fratton Park? But as well as sentiment, I honestly think there is practically no alternative. I would never want to see any green field sites built on for obvious reasons, so this only leaves brown field sites – but can anyone think of a brown field site on Portsea Island (or just outside) large enough to build a whole new stadium and complex on? If for example there was a disused old industrial estate located near to where King George V playing fields are that would be perfect as in essence Cosham is the centre of the ‘Greater Portsmouth’ area and most accessible for our overall catchment area of fans and with excellent motorway and rail links.
After walking passed the newly opened Tesco store on a recent match day, I couldn’t help thinking this could have been the new Fratton End if the club had shifted the stadium to the west, but I understand the reasons why it was built and maybe it will or maybe it won’t prove to be a good move. Either way that’s one way the stadium could have been redeveloped that’s no longer an option.
Which brings me nicely on to the next debate – what capacity should our new stadium be built to? Personally I think we don’t need to worry too much about expansion until we get back into the Championship (what I describe as our line of best fit) but when our time does come again we must be prepared for it and I would say that adding an extra 25% to the size of the stands (to take the capacity to circa 26k) would be the optimal size.
So then, how big could our gates get? Well our famous old ground did once hold 51k but this was from a very different era when the Royal Navy was far larger, there was little other entertainment or hobbies that Joe Public had, other clubs were also getting huge and even bigger gates and of course let’s not forget outside of London and Cardiff, Pompey were the only club to the south of Birmingham to have played in the top flight.
Realistically if we were in the Premier League we would comfortably fill 26k especially in a new stadium but if it was built to hold yet another 10k we would be rattling round in it. In terms of a perennial basis, yes we would fill it against the Man United’s of this world if we gave them about 5k away fans, but even if a certain local derby became a perennial fixture I think 36k would be debatable.
So how do we go about transforming Fratton Park into this new 26k stadium? Here are some ideas fans will have thought of and the obstacles I foresee:-
• Build a new and gigantic upper tier to the north stand – the easiest option (subject to relocating the adjacent substation) but there could a danger of inertia towards redeveloping the Milton End and South Stand which are frankly essential.
• Rotate the pitch by 90 degrees whilst retaining and expanding the Fratton End – this would in theory save money but as the stand is a basic structure from 20 years, is it structurally strong enough to support an extra tier? Plus if the Fratton side was to be the new main stand, it would look lost behind the Tesco.
• Re-build one stand at a time – I am not an expert on the cost of doing this but wonder if rebuilding at the same time would be cheaper in the long term (a la buying in bulk)? Plus different season ticket holders will take it in turn to go without.
• Turn the existing stadium into bowl – this would only work as a half bowl if we built the north stand as a clone to the Fratton End and joined the 2 in the corner. This is because the Milton End could not be the same height and the south stand corner has the mock tudor entrance and adjoining former pub come club shop – an absolute no brainer that they must be retained.
So the list of ideas goes on, but for me there is another factor to bear in mind. When we squeezed the Fratton End in to the old boundaries of the ground in the late 90s, we had to shorten the pitch by several yards and for me this has done nothing to help the attacking play as both teams get closed down much easier and long term is another factor to be addressed.
The only option I see is to look at a way of financing it when we know we can afford to and rather than doing it piecemeal, a complete redevelopment on the current site/immediate vicinity. I have depicted (courtesy of AA Route Planner and a blue highlighter pen) an ‘artist’s impression’ of how the new stadium could look:-
My plan involves extending the pitch by 6 yards (length) and the stadium would be moved around 40 yards to the north west, using the extra space gained between the ground and Tesco with the 4 new stands having larger dimensions as follows:-
• Fratton End – very similar single tier stand with approx 500 extra seats, enough to cope with the popular demand at that part of the ground but ensuring it retains its atmosphere.
• Milton End – an extra 10% added to its capacity and would be built with a steeper rake than the converted old terrace that is there now. Thus making way for a slightly wider Specks Lane with access to stand at the back rather than the sides. The roof could have a raised elevation with a transparent back to it, this would ensure there is no ‘ancient light’ issue for the houses in the adjacent Alverstone Road.
• South Stand – a small hotel and club museum could be built on the existing stand, thus ensuring the rear gardens of the houses on the north of Carisbrooke Road are still flush to the club premises. A new 2 tier stand could be built adjoining the new hotel and museum with a much bigger lower tier being the biggest difference to the stadium’s increased capacity, plus the addition of executive boxes. This would of course retain the mock tudor Frogmore Road entrance and former Pompey pub.
• North Stand – this would be a larger scale version of the existing site to depict the old north terrace at the front also with executive boxes. This could in fact be the new main stand as more space for a car park between the stadium and the new path way leading westwards from Alverstone Road.
The stadium would therefore consist of 4 separate stands like now and could even have floodlight towers to keep another famous feature to our stadium. Other leftfield ideas that the club (and city council) could consider in relation to the stadium on match days include:-
• Expanding the city’s park and ride network to provide a link to Fratton Park on match days/evenings.
• Restoring the old Pompey pub (adjoining the Frogmore road entrance) to a match day only bar for members.
• Installing a wider bridge to link Byerley Road with Milton Lane over the railway line – always something of a bottleneck after the game.
The biggest obstacle of this idea (as well as the substation behind the north) is where to play in the meantime? Staying put and having a reduced capacity could be one option but again season ticket holders would be effected for a period of time. Ground sharing with another club. Well Southampton is geographically the best option but somehow I think this might just be forbidden, not least of all by the Police. So realistically for 2 seasons this leaves, Brighton, Bournemouth or Reading if any of them would agree to this.
For most fans it will be a catch 22 situation and extensive consultation by the club to the fans would need to be carried out to see whether a ground share 50 miles away or a half closed stadium for 2 seasons would be more cost effective and least inconvenience our fans.
Whilst this idea may go against the grain for a number of fans, in the long term this an excellent opportunity for Fratton Park to finally be a stadium from the modern era which also retains its authentic character at the same time.
Finally, what would we do if we were ever in a position in the decades to come when demand was such that 26k was not enough? Well that’s a nice dilemma to have and we could then consider filling in 2 or 3 corners or there may even be such a thing as safe standing. Both of which would easily ensure a stadium of circa 36k – but firstly let’s not run before we can walk and predict all these scenarios and of course the club need to run over these ideas (or any others) with a fine tooth comb including how and when it’s possible. But as we have waited as long as we have, what’s an extra 5 years or so to finally have a modern home that it is fitting for our status, fan loyalty and potential?
I’ll finish now by stating that when you are given a metaphoric blank piece of paper in life – it should never be a case of just ‘making do’ and honestly feel that the club can finally get it right this time.
‘Play Up Pompey’
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