The journey began almost seven years ago – it now ends in a midst of calamity, confusion, and most of all – pride. That first ever Premier League encounter at Fratton Park was a day of surreal and unbridled joy – notching a deserved 2-1 win over Aston Villa. Plenty has gone in between, but the defeat of another Midlands team, Wolves, on Saturday marks the end of Premier League football at Fratton Park – for now.
The past seven seasons on the south coast have thrown up ample memories – that said first Premier League win, the numerous beatings of Manchester United, the Pedro Mendes goals that marked a sensational Great Escape, and of course, probably most fondly reminisced of them all, the 4-1 demolition of arch-rivals Southampton which effectively relegated then-manager Harry Redknapp’s Saints. Unfortunately this campaign has seen very few highs at the famous old stadium, but Saturday saw an outpouring of emotion, as fans, players and coaching staff appreciated everyone’s efforts throughout such a turbulent season. For whatever has gone on behind closed doors – the fans’ relentless backing, the players’ undying professionalism and spirit and the dignity in which the likes of Paul Hart and Avram Grant have led the side through such turmoil – all of which has given this unfancied club plenty to proud about.
While Saturday may well be the last time top-flight football is welcomed to Fratton Park for some time, Pompey must now tackle what lies ahead. Thursday represents a potentially massive day for their immediate future as the club’s creditors meeting is held, with administrator Andrew Andronikou charged with the task of securing the CVA which will fend off any points deduction for next term. The club will be praying they get their desired outcome, as any points deduction could send them the same way as their south coast neighbours, Southampton, who are still languishing in League 1. If, and it’s a big if, the club can secure a level playing field for next term, and a new (credible) owner is brought in, the club can give themselves a chance at a return to the Promised Land inside the next few years. Having said that, there have been no recent developments on the new owner situation, with the Rob Lloyd ominously quiet, but for the occasional snippet in a national newspaper. Andronikou claims the consortium has brought other names on-board, which he is reportedly slightly uneasy at. Apparently, Lloyd is to make a formal bid for the club on Wednesday, so perhaps yet more patience is required.
Although the state of the club’s financial future is far from secured, there is cause for optimism about the club’s future on the pitch. Lenny Sowah, just 17-years-old, was fantastic on Saturday – his best performance yet – and along with Joel Ward and Matt Ritchie, Pompey have some decent prospects on their books. While so much is still in the air regarding playing staff (and coaching staff) for next season, keeping the aforementioned trio would be a huge boost. The latter two are both local lads, with a genuine affection for the club, something fans love nothing more than. With so many loanees heading back to parent clubs and the high-earners due to be shifted off the books, many of the side who turned out on Saturday will have played their last game at Fratton Park. Despite relegation, much of the first team squad are highly-regarded by the Fratton faithful – largely due to their impeccable attitude and never-say-die spirit. Even though the side has largely under-performed, with many still believing the squad had enough quality to stay in the league, the off-field shenanigans have offered them a legitimate excuse. But Pompey fans will have to wave goodbye to their current crop – some of which will still be plying their trade in the Premier League, with plenty linked with top-flight admirers.
But Saturday was a farewell to their glorious seven year Premier League journey. A journey in which they came, they saw and they conquered – before realising they’d made some horrible mistakes along the way. Sunday’s trip to Everton will be their last in the Premier League for now, as the club go back to their roots, regroup, rethink and rebuild for a future crack at the big-time. Who knows, they may even have learnt their lesson from this time.