The one burning question I’ve got for all you Portmuthians – Simon Carter

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Right, let’s get a bit sociological with this week’s column.

Before starting work at The News in February this year, my only real knowledge of Portsea Island was gleaned from an eclectic cocktail consisting of shopping trips to Gunwharf, a handful of rock concerts at the Guildhall and a couple of visits to the away end at Fratton Park to support the mighty Exeter City.

Portsmouth drivers are Jedi Masters at parallel parking.

Portsmouth drivers are Jedi Masters at parallel parking.

From that little lot, I accumulated some cheap T-shirts, six points (two wins from three football matches - thank you David Wheeler) and a key slash down the side of my car which had been parked in a side street while watching a Whitesnake concert. Musical snobs among you would no doubt suggest I deserved my car being ‘keyed’ for having the audacity in the 21st century - in any era, really - to watch Whitesnake.

Because of the last few months - and because my partner has called Portsmouth her home for the best part of three decades - I now know so much more.

This is what I now know - don’t attempt to drive into Portsmouth if Pompey are home on a Saturday afternoon, and don’t expect to find a parking space without driving up and down at least four roads while firing off a volley of expletives along the way. That last one applies to ANY day, irrespective of whether Pompey are home or not.

God, how do you do it, you Portmuthians? How do you put up with these parking issues day after day, month after month, year after year? I’d heard it said that Portsmouth has a high population density, but I’ve been staggered by the seemingly never-ending rows of terraced houses either side of narrow roads. Yours is the most northern-looking city I’ve ever seen in a southern location. ‘You wouldn’t want to walk some of these streets at night,’ my partner told me. ‘I wouldn’t walk them in the daytime,’ I shot back. ‘I’m from Devon, remember - bucolic settings, gambolling lambs and all that.’

Fratton Park - a sporting cathedral.

Fratton Park - a sporting cathedral.

Ok, I’m jesting. But I ask the question again, in all seriousness. Portmuthians, how DO you live squashed and squeezed up in such a small space? You must all be Jedi Masters at parallel parking, I’ll give you that much.

A few weeks ago I visited a city which is the antithesis of Portsmouth, and it got me thinking.

Milton Keynes has a football stadium built in the noughties with an all-seater capacity of 30,500 - but less than a quarter full when I visited to cheer on Exeter. The 6,000 home fans, scattered around the arena, were deathly quiet for most of the 90 minutes.

A week later I was at another football ground, this one built more than 100 years earlier in 1899. Once capable of holding more than 50,000, now it holds just over 19,000.

Imagine one of these at Fratton Park.

Imagine one of these at Fratton Park.

But unlike the soulless bowl which is stadium;mk - home of the despised Milton Keynes Dons and next to retail giants on the outskirts of a town famous for concrete cows - Fratton Park, for the game against Plymouth, was an emotional, noisy, almost filled-to-capacity cauldron. A sporting cathedral, certainly.

This isn't an article about the differences between MK Dons and Pompey, though. Any sensible football fan would salute the passion of the Fratton End while acknowledging Pompey's history. In comparison, MK Dons didn't exist until 2004. You can't celebrate their history as they hardly have one. Indeed, all true football fans wouldn't dream of celebrating MK Dons' existence at all. How can we, when Wimbledon FC were sacrificed on the footballing altar of a USA-style franchise in order to give the people of Milton Keynes something they didn't deserve - a professional football club -.in the first place?

No, and to return to my opening words, this is a sociological comparison.

This is Milton Keynes in the year 2018: low-density housing, low-rise housing, a place of light industry and high technology, easy to pass through by car, housing and industrial estates all hidden behind grassy banks and a latter-day Valhalla of more than 20 million trees, 5,000 acres of green space, and more than 20,000 town centre car parking spaces.

This is Portsmouth in the year 2018. Virtually a polar opposite of everything in MK. Horrendous parking issues, lack of open green spaces, not much room to build new housing, hideous matchday traffic, and the usual social problems of inner city life. Oh, and the tower blocks would still be clad in flammable material but for the nightmare of Grenfell Tower.

Milton Keynes is the largest 'new town' ever built in this country. The place of almost 230,000 people we see today didn't exist until the late ’60s and early ’70s. Based on the American grid system of roads, it was built on the premise that the motor car would one day be king. That day has long since arrived.  As a result, it lacks the long-standing communities and spirit that Portsea Island residents no doubt hold dear. And those factors matter.

Well, if they don't, they should.

OK, some more questions for you. Would you swap your terraced house in Fratton, North End, Copnor or Milton for a semi-detached on a Milton Keynes estate surrounded by trees and green spaces?

Would you prefer easier parking, less traffic congestion and lots more trees, but at the expense of community pride and in a place where your local football club's stadium is surrounded by totems of 21st century dining such as Prezzo, Frankie & Benny's, TGI Friday's and Chimichanga, let alone the largest Asda I have ever set eyes on, and Ikea just a hefty goal kick away as well?

And where your local football club's stadium has a Hilton Hotel as part of the main stand and a Marco Pierre White steakhouse and grill on site as well?

I’ll keep going. Would YOU swap life in densely-populated Portsmouth for one whose existence resulted from a social experiment?

Would YOU prefer your city as a series of low rise estates behind thickets of trees, where you needed a car, bike or bus to get around rather than a pair of legs?

Portsmouth is not perfect - which city is? - but we need to celebrate its character, great architecture, creativity, passion and pride.

No doubt some of that exists in small pockets in Milton Keynes, but aesthetically the entire place is predominantly a case of the bland leading the bland.

Football-wise, MK Dons is a classic example that it takes decades to build a club's support. In contrast, the Pompey faithful are known for their passion, and surely some of that comes from growing up in a place like Portsmouth with all its supposed insularity?

Anyway, for what it's worth, give me passion, pride and community over formulaic blandness. Give me a city of rich history over one created to service the motor car, even if it is easier to park in the latter. Give me the tribalism of Fratton Park over the soulless stadium:mk. And give me a Mick's monster burger over Marco Pierre White's roast rump of lamb A La Dijonnaise (£22.50, but it does come in some rosemary roasting juices) any day of the week.