I’m Max, a postgraduate student at the University of Portsmouth studying International Relations. I absolutely love football and I travelled far and wide to watch the beautiful game but in this blog I outline why I think Portsmouth’s stadium, Fratton Park, is the best stadium in England and why it’s one of the best ways to get to know this special island city.
There are few things that make me think of Portsmouth more than Fratton Park. I’ve been lucky enough to have followed this wonderfully global game all over the world, taking in games in Serbia, China and at the ‘home of football’ Wembley, yet nothing quite compares to Fratton Park.
The stadium itself is a monument to what helped those first football fans fall in love with the game. Approaching the ticket office on match-day, Fratton Park emerges above the terraced rooftops, the noise reverberating around the parked cars, a weekly parade of blue moving slowly towards the stadium. It’s hard not to feel like here, in the middle of Portsmouth, you are at the very centre of the world. Fratton Park is as traditional as football stadiums get in the UK, whilst I must admit I have a soft spot for the plush seats at the Emirates or the sprawling mini-cities that surround so many of the newer stadiums in England, at Fratton Park it’s all football and only football.
The purpose of the game hasn’t changed, as you drink your beer, or eat your pie in the concourse or you search for your seat, you’ll be following in the footsteps of generations of fans before you. As you sit in your seat, the noise builds to a crescendo around you with fans striking up a weekly conversation and you’ll feel part of a communal celebration of Portsmouth and the game itself.
As the players emerge from the tunnel, the fans stand to greet them with unrivalled enthusiasm. Then, as if nothing happened, continue their conversations or finish off their pies. The songs slowly start to build, English football fans and music is an unlikely but whole-hearted relationship. Slowly you find yourself in the midst of a sea of blue, the screens counting down to kick off, the songs filling the air as the away teams fans try to out sing the Fratton End. And then, before you know it, you’re clapping. Everyone is clapping. Mike Oldfield’s Portsmouth is clapped by almost all of the 19,000 in the stadium. By the end you’ll find yourself on your feet part of one collective voice as the game kicks off, urging Portsmouth onwards as the ref blows his whistle, quite how you’ve miraculously become a Portsmouth fan within only thirty minutes, you’re not quite sure, but you are.
Regardless of the result Portsmouth Fans don’t stop singing, the heart of the club is the Fratton End, a beautifully classic stand at the western end of the stadium which when it starts a chant sees it spread across the stadium like wildfire.
As the game draws to a close, the singing intensifies, if Portsmouth are a goal up, the fans become the ‘twelfth man’ their combined voices yet another tackle for the opposing team to overcome, whilst when Portsmouth are a goal down, that same voice carries the players closer to the goal, urging one last shot or one last header. To be part of such a collective act is perhaps the closest you can get to Portsmouth’s soul.
And as you walk away from the ground, hundreds of post-Match pundits around you dissecting the action, you will feel a new love for your adopted city, and almost inevitably a new love for Portsmouth FC. You’ll find yourself humming Mike Oldfield’s Portsmouth in lectures or day dreaming about one of the Portsmouth burger van’s cheeseburgers at lunch times and you’ll know that you are a little closer to this wonderful city we call home.
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