If there’s one thing the people of Portsmouth are truly passionate about, it’s Pompey. SARAH FOSTER finds out how the city’s football club is re-paying that love and devotion.
Staff at the education centre inspire almost 8,000 people to learn something new every season. The power of Portsmouth Football Club is even being used to get local people back into work.
Even if you’ve never been to Fratton Park, the chances are if you live or work in Portsmouth that you and your family will have had some involvement with the football club at some time.
Pompey have been through some tough times recently – both on and off the pitch. But throughout the upheaval the club have stayed faithful to the community. And the extent of their outreach work makes this club pretty unique.
The club’s director of operations, Lucius Peart, sums it up when he says: ‘Pompey is not just a football club that competes on the pitch – it does far more than that. PFC run an array of community-focused projects that are having a real impact in the Portsmouth area and beyond.’
Pompey are the only football club that share the same logo as the city they represent. And while most football clubs run some community schemes and coaching sessions these days, Pompey has taken that to a whole new level – an achievement that helped them win The News’ community contribution Business Award last month.
At the heart of the club’s community involvement is the Pompey Study Centre, which was set up in November 2000 and has grown steadily since then.
Through schemes such as the Pompey Double Club – which uses a Pompey-themed literacy and numeracy curriculum to motivate and encourage under-achieving pupils – the club works with teenagers who are having trouble learning at school.
A designated Double Club teacher wears a Pompey kit to deliver the sessions and up-to-date match photos and data help the pupils learn. These classroom-based activities are then followed up with a session of football coaching.
Clare Martin, the club’s director of community projects, says it’s a rewarding area of education to be involved in because they see what a difference they are making.
‘When we’ve got something that’s so powerful I just think it would be wrong not to use that,’ she adds. ‘There’s a lot of kids who aren’t motivated and they can’t achieve things. If you find something that can really hook them in it can give them a love of learning.
‘Learning can be fun and educational. The football draws them in and they don’t realise they are learning.’
The Get On Board scheme has seen Pompey play on another of this city’s great passions – the sea and our naval heritage.
You might not think football has much to do with the Tudors, or the sinking of Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose. But Clare says there’s some surprising links.
‘We look at the history of the Mary Rose and the Tudors and link the two with Pompey,’ she adds. ‘At first you think that’s a bit tenuous but both have a captain and a bosun. All the roles are similar. Then we look at why the ship sank and the idea that they weren’t working as a team and why that’s important.’
Diet and nutrition are also covered and once the course is over, pupils get free entrance for them and their families to four of the museums involved.
And it’s not just children who are benefiting from Pompey’s community work. Some of the club’s biggest name players regularly help to spread health messages aimed at adults. They’ve grown moustaches to raise awareness about prostate cancer and tackled life-sized cigarettes to encourage fans to give up smoking.
One of the most successful community schemes of recent times was Into Work – a 10-week course aimed at adults who’ve been unemployed for at least six months. The Job Centre refers people to the club and they then spend two-and-a-half months together, working on everything from the skills they’ll need to find employment, to improving their health and self-esteem. Into Work has been a massive success with 62 per cent of participants finding work as a result of taking part. We have to organise work placements as part of the scheme and if you pick up the phone and say “Hi, I’m from the Job Centre” not everyone is going to listen,’ explains Clare.
‘But if you say “I’m ringing from Portsmouth Football Club” their ears prick up. It’s the power of the brand.
‘Even if Pompey isn’t your first team, people still have that passion for the club. It’s that important to them.
‘When I go to conferences and meet others they can’t believe how integrated we are, how much a part of the club we are, or how the players get involved.
‘It is totally unique.’