24 November 2008
Went to Portsmouth for footballing reasons on Saturday. I've been once before but not for a good few years.
All I remember about what was definitely as unmemorable an occasion as football can sometimes regurgitate was the endearing way away fans were at the mercy of all elements as their stand was uncovered and they were barred from taking umbrellas in. On that occasion, they travelled a very long way to be rained on, sleeted on and snowed on while their team lost 2-0.
Since then, Portsmouth have settled into the top tier and finally got round to building a shelter on their away end, so the visiting supporters could at least watch the game in slightly more humane surroundings. Fratton Park is easily the roughest and least developed of the old grounds in the top flight, with rickety fences and seats grafted on to old terracing giving away the lack of development the stadium has had.
Still, the game was good and we got a 2-2 draw. My main observation concerned the atmosphere in the ground. We created our own, just like we had to at Old Trafford the other week, as the silence from the locals was deafening. However, I will cut them some slack because of the abominable crowd silencing scheme they have in one corner of the stadium.
There is a well-known fan of Portsmouth who calls himself Mr Portsmouth. His photo is everywhere, his tattoos and tall hats, plus his large bell (stop it), make him something of a cause célèbre and as Portsmouth's FA Cup run picked up pace last season, his profile followed suit.
Locally, he is known as a drummer at the ground. I hate drums at football and indeed, many clubs have chosen to ban drumming as it irritates far more people than it inspires. Huddersfield Town has a drummer in the far corner of the Kilner Bank stand, while Leicester has a bloke who is 25 stone or more and covered head to toe in tattoos who does that side to side thwacking of a big bass drum as if he was leading a team of galley slaves, rather than a few thousand underwhelmed football supporters.
Drumming is a nu-fan thing. It belongs at ice hockey. At football it is irritating, loud and counter-productive, and nowhere is this more obvious than at Portsmouth.
So annoying did it become that the club built a hut in the corner of the ground with an open front, like a Punch and Judy stall, and put Mr Portsmouth and his percussive companion therein. Throughout the game on Saturday he drummed and drummed and we all became more and more exasperated. Yet such was the volume from his little corner that all natural vocal support for the club had been extinguished. There was no way a crowd noise could drown out the drumming, and only when Portsmouth had a corner did we get a few strains of Play Up Pompey, Pompey Play Up. The rest of the time it was the relentless thud thud thud of this drum.
It cost me £35 to get in. That's too expensive, especially when the ground lacks reasonable facilities for away supporters (poor seating, unclean lavatories, dodgy fencing) but especially so when concentration on the game and general desire to cheer for your team is neutralised by this crazy, monotonous noise in the corner. I am astonished Portsmouth allow it, and I'd be more astonished if the fans, as a whole, approve of it. I know he's a "real fan", but he has achieved his publicity from the club's success, not vice versa. The drumming has to stop and the singing must be allowed to restart.