Pompey have last laugh after gauntlet of hate

Pompey fans on their way to St Mary's
Pompey fans on their way to St Mary's
Curtis Main in action for Pompey against Reading under-23s in last season's Checkatrade Trophy. Picture: Joe Pepler  PompReading PPP-160510-131550001

Pompey question: Will you attend the Fulham under-21s Checkatrade Trophy game?

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It was the open-top bus parade without the applause. A carnival procession missing the cheers.

Eerily reminiscent of King Kong being dragged through the streets with folk scuttling out to watch, poke and prod.

Or the famous Disney It’s A Small World ride when the vehicle slowly drifts past people from different countries who pop up to wave their arms in excitement.

Except this was the X-rated version.

The arms were waving all right but hardly in a friendly manner to this passing group of strangers.

This was the loathed ‘bubble’ bus project, crawling through the streets of Southampton towards home.

I was travelling with them thanks to Lucketts, having been refused entry to the St Mary’s press box by the host club.

And it allowed me to witness a journey at first hand which had effectively become a victory march on its return leg.

That trip back certainly felt like a triumph to Pompey fans over their nearest and not so dearest.

David Norris’ last-gasp volley may have secured a dramatic point.

But for joyous Blues supporters across the globe it was worth plenty more than that.

When Billy Sharp netted his second of the match as the final whistle neared, it appeared the result had been decided.

Then came Norris’ intervention.

In the ensuing chaotic celebrations, the lady who sat in seat H143 lost her watch.

Fitting considering the decisive moment had occurred deep into stoppage-time.

At least the referee’s clock hadn’t stopped as the Blues struck at the very, very death.

As it was, a fellow fan retrieved the lady’s timepiece not long after the final whistle, albeit minus a strap.

Not that it dampened the post-match revelry for her. Nothing could possibly sour such festivities.

Nearby was John Westwood, as distinctive as ever, bouncing on two buckling seats.

It would be some 20 minutes after the end of the match before he actually discovered the identity of Pompey’s scorer.

Such precise details were irrelevant – the important statistic was the visitors had their equaliser.

And how those 3,000 fans who seconds before had begun to accept defeat erupted.

All heads turned to the neighbouring Itchen Stand as the taunting began towards the incensed home fans.

A pair of particularly outraged Southampton fans were dragged away – their path unfortunately taking them in front of the gloating visiting section, completing the humiliation.

Another hurled a pint of beer into the away end before being pounced on by stewards and police alike.

Back to the field of play, there were more cheers when Sam Magri, Adam Webster and Ashley Harris came out to warm down.

Local youngsters who knew entirely what the day really meant to the fans of the club.

Then it was time to head home – and through the gauntlet of hate.

Gone were the ‘Welcome to civilisation’ and ‘Can you smell fish’ signs which had greeted the visitors on their initial journey.

Instead, Southampton fans lined the route, shrugging off showers to rain insults on the convoy trekking through their city.

There was the 80-year-old granny spitting bile and expletives from her toothless mouth.

Then there was the bald-headed man walking his dog who skidded to a halt to flick his fingers in the direction of the coaches.

Elsewhere, women with toddlers in arms stood in their doorways eager to catch a glimpse.

Their older children, with hands free, stood at the gate gesticulating to every passing vehicle.

Blocks of flats displayed crowded balconies – perfect vantage points for all the family.

Others stopped to take pictures, some even elected to film.

Through it all, the gloating from those on the top deck of bus F25 certainly cut down a few detractors.

No doubt all of the 43 coaches had such participants willing to bite back.

For some five miles or so, spectators in Southampton shirts brandished notes.

They indicated ‘going down’, they swore and they gesticulated.

In truth, though, their spears bounced off the Pompey body armour.

Honours may have been shared but this was the day of the blue half of Hampshire.

A day when a last-gasp draw at the home of the Championship leaders and fierce rivals tasted as good as a victory.

And those on the bubble buses savoured every moment of the trip home.