Portsmouth v Southampton...a great night for football tribalism

Joel Ward heads Pompeys leveller against Saints in the last game at Fratton between the teams in 2011
Joel Ward heads Pompeys leveller against Saints in the last game at Fratton between the teams in 2011
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As a journalist, I receive a substantial amount of nonsense press releases containing bizarre survey results. Why, only the other day I was informed one in four Brits are more scared of going to a gym than they are of spiders. Call me obtuse, but I can’t believe 25 per cent of the population would scream louder if they saw a running machine or treadmill than a deadly funnel web scuttling merrily towards them.  

Last month, another report cheerfully informed me 80 per cent of females are considering surgery after watching Love Island such as botox, lip jobs, boob jobs and, no doubt, full frontal lobotomies.

But not all surveys are utter rubbish. Some deliver the truth. A fortnight ago I saw one conducted by the givemesport website ranking footballing rivalries ‘by the cumulative dislike of both teams involved.’ Number one on the list – containing the highest levels of hatred, supposedly – was not a surprise. 

For it was Portsmouth v Southampton, the two clubs who on Tuesday lock horns for the first time since April 2012. Amazingly, tomorrow’s eagerly-anticipated League Cup tie will only be the second time the two teams have ever clashed under the Fratton Park floodlights in a competitive match.

I have lived and worked in both cities since 2002. A lot of Pompey people have told me they despise Southampton FC. The feeling is mutual, believe me.

It is said absence makes the heart grow fonder, but that is not the case with footballing rivalries. Sections of the Pompey and Saints fanbases have always hated each other, they still do after seven years apart, and they always will. 

Non-football fans will never understand, but there is nothing wrong with a bit of tribalism. If it is to mean anything at all, in fact, it is an integral feature of the beautiful game.

And no, I don’t mean hooliganism. I don’t mean coin throwing, punch-ups, knife attacks. They have no place at tomorrow’s tie. I mean getting behind your team passionately, vocally, fervently, creating a cauldron of noise to intimidate the opposition. That is the tribalism I love about football, and why I’m gutted I couldn’t get a ticket for the game.

One of the most remarkable rivalries in the football world

Pompey v Saints is a remarkable footballing rivalry. There cannot be another major sporting derby – which both sets of supporters take so seriously – that is so infrequently played.

And I don’t mean in England, or in Britain. I mean the world. Look at the stats: Liverpool have played Everton 231 times in a competitive game, Arsenal have faced Tottenham 186 times, while there have been 177 Manchester derbies.
In total contrast, guess how many times Pompey have faced Saints? Just 39, from 1906 to the present day.
Since 1976, the two clubs have only been in the same division for four seasons.
Just imagine the rivalry if Tuesday’s match was a regular occurrence?

There's no place here for one of the oldest cliches 

In a sport littered with cliches, a familiar one in football is the claim – routinely made by managers, players and fans – that they would happily ‘swap a cup win for three points’. 

That doesn’t apply with regards to Pompey v Saints tomorrow.
Kenny Jackett is in serious need of league points, but surely Pompey fans would prefer a cup win over Saints than three points at Wycombe two days ago?
There are 46 league games every season; but matches like Tuesday’s do not come around that often. They must be treasured, if that is possible.
A routine league win produces smiles to last a few days. Beating their arch rivals, though, will create ones to last a lifetime ...