Fan’s View 23/24 – No.40: Portsmouth away

Article by Paul Beasley Tuesday, March 5th, 2024  

FAN’s VIEW 23/24 – No.40: PORTSMOUTH AWAY

Walking

As is now traditional the Oxford United Walking Football Club had games arranged against their Pompey counterparts prior to the main event. I was honoured to be asked to turn out for them, which meant getting up earlier than expected. Eleven o’clock start at “Goals” a purpose built, FA accredited, all-weather 4G facility on Tangiers Road. If United fans travelling to Fratton Park along the A2030 had glanced to their right they would have witnessed yellow v blue.

Although it is claimed a walking football match took place in 1932 between Derby Railway veterans and Crewe Railway veterans at the Baseball ground, the sport as we know it now started in 2011 in Chesterfield. It’s come a long way since then. It’s not just old men waddling about and falling over. Played the right way it’s all about control, passing, moving and shape. Obviously shooting too to score a goal. Much of it is three touch, as it was here, which makes the need to control the ball first time even more paramount and get it moved on quickly. These Portsmouth lads knew what it was all about and given that our lot had not played together as a group before we did pretty well too.

These were short games – ten or twelve minutes – but there was no respite as they were played in netted cages with the ball never going out of play. For the record we played the Portsmouth A team four times drawing two and losing two and their B team twice winning both.

With this comes the mixing and football chat afterwards. I suggested that they must be totally confident of the three points given how badly Oxford had been playing recently. They weren’t convinced: “but this is Portsmouth you’re talking about” they said highlighting the deep seated pessimism that lives deep down inside many football fans. They’ve seen it all. However well their team is doing they’re expecting the next knock back to be just around the corner. We did seem to agree that this season L1 is not as strong as it has been.

After a quick shower it was time to head for the pub.

Drinking

I’d arranged to meet mates in the Rose in June on the Milton Road. Before I got there I received a message “proper old school local”. Then from another mate “it is a great pub”. I’d picked it because it is GBG listed but hadn’t realised until I got there that this wasn’t my first visit. I’d second the comments I’d received. Decent beer. Clearly a Pompey stronghold as you’d expect it being that close to the ground. There were a few Oxford in there too with no hint of animosity. As it should be.

Standing

Let’s be honest here, we stand at most away games. If not throughout the entire match then at least some of the time. We’ve done so for years. Almost ever since “all seater” became a thing. There was a time when stewards enforced, or more realistically, tried to enforce the “you must stay seated” rule. It’s not natural for youngsters to be sat down at football. It just isn’t. By youngsters I mean anyone under the age of, well you decide. The kids of today will never know the communal delights and tribalism of the terraces. The Kop. The Stretford End. The Holte End. And we had our beloved London Road.

But we had Hillsborough and that was that. Or was it? Every season there are a handful of trips where, if we choose, we can stand on terracing. Go figure.  In 2023/24 its Bristol Rovers (did it), Exeter (hope to do it), Burton (hope to do it) and Fleetwood (did it).

I’ve always thought there should be a choice. Be allowed to buy a seat to sit in with other like-minded people who won’t be on their feet obstructing your view if that’s what you want. Or have the alternative of those terraces which let’s be honest here wasn’t the cause of the disaster on 15 April 1989. There were lots of contributory factors but if there had not been pens trapped fans could have moved left and right to areas where there was ample room. If there had been no fences fans could have escaped the crush by climbing over and onto the playing area. But fences were the norm back then and whilst some may have thought them draconian others would have been able to have put forward a good case as to why they were needed. Nowadays we often hear the cry “health and safety gone mad.” This was the very reverse of that cry. All it would have taken was for there to have been ample gates in those fences with people on hand with keys to have unlocked them should the need arise. But oh no. The people trapped in the cages were only football fans. Risk assessment in 1989? Don’t be silly.

Almost immediately the campaigning for safe standing started and now many years later at grounds like Fratton Park we’ve got rail seating. Basically standing with a rail in front of you and a tip up seat behind you that you’re not going to use. I opted for this. My ticket said “Rail Seating-Permitted standing”. I can’t remember checking if my seat would fold down should I wish to park myself on it. Why would I when I’d decided to stand? The reason for this set up originally I believe was because standing wasn’t permitted in European competitions so having a seat that could be “locked” in place should the need arise was the solution. Borussia Dortmund yes, Celtic yes but Shrewsbury in the Europa, I don’t think so.

I suspect that with rail seating/standing fans are more likely to try and get to, or be directed to, their allocated spot. Mine was block L, row L, seat 5 which I came to very quickly having entered the stand. Not that far from the front right in the corner but it did give me a view of both goals so I stuck with it. The poles obstructing some of the view of the pitch were their usual nuisance though but not the biggest problem.

I was also told that if travellers had opted for sitting they were still in rail seating.

Anyway, fair play to Portsmouth for bringing back “legal” standing at their home.

Some who did choose to sit didn’t have much room for their legs though. To be fair the stewards were very helpful and permitted a move. (Photo – Terry Taylor)

PORTSMOUTH 2 OXFORD UNITED 1

Having said I’d written the season off in order to stop myself getting wound up I can’t deny to being mightily pissed off at the very start of this encounter. I couldn’t help effing and jeffing and blaming. How do we do it? Not two minutes on the clock. We have a free-kick which Fin Stevens bangs across to Greg Leigh. It asked a lot of our Jamaican international who couldn’t control it. From the resulting throw Portsmouth were straight through our defence with Callum Lang’s shot going straight through Jamie Cumming’s legs. Bugger, bugger bugger. Could be a long afternoon.

