Tonight, despite feeling a bit under the weather, I went to Stevenage to watch Portsmouth play a League One game at the Lamex Stadium. In addition, I met a “person off the internet” for the second time in a week – this time Tom, a friend of a friend from Facebook: our shared passions being Portsmouth FC and really cool music. We met at King’s Cross and caught a packed train to Stevenage, a non-descript dormitory town that was even more non-descript than I remember St Albans being. I’m glad I went, even though Pompey lost. It’s funny how sitting in a shed in the cold watching your team lose counts as entertainment!
I haven’t been to many football grounds, until tonight it had just been Fratton Park, Twerton Park, Craven Cottage, La Romareda (in Zaragoza, Spain) and two versions of Wembley.The Lamex was pretty much how I expected it but it seems ideal for the needs of the club. It’s fairly functional but the constant drizzle was kept off our heads and our seats were decent enough to see everything. The funniest chant of the night from the Pompey fans was “your shed’s too big for you” – a bit rich I thought, given the state of Fratton Park, but sometimes it’s nice to dish it out when you’ve had to take it for years. One side of the pitch was standing-only, a definite echo of the club’s non-league past but also a source of (admittedly intermittent) buzzing pulsating noise. At times you wondered if their fans thought they were at a rave rather than a football match such was their admirable commitment to bouncing up and down like lunatics.
Beforehand I’d said to Tom that I thought Portsmouth might lose. Stevenage are doing really well and were second place in League One going into this game. Meanwhile Pompey were unbeaten in five games prior to this match. Something had to give and my prediction was that it would be Pompey: it can’t be easy for our flung together bunch of players to get results (half) week in (half) week out. I was right, Portsmouth lost 2-1. On the train home, I ruefully looked at the stats in the programme I had bought and noticed that neither team had lost after taking the lead this season. It’s all the more frustrating then that Stevenage scored a soft goal quite early, taking advantage of some non-existent marking. After that Portsmouth, who had already started timidly, proceeded to disappear from the rest of the first half.
The second half was a much better performance from Pompey – it probably helped that they were playing towards the goal that we were all roaring at them from behind and that they are the best scorers in the league in the second half of games this season. There was a great chance for Wes Thomas that nearly went in and I think that if it had the game would have been Pompey’s. As it was we had to wait a little bit longer until a rather flukey looking goal from Jon Harley (who was probably Pompey’s man of the match for me) equalised. Pompey obviously scented blood but Stevenage had settled and began to carve out chances of their own. Just ten minutes later they scored a well-taken goal from a set piece and it felt again like it had been a gift from Pompey, bitterly disappointing.
After that, all the attacking threat came from Pompey but with very little end product. Izale Mcloed was only intermittently lively (I was looking forward to seeing him play so it was a bit of a disappointment) and I think a lot of the players did not know how to make the right sort of incisive final pass or cross that would set up genuine opportunities. The number of shots and shots on target given in the BBC’s match report seems false to me (maybe they did better in the first half up the other end in the mist than it seemed in the away end) but there you go. Still, I don’t think any of the Pompey players were in any way half-hearted... I went home sad rather than angry.
Football is an expensive game now. The ticket cost £23 and the train journey (lasting 26 minutes) from King’s Cross cost £18. The food at the ground looked reasonable (well, certainly hefty) but I don’t know the price because I’d already had a pasty before leaving London. I certainly couldn’t afford that every week, so I definitely have a great respect for my fellow Pompey fans who sang amazingly despite the situation and the cold1!
Oh and finally a word of praise must go out to the tannoy announcer at the Lamex Stadium, he was a sort of cross between Stuart Hall, Alan Partridge, and a vicar at a village fete. Could have done without the speakers being up at ear-splitting volume though, I bet it’s only like that in the away end.
It wasn’t really that cold, I’m just officially a big girl’s blouse from London now.↩