Apparently the sun was a factor in conceding this. Should goal-keepers wear caps? Discuss. Alan Judge once told me that they’re more a hindrance than a help in some circumstances. On the terraces I wished I’d opted for a baseball cap rather than a woolly hat. I’d misread the weather forecast. It’s really irritating having to constantly shield your eyes to be able to see what’s going on.

That long afternoon soon looked to be getting closer. Cumming, having received a back pass, took a terrible touch and had to hack the ball away to save face.

Cam’s penalty. Photo Simon Jaggs

But then, with the game hardly having begun, we were level. Trying to win the ball in the Portsmouth half, Ruben Rodrigues managed to get a foot on it, deflecting it to Mark Harris who slipped it to Owen Dale on his right. Sean Raggett clearly fouled our winger and there was no arguing when referee Ben Toner pointed to the spot. In front of the Fratton End Cameron Brannagan coolly sent keeper Will Norris the wrong way.

Suddenly at the flick of a switch we turned back into a proper team playing attacking football, moving the ball around quickly with players who could beat their man, going toe to toe with the side at the top.

I’d be fibbing if I said I’d fallen out of love with the Yellows but at times recently the best description may have been that of a love/hate relationship. Now I was absolutely loving it. This was what it’s all about.

I genuinely believed we could win. We really caused Portsmouth problems with every starter now playing well.

Cumming put his shaky start behind him which is the mark of a player who believes in himself.

The return of Elliott Moore makes that back line look a whole lot better. Another player back after a while out was Fin Stevens and I thought he had one of his best games in an Oxford shirt.

On the flanks Dale and Josh Murphy were real handfuls, the latter particularly looking classy.

Before the break Mark Harris curled one against the post and Norris had to fist away an attempt from Stevens.

After the teams came back out it was Murphy’s turn to hit a post. The home team were putting their bodies on the line with block after block.

In tight games football is very much about fine margins and at times that little bit of luck going your way or not. I though do not think that luck usually plays as great a part in outcomes as many do.

Here however it’s pushing it to not think we deserved at least a point.

As for the Portsmouth winner, Murphy over hit a cross that was going out for a goal-kick or possibly a throw very close to the corner flag but neither scenario played out. The ball hit the corner flag and dropped dead in the quarter circle. Connor Ogilvie belted it away. Moore won the battle with Colby Bishop but this was a contributory factor to us losing the war. The challenge took place past the centre and was deemed to be illegal by Toner who was about to blow for a foul but played advantage. Good refereeing but bad for us. The ball was played forward and Christian Saydee beat Brown, who went to ground, leaving the recently arrived substitute through on goal. He finished well.

There was still a quarter of the game remaining and we gave it a go. Heads did not drop. Norris parried away a Murphy shot and there was more blocking done by the blue shirted rear guard. Moore had a header from a corner cleared off the line. But no equaliser came.

The stats in many areas show a game that was very evenly matched. Possession 50:50. Both teams having five shots on target. Pompey made just one more pass than us.

This was a genuinely entertaining game of football which at times was quality end to end fare.

Obviously disappointing to lose, as was the start and I’d also throw into that category our substitutes. Billy Bodin and Will Goodwin each had a quarter of an hour but neither grabbed the pace of the game and ran with it. The latter once more had us wondering why we forked out a few hundred grand for him. James Henry came on in the 83rd minute but I can’t remember him touching the ball.

If we play as we did here against lesser teams than Portsmouth – and there are lots of those – we will pick up lots of wins. I can’t remember feeling so positive after a defeat for years.

But can we replicate this display between now and the end of the season? This was a near sell-out crowd in a traditional enclosed four sided 20k plus stadium with a cracking atmosphere. The Pompey fans were doing their chiming and our 1300 were playing their part too. On Saturday at the Kassam against Cheltenham it will be so very different.

Despite me writing the season off and nearly always not looking at the table after a loss I couldn’t help but take a peek after Saturday as my it isn’t going to take much to get sixth spot theory came back to life as far as OUFC are concerned.

Amazingly even though we’ve not been picking up points we are still seventh at 5 o’clock. Portsmouth are top having played the same number of games as us, 36, but are 19 points better off. Derby are second seven points behind but only above Bolton on goal difference and they have a game in hand. Barnsley in fourth position have two in hand and could also go above the Rams. In fifth are Peterborough also having played two fewer matches and they have five more points than we do.

The chances of finishing above some of these are already just about non-existent and even in the case of the Posh extremely unlikely. But Stevenage in sixth only have one game in hand and three more points than we do. That’s who we should be targeting whilst also looking over our shoulders. Blackpool just one point behind and Orient three.

We’ve got ten games left and four of those are against teams currently in the bottom five. Which means they’ll be fighting for their lives but aren’t very good. We also visit Bolton and host Peterborough and Stevenage. The latter could be as crucial as they come if we build on our performance at Portsmouth. The other three fixtures are against mid-table outfits including the visit to Exeter on the last Saturday of the season. Wouldn’t it just be something if it had something big riding on it?

